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‘Used food’ markets spreading in Egypt as poverty rises

Egyptian market [File photo]
An Egyptian market, April 2016 [ApaImages]

Egypt has seen a recent growth in the so-called “used food” markets, as citizens bear the brunt of President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s economic reform programme, Arabi21 has reported.

Markets selling scraps of food have become increasingly common in Greater Cairo, home to more than 20 million people, with the remains of meals from restaurants and hotels offered to families at a discounted price. Defective food products, ranging from processed meats and pasta to cheese and juice, are also on offer, with many of the goods unpackaged, with no information as to where or when they were made.

“No one is asking about the validity of the goods, although they are bad, but what matters to people is their low price,” customer Ahmed Ramadan told reporters.

Another shopper, Asma Mohammed, said she even had to buy chicken bones and necks from the street to make a stock for her family of five after she was unable to afford them at the usual market.

“The poultry bones are now sold for 15 pounds [$0.87], two years ago they were only five pounds [$0.29], I do not know what I will do if I cannot even buy poultry legs and bones,” she said.

As the food is not regulated, there are concerns about the quality of the remains being sold, with many fearful that they will contract food poisoning and diseases spread by contaminated drinks. However, for thousands of people struggling to afford staple goods, they have few other choices.

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The prices of basic food items, water and fuel have soared in recent years after state subsidies were cut and VAT was introduced in the country for the first time. The new policies come as part of Egypt’s commitment to economic reforms stipulated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in accordance with the country’s loan agreement.

However, the policies have added to the financial woes of many millions of Egyptians living below the poverty line, who have complained of being unable to afford basic necessities since the price jumps. Inflation has soared after the government floated the Egyptian pound in 2016, and last year, the treasury announced that it was planning to increase public tax revenues by 131 per cent by 2022.

Egypt has been praised for its commitment to the measures; during its fourth review of the programme by the IMF last week, officials said the country had made significant gains, but warned that it remains vulnerable to a broader aversion to emerging markets from investors.

Despite decreasing the debt burden, foreign direct investment in Egypt fell by nearly 25 per cent last year according to the central bank, with most of the existing funding still concentrated in the gas and oil sectors.

Last month, President Al-Sisi announced that he would raise the minimum wage to 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($116) a month from 1,200 pounds ($53), in a bid to help the country’s poorest. However days before, the electricity minister announced that the country would phase out electricity subsidies over the next three years and completely liberalise other public services, a move that is likely to send prices climbing even higher.

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