Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

An affordable Ramadan?

Mona El-Fiqi reports on government plans to curb food price hikes during the holy month of Ramadan

Al-Ahram Weekly

With family gatherings being one of the main features of the holy month of Ramadan, the demand for food commodities often leads to price hikes before the beginning of the month. The increased demand gives space for producers and traders to increase prices of all kinds of food staples, including meat, poultry, sweets and nuts. 

Food prices have also been increasing over the past year, pushing the inflation rate to 11.8 per cent year-on-year in May, according to Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) figures.

The Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade announced in May that thousands of tons of food commodities would be offered at “major discounts” that could reach 30 per cent on some items in the state-owned consumer complexes of Al-Ahram, Al-Nil and Alexandria.

The government has also allocated $500,000 to import food and other supplies to cover the demand and prevent price manipulation by merchants during the holy month, which is due to start on Sunday.

In an official statement the ministry said that 4,300 tons of Sudanese and Brazilian meat and over 1,000 tons of Brazilian frozen meat would be available to consumers. One thousand tons of local meat would also be made available along with 1,425 tons of frozen chicken and 400 tons of fish.

The ministry said that the price of a kilo of frozen Brazilian meat varied between LE31 and LE34, while local fresh meat would cost LE51 per kilo compared to LE75 on the free market. The price of Ethiopian and Sudanese meat would be LE41 and a kilo of frozen chicken would be sold for LE19.5 instead of LE23.

Thousands of tons of white rice, pasta, butter and cooking oil will be available at the state-owned complexes. The commodities available will include tomato paste, various vegetables, olives, juices and fresh fruit.

The ministry is also preparing for a ten-day discount on food for Ramadan at the Cairo International Fair.

The measures have been bearing fruit. Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, a teacher, said he had been surprised that the prices of food had remained stable in the marketplace. “While meat prices have not changed, fruit and vegetables have gone down in price,” he said.

The price of meat has remained stable due to the import of 100,000 heads of cattle and 90,000 tons of meat to meet market needs, with the possibility of importing additional quantities if need be.

However, the prices of dates, nuts and dried fruits, known as yameesh, are higher than last year by 30 per cent, according to a report issued last week by the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.

The prices of yameesh are difficult to control because the items are all imported apart from dates. The conflict in Syria, the main exporter of these items to the region, has led to reduced harvests as have declining yields in other exporting countries.

Additional customs duties imposed on yameesh last year have also helped to increase prices.

‭Egyptian imports of dried fruit, consumed mainly during Ramadan, declined by 75 per cent during the first five months of the current year, the Ministry of Finance indicated in a recent report.

This year the total amount imported has been almost eight million tons, compared to more than 29 million in 2013.

On Sunday, one of the ministry’s food fairs in Nasr City was relatively deserted, with only three booths selling yameesh. The annual exhibitions have usually been crowded in the last week before Ramadan. Hussein Hanafi, a seller at one of the three booths, said that preparations for the fair had started late this year because of the recent cabinet reshuffle. The high rental cost of the booths at LE3,000 for a three-metre booth for the 20-day exhibition, had also affected sellers, he said.

“We are not sure that we will be able to cover the rental costs in addition to making a reasonable profit during this short period,” Amina Abu Emeira, another seller, said.

She said that the profit on a packet of qamareddin, used to make apricot juice, was only LE2.

Though the exhibition prices are reduced, a packet of imported qamereddin costs between LE25 and LE45, compared to LE20 for the locally produced.

Hanafi said that yameesh had gone up by 40 per cent compared to last year. Dried apricots were being sold for LE60, while a kilo of dried figs was LE50. Dried prunes were LE60 and hazelnuts were LE120.

“The price of nuts is now a quarter of my salary, so I won’t buy them,” said Salwa Mahmoud, an exhibition visitor.

Faten Ibrahim, a housewife, said the prices of yameesh at the government fairs were less than at the private supermarkets. “The products are of good quality, and I come every year before Ramadan to buy my needs,” Ibrahim said.

However, her sister complained of the limited variety of the exhibited food. “I used to choose the items I needed from among different grades of food, but this time I have no choice,” she said.

Last week, the Cairo Chamber of Commerce announced that it had formed a monitoring committee to check the situation in the markets before Ramadan on a daily basis by tracking the supplies of every item and keeping a close watch on prices.

According to the first week’s report, all basic foodstuffs are available and stable in price.

Some products, such as legumes, cereals, cheese and cooking oil, have declined in price. Cooking oil is down by five per cent, while corn oil is down by 15 per cent and cheddar cheese by four per cent. Beans are down by 20 per cent.

The meat division reported that the large amounts of imported meat had helped local meat to remain at between LE65 and LE75 per kilo.

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