Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1411, (27 September - 3 October 2018)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1411, (27 September - 3 October 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Campaigning on food prices

Mai Samih looks at social-media campaigns against the rising prices of fruit and vegetables in Egypt

Shaggarha volunteers plant fruit trees to help feed needy people
Shaggarha volunteers plant fruit trees to help feed needy people

The prices of fruit and vegetables have been rocketing this year on the Egyptian market, so some activists have taken matters into their own hands in protest. Some have boycotted the market, while others have planted their own fruit and vegetables to eat free of charge.

Hussein Sayed Ahmed is one of the founders of the Khalliha Tehmad (Let it Rot) campaign that has boycotted fruit-sellers charging high prices. The campaign was set up after the prices of fruit went sky high, and Ahmed described to Al-Ahram Weekly how the idea came to mind. 

“The idea came to us when we realised that people were complaining about the high prices of fruit. We came up with the idea of Khalliha Tehmad to boycott merchants selling fruit at high prices. We made a hashtag on Twitter to talk about the campaign, and the whole thing spiralled and a lot of people supported the idea,” he said. 

The next thing was to design a page on Facebook and to extend the campaign to the governorates. The campaign’s Twitter page now has over 20,000 followers.

“There were positive reactions as prices started to decrease in some governorates,” Ahmed said, adding that he has also talked to officials about the problem, though thus far without tangible outcomes. 

The main aim of the campaign has been to put pressure on merchants to reduce the prices of fruit and vegetables, with a subsidiary one being to set up mechanisms for ongoing monitoring. In addition, the campaign has wanted to raise people’s awareness of the problem and to encourage them to take action, if necessary through boycotts, to lower prices. 

Developing consumer sentiment has also been an important aim, since many consumers in Egypt may not be aware of the provenance of the products they buy and their usual prices. Quality considerations have been important, since the campaign wants to see the quality of the fruit and vegetables sold in Egyptian markets increased, even aside from the issue of prices.  

“People should inform each other and contact us if they become aware of higher than usual prices or if there are other problems. We want to ensure that these problems are swiftly ventilated, if necessary by involving government,” Ahmed added.

He said the problem of prices had many aspects and was the result of multiple stages. It started with the farmers and was passed on by wholesalers and retailers before reaching the consumer, he said, and each phase needed to be carefully examined to identify potential problems. 

“Farmers generally sell their products to wholesalers at low prices, with prices being raised in two steps from the wholesaler to the retailer and then from the retailer to the consumer,” Ahmed said. “But a 2016 law allows farmers to sell products straight to the consumer,” he added.  

“I am concerned for people who cannot afford to buy fruit for such large sums of money. Who can afford to buy two kg of fruit for LE70? If someone buys fruit for such prices how much can he have left for the rest of his meal,” Ahmed lamented. “If fruit had really increased in price by so much, why has the price of juice remained the same? The real source of the high prices is the manipulation by some fruit-shop owners at the expense of the consumer.” 

However, “after people boycotted the shops selling fruit at high prices, the owners had to decrease their prices,” he said, adding that proof of this had been seen in the increasing number of followers the campaign had had on its Twitter page and the reports in the media saying that the Obour Market outside Cairo had decreased vegetable prices by up to 50 per cent. 

“We considered that we had reached a great degree of success after hearing this news and looking at the prices in the markets. For example, yesterday the prices of plums decreased from LE45 to LE25 per kg in Cairo,” Ahmed added.

“The solution we have recommended to the government is that there should be markets in each governorate that get their products straight from the farms. These could provide people with their needs and young people with jobs,” Ahmed said. 

“In addition, people should be encouraged to only buy what they need. In Europe, it is quite common to buy things per piece, for example,” he concluded.  

 

HELPING THE NEEDY: Cairo resident Omar Al-Deeb has started an initiative called Shaggarha (plant trees) to plant fruit trees to help feed needy people.

“The idea came to me in April 2016 even though I had never planted anything before in my life. I always liked environmental work and had obtained a diploma in Environmental Engineering from Cairo University in 2014. I live in Obour City and once saw people eating from a fruit tree I had planted near my house. I didn't know that people would benefit from it so much, but when I saw this I started to reflect on how it could help more people,” Al-Deeb said, adding that he had seen something similar in Brazil.  

It was the feeling of giving something to others that really moved him to act. “When I found people eating fruit from the tree in front of my house I thought of planting ten more that they could eat from. This would be an act of charity for those in need, I thought. A month later I had come up with the idea of Shaggarha.” 

He then set up a Facebook page for the new initiative, and today there is a group of 20 people who have managed to plant some 23,000 trees in eight governorates including Cairo, Giza, Al-Wadi Al-Gedid, Al-Gharbeya, Al-Sharqeya and Alexandria. Many more volunteers are eager to join. 

“We now have more than 70,000 followers on our page, including people living in other Arab countries like Yemen, Libya and Tunisia who have planted fruit trees after seeing our success. They have even sent us photographs of the trees they have planted,” Al-Deeb said. So far people who have joined the initiative have planted more than 1,000 rooftops in Cairo, including 10 in the Islamic Cairo district. 

Al-Deeb said that Shaggarha had three main aims, the main one being to spread the idea of planting fruit trees in schools, streets and public areas instead of ornamental ones. This was especially important in the new cities where there is less pollution and the trees can have a better chance of flourishing.

“We choose certain places to plant the trees where there is a good source of water and where there are people to take care of them. The residents of the areas concerned are always enthusiastic to help,” he said.  

In addition, the group wants to spread the idea of planting trees on balconies and rooftops using traditional methods like soil and more modern ones like hydroponics (using recycled water) and fish tanks in which juvenile fish can also be raised. The tanks are connected to a wooden tray by plastic tubes, and vegetables can then be grown in the trays in the absence of regular soil. At the end of each tray there is a filter taking water to a fish tank to raise fish.  

A third aim is to spread the idea of sustainable development and protecting the environment from pollution. “Over the last two-and-half years we have organised more than 80 events including lectures on the benefits of planting fruit trees and teaching people the knowhow needed. We have organised three lectures at the ElSawy Cultural Wheel in Cairo, some at the Petro-Sport Club and some at the Media Centre in the Al-Bahareya Oasis. We have also visited nearly two dozen schools,” Al-Deeb said.

“This year we cooperated with organisations for those with special needs since this year is International Year of People with Special Needs. We plan to cooperate with them more in the future.”

The group focuses on planting five types of fruit trees that do not use a lot of water and can be planted in any type of soil. These are lemons, pomegranates, olives, figs and moringa, Al-Deeb said. “Our main problem at the moment is that funding is not constant since we temporarily cooperate with foundations or individuals who donate trees. We need to have more big companies or institutions on board to participate in the initiative,” he added.

“The companies would profit in terms of their social responsibility obligations, and they would help to maintain the environment at the same time,” he said. Some private schools and other institutions could also take part.  

“We want the government to participate since it is planning to plant more fruit trees itself. If such trees were planted in the New Administrative Capital, for example, it could make all the difference, particularly as there are a lot of private companies there that could finance the initiative. We could even plant trees on the rooftops of the homes that are being built,” Al-Deeb said. 

 

OTHER CAMPAIGNS: There are also other campaigns to protest against rising prices in Egypt, such as Khalliha Tesaddi (Let it Rust) that aimed at boycotting expensive cars in 2017.

For sociologist Hoda Zakareya, such “boycott campaigns are designed to combat the greed of some merchants. They can build social cohesion and help poorer people by giving them the chance to obtain products that they would not otherwise be able to access. The campaigns can also remind merchants of their social responsibilities,” she said. 

Cairo student Heba Mohamed commented that “there should be more boycott campaigns against shops selling products at high prices. I think Shaggarha is also a very practical idea to help tackle hunger. If the country was full of fruit trees, perhaps we would not see beggars in the streets,” she said.

“We intend to have more campaigns. We are thinking of organising more since the present campaign has been such a success – people could also boycott other products that have increased in price like fish, meat or even clothes, as these are also often not sold at reasonable prices,” Ahmed added.  

“We plan to go on planting trees on rooftops, and there is now a private company that has contacted us to assist inhabitants of poorer areas plant trees on their rooftops as well,” Al-Deeb concluded. “Our aim is to have planted some 100,000 fruit trees across Egypt by 2020 and one million by 2030.”

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