Weather and consumer habits exacerbate Ramadan price-rise worries

In August, Egypt's Consumer Protection Agency reported a 43 percent increase in food prices, a phenomenon closely associated with the lead up to the month of Ramadan.

The report mentions increases in the prices of 17 products available at consumer complexes, which house mostly subsidized goods.

The report also notes that lesser price hikes have been recorded in non-subsidized supermarkets and hypermarkets.

According to the CPA, price hikes have affected poorer communities, who obtain food from subsidized outlets rather than supermarkets, which are frequented by richer communities.

The hikes are nevertheless related in the first place to consumers’ overconsumption, which is tightly connected to Ramadan, experts say.

Consumers have noticed that not every food commodity has increased, but only products likely to be bought by the well-off.

“I don’t see that prices have increased as is the case every Ramadan,” said Amal Farah, 42. She explained that products like sugar, rice and butter have not increased, while meat and poultry’s prices have risen.

Some consumers have noticed particular prices hikes for fruit. “The price of fruit has multiplied four-fold,” said 32-year-old Noha Azaab, a housewife.

Experts say that this is because of the hot weather Egypt has been facing this year. “The production of fruit and vegetables has declined, leading to this huge increase in prices,” Salah Taha, secretary general of the Giza Chamber of Commerce, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Ramadan nuts and dried fruits, commonly known as yamish, haven’t avoided the price hikes, either. “I see that the prices of nuts have increased by 50 percent this year,” said Farah. She added that dates, a Ramadan specialty, are currently going for LE21 a kilo, as opposed to LE11 a kilo last year.

“I can’t cook a meal for my family for less than LE100, but how many hundreds of pounds does my income have?” said Hoda Mostafa, a 44-year-old housewife.

Apparently, the government is unable to relieve Mostafa's difficulties feeding her family during the holy month. “Consumer complexes sell [some] subsidized products, but the government is not able to subsidize all the products,” said Taha.

Responding to the current increases in prices, members of three opposition groups–the People's Free Front, and the Kefaya and 6 April opposition movements–on Monday staged protests against rising retail food prices in front of the cabinet headquarters in Cairo. 

Protesters brandished spoons and empty dishes to convey mounting fears of inflation-induced hunger.

Some consumers however believe prices have not increased dramatically, but that purchasing attitudes have changed, since people tend to buy items in Ramadan that they don’t usually buy, and hence spend more money.

Experts say prices are determined according to consumer demand, and this explains the reason behind the sudden annual increase in prices of food commodities during Ramadan.

Accordingly, experts advise Egyptians to end their habit of buying a huge amount of food before Ramadan and hoarding it for fear of an increase in prices.

“If the sellers hadn't witnessed this increase in demand, they wouldn’t have increased prices, so stop buying beforehand,” said Taha.

A recently launched website is now accessible to Egyptians giving up-to-date information about local and global prices.

The website, run by the governmental Information and Decision Support Center, covers prices in all Egyptian governorates, updated on a daily basis, and lists retail prices on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis for commodities such as vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry, rice, dairy products, and sugar.

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