CAIRO: Last year, bread was added to the list of unattainable goods for Egyptian families, along with meat. Now, even vegetables are becoming a luxury that many cannot afford.
Vegetables — namely tomatoes — have been subject to an unprecedented inflation which has reached 300 percent in some cases. At their peak, tomatoes reached LE 15 a kilo, beans reached LE 20, and aubergines reached LE 12. This coincided with an increase in the prices of meat, which reached LE 70, and poultry, which reached LE 16.
As the prices of the ingredients of even the most basic dishes skyrocketed, some Egyptian families with limited incomes have resorted to giving up cooked food altogether.
Sherifa, a mother of five who makes a living through a small stand where she sells dates, was hit hard by recent inflation, faced with rising prices and a pay cut. Many stopped buying dates and fruits to be able to afford vegetables, she said.
“Sometimes I go two or three months without cooking, we eat cheese and eggs, my children and I,” said Sherifa, “Only God can help me, there should be some mercy in the country.”
The nutritious quality of affordable foods leaves much to be desired, with salad being another luxury for many families and cooked meals being replaced by koshary at best.
“We eat koshary; it feeds three people with LE 10 which is less expensive than one kilo of tomatoes,” said Ashraf who supports a family of three.
The increase in vegetables prices has also affected spending in other areas as more money is needed just to cover the basic needs.
“Prices of all essentials have gone up, how am I supposed to save money? I have to borrow money at the end of the month and I’ve given up anything that’s not essential,” said Mahmoud, who works in advertising.
In some cases, saving money to cope with the increasing vegetable prices comes at the expense of other needs.
Manal, a single mother of four, is thinking of taking her kids out of school to be able to afford food.
“The poor people are about to go crazy, what are we supposed to do? The only thing left for us is to fast and stop eating, we are living on fuul and falafel,” said Manal.
For many, the recent vegetable price hikes were the last straw as the only affordable food is now beyond the means of many.
“The poor should just [kill themselves] to finally rest and appease the big guys too,” says Um Wael, a bread vendor.
Some housewives are getting creative in their cooking in order to minimize their use of tomatoes, sometimes blending tomatoes with tomato sauce and adding artificial colors.
Others have turned to the limited number of Ministry of Agriculture outlets, which are selling tomatoes at approximately half the price compared to other vendors. But the difference in prices comes at a cost as the location of these outlets require transportation, as opposed to the vegetable vendor around the corner, wasting hours in queues and settling for mediocre quality of vegetables.
“Who would think that all this line is for tomatoes? Seeing this, people would think that they’re selling meat,” said Manal who has a stand opposite to the ministry’s outlet.
“The vegetables here look very bad, but I have to come here because of the price difference,” said an employee who only started resorting to the ministry’s outlets after the recent inflation.
Salah Mohamadein, from the Council of Agricultural research department, had told the media that the inflation was caused by a decrease in the supply of the vegetables, which was caused by three elements that have damaged the crops: higher temperatures, the white fly and a virus.
According to Mohamadein, the solution lies in producing hybrid tomatoes, which can resist those elements as well as modifying greenhouses to be used in the summer as well in order to protect crops from high temperatures.
At the time that tomatoes are sold at the Ministry of Agriculture’s outlets for LE 4.5, their prices range in private outlets between LE 7-10. This has led some to believe that vendors are taking advantage of the crisis to increase their profit.
On the other hand, vendors say that they are just as affected by the inflation with the increased cost of supply coupled with a decrease in demand.
“The 15 kg box of tomatoes now costs LE 130, so I have to sell it at LE 8 a kilo to make profit,” says Mohamed, a vegetables vendor.
The Citizens Against Inflation movement blames the current crisis on what they describe as government chaos.
Mohamed Bekheit, a member of the Citizens Against Inflation, said that the government’s reckless decisions have caused this crisis, and will keep causing more crises until more effort is put into the decision making process.
“The high temperature was expected and there should have been precautions to avoid what happened,” said Bekheit, “This crisis will pass and another one will arise for the same reasons and so on.”
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif had told the media that the recent inflation is seasonal, caused by the weather, which is beyond the control of the government. Nazif added that the government is adopting long-term solutions that will see prices decrease in the coming period.