Sanctions side-effect: Iran's food system hit
The problems have become politically charged. Earlier this year Iran's police chief urged television stations not to show people eating chicken to avoid fueling social tensions, as a jump in poultry prices has made it a rarity in many homes.
Even the relatively well-off are feeling the effects. "Not only have we had to cut back on less important things, we are also forced to purchase local products. I haven't had real, good chocolate for a long time," 25-year-old management student Sanaz said by phone from Tehran.
Iran is estimated to consume around 15.5 million tonnes of wheat a year and about 2.6 million tonnes of sugar.
The sanctions on the nuclear program - which Western governments fear is aimed at making weapons, despite Iranian denials - helped to push the rial into a nosedive earlier this year. The currency has since stabilized, but importers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy dollars for purchases, and are wary of getting caught out by another currency swing.
Instead, many commercial buyers are preferring to lock in their wealth in real estate or safe haven assets such as gold.
International trade sources say Iran is also having to grapple with a banking freeze, which has led to private traders cutting imports of staples such as grain and sugar.
Some banks fear their reputation will suffer with Western clients if they finance any Iranian trade, even when it is legal, and therefore prefer not to take the risk.
A senior executive with an international commodities firm said it had stopped food trade with Iran. "We are running scared. Even though the food trade is not contravening sanctions, our banks could turn around and say they are not happy, so the relationship risk is a big factor now," the executive said.
In one blow, an official with the Geneva-based private banking branch of India's Hinduja Group said this month that tougher U.S. measures introduced in July by the Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) had forced it to stop providing trade finance for food and pharmaceuticals to Iran.
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