Supply and Demand

I asked hubby to go to the market to buy some fresh produce. He came back loaded with bags of vegetables and a watermelon. He was angry and upset. He said that the price of peaches and plums had reached 9 dinars a kilo! What? Yes, 9 dinars a kilo! The grocer told him that trade with Tunisia had been halted and the few fruit he had to sell was smuggled in by taxis.  Well how typical. If we grew enough fruit ourselves to feed our very small population, with an even smaller density, we wouldn’t go through such crises. Furthermore, I doubt that there are any significant differences between the Tunisian climate, soil conditions etc. and ours. We could easily produce enough produce to cover our demand with much leftover for export. Alas, the curse of oil rich countries.

Price hikes on foodstuff have always presented a problem during the holy month of fasting, regardless of import policies. This issue is not exclusive to Libya. According to the online national newspapers of Egypt, Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE drastic price rises have been witnessed in their own countries. Measures to control this have been taken by several of these governments, but often times the problem is too large to control.  In Saudi Arabia, traders have been reported to hoard stocks during the run-up to Ramadan, a common practice in Libya too. This is further exasperated by people buying in bulk to fill up their pantries as they anticipate greater expenses and food shortages.  The increased demand for a limited supply is the main trigger for price inflation.  The harder these items become to find the more we will be charged to attain them. This is further catalyzed by greed and unethical trading. Jihaz al-Haras al-Baladi or the Municipal Guard are enforcing a price freeze on all basic foodstuffs, and are carrying out routine inspections to make sure that all parties comply.  They are also asking that any members of the public who know of such illegal activities, report it immediately to them.

SMS sent to encourage the public to report unlawful price rises and trade during Ramadan to the Municipal Guard

The buying frenzy usually quiets down by now as the focus turns from food to clothing, but it doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon this year. The real question here is why does the demand for food in general increase during Ramadan? Can we really afford to buy so much? It is understandable that certain specialty foods such as dates, nuts, buttermilk, and pastries are consumed more during this month, but shouldn’t we actually be consuming less, especially with such a small timeframe to eat? Isn’t the whole point of fasting during Ramadan to abstain yourself from over-indulgence and to increase our compassion for the less well-off? In that case we should be breaking our fast on the bare minimum. What part of Islam encourages traders and vendors to take advantage of such situations and increase prices? Greed totally contradicts the virtues of fasting. The saddest part of all is the quantity of wasted food thrown away every night.

Just some food for thought.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. khadijateri says:

    Unfortunately the prices of fruits and vegetables will probably just continue to climb in the future. Libyans don’t want to be farmers anymore. The farms in the fertile areas surrounding Tripoli are being divided and sold to people who build homes on the land. As we lose the greenbelt we lose the farmland thus making Libya more dependent on imports.

    Thanks for posting this article. I’m really enjoying your blog – keep up the good work!

    1. Yes Khadija, I spent 5 years at Al-Fateh University being told that the coastal green belt was sacred and building in agricultural areas was prohibited. Post-graduation, I begin to practice with a local planning agency, only to realize that zoning restrictions are a dream on paper. Around the same time I was asked by the British Council to help found the Libyan Climate Change Group. We planted a few trees, visited a few schools to raise awareness, but in the end local bureaucracy always stood in the way when we tried to address the hard issues.

      Thanks for reading my blog posts, I have been eagerly following your Ramadan diary. Love your idea about drive through shopping. Perhaps when my Dana is older I’ll give it a try 🙂

  2. Yaseen El kanuni says:

    Price increase, products that are meant to catch the eye but turn out to be terrible, produce imported from Tunisia and overseas and end up on our tables triple the price it was bought by the merchants. This debate can go on for ages, and still there wont be an end to the argument if ever there is one to start with.

    Citizens need their bread and butter in all its forms. People of all ages, race and so on need a balanced nutritional diet to be healthy, however 3 quarters of the Libyan population i would assume are undernourished . I personally go into reverse gear when a parent is unable to buy life’s essential commodities let alone life’s accessories, and in this case, fruits and meat for example. Grapes, a national produce is selling at 6 dinars for the Zuetina. Apples , Bananas , watermelons, peaches, prunes and cantaloupe are but a few essential fruits that we must consume if not on a daily basis,then there after.

    A terrible taught came to mind, and upset me deeply. What if we were to suffer the same diplomatic consequences with prime countries that we import meat from, namely Brazil, Australia, NZ, Argentina. No doubt this will make hundreds if not thousands of people happy in that it will make them richer. I will not be surprised if they even give up their jobs to purchase huge numbers of cattle and lamb to raise and slaughter to harvest huge profits.

    The most anyone can achieve in terms of easing the pain and getting heard( to a limited few), is to complain and argue with the grocer or to the friendly citizen who is also suffering the same, even if living standards are very modest. It hurts to a great extent that our country is being sold to concrete and tiles, and the farming industry is slowly dying off.

    With a vast area such as in Libya, if given to citizens of other nationalities to invest in tax free. We will see it flourish, but the produce will be exported in their favor.

    Let us think of the people and children that only see certain fruits on billboards or on telly, or even worse at school and don’t even know what a strawberry tastes like .

    God bless and may Allah have mercy and give this nation a stronger economy to help develop its people.

    1. Thank you Yaseen for taking the time to write such a heartfelt comment. Actually it is worthy of being an article in it’s own right! I have always been shocked by the passive attitude towards nutrition that most governmental bodies around the world have, especially in the USA. I understand that providing cheap fast food, and processed foods at the supermarkets is a big business and it is hard to say no to money. What these western governments are now starting to realize is that the cost of treating patients who suffer from diseases as a result of malnutrition or obesity, far out weighs the profits made from selling such rubbish. I’m afraid that we are following in their footsteps. There is hope for us though. We have the opportunity to reverse this trend as we learn from their mistakes.

      On the note of future generations not knowing certain fruits and vegetables: our children will probably have this fate even if the markets remain plentiful. As I’ve mentioned before, the British chef Jamie Oliver has been doing loads of work regarding this issue, and has highlighted in several of his shows how school kids in the USA and UK do not recognize produce as basic as tomatoes or potatoes, but can identify ketchup and fries straight away. This is a symptom of another problem – families no longer cooking their meals at home. Kids never get to see, let alone eat, real food. This is another trend we have picked up that scares me. Have you noticed how long the frozen food section has gotten at Souk Talat this Ramadan? God save us all.

  3. azleena says:

    It is terrible how much the price of fruits has shot up so fast, especially when prices are not displayed almost everywhere. I say a prayer when I get to the counter that I have enough money in my purse.

    1. LOL! I know what you mean. I always hope I haven’t underestimated what’s in my basket. I once came in a half a dinar short, the shop owner was kind enough to accept what I had! Libyan shops are supposed to clearly display the prices by law, so as to prevent shopkeepers from playing with prices as they see fit. Too bad that doesn’t happen very often.

  4. Yaseen El kanuni says:

    I agree totally.

    Home gardening should be encouraged, another way to tackle awareness and other economic boundaries is the idea to share land to create a huge vegetable garden between neighbors etc .

    Jamie Oliver’s back garden is an example, however on a larger scale but ideal for a small closely knitted community .

    Thanks once again for your invaluable blogs.

  5. Hey Sarah

    I really do enjoy your work.. This blog should be a cookery book soon… Oh damn I’m hungry now 😀

    Take care

    1. That’s where I’m heading, writing books take time though:)
      Thanks Mohamed for your kind thoughts.

  6. Haitam Alageli says:

    Before I start I want to make myself clear that I’m presenting my own opinion.
    It’s all about one word we Libyan use frequently “Alah Galeb”, roughly translation, “This problem was caused by god and we have to do nothing but accept it” and here are few examples: Libya ground water is drying out; Our weather is changing and becoming hotter year after year; Oue shores are polluted ..those all are Alah Galebs.
    I’m not saying that we can prevent things from happening that’s against the nature of life, nor saying that god is not controlling our world, what I’m trying to say is, that we should accept and learn from our mistakes and understand that god has given us physical possibilities to make choices such as:
    1- Growing fruits in our backyard gardens OR;
    2- Begging Tunisians for fruits while saying “Alha Galeb”.
    Well done Sarah and thank you for accepting my frustration on your blog.

    1. All I can say now is: Allah Ghaleb! LOL 🙂

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