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Who can afford meat in Egypt today?

May 30, 2023 at 11:11 am

Chefs grill meat in the street as Egyptian Muslims gather in streets in Cairo’s Matariya suburb in the northeast of Egypt’s capital Cairo on April 6, 2023 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

“We may return to the old days, eating meat once a year…” lamented an Egyptian citizen, criticising the record-breaking rise in meat prices and the inability of people with low incomes to afford even a few grams.

In recent months, meat prices in Egypt have seen astronomical increases, pushing animal protein off Egyptian dining tables, especially with the worsening economic situation in the country, the sharp decline in the value of the local currency against the dollar and the collapse of citizens’ purchasing power.

The price of a kilogram of beef in Egyptian markets has reached 350 Egyptian pounds (EGP) (about $12), while the cost of camel meat has risen to 300 EGP (approximately $9.7) in retail markets.

Prices vary from one area to another, amid a lack of government control, with prices in some Cairo neighbourhoods exceeding 400 EGP (around $13). The value of some premium cuts of meat can even reach 450 EGP (about $14.5).

Fears are growing that the price of meat could hit 500 EGP (more than $16) per kilogram before Eid Al-Adha, amid an unprecedented wave of inflation that has hit all goods, commodities and services in the country.

Since last January, meat prices have reached record increases of 80 per cent to 100 per cent after surpassing the 200-pound mark, approaching 400 EGP per kilogram. This has led many Egyptians to abandon meat on the menu and search for other alternatives, such as poultry and fish.

READ: Calls to eat donkey, horse meat in Egypt spark controversy on social media

Impoverished families in villages and towns across Egypt boil bones to create a rich broth, providing some semblance of the aroma of meat, which may help stave off hunger for those crushed by poverty and rising costs.

Abu Tariq, a butcher, tells MEMO that bone prices have increased due to growing demand. He adds that butchers cut the spinal column and sell it for seven to ten EGP per kilogram (around $0.3), while the price of the “pipe” (the bones of slaughtered and skinned cattle) has reached 30 EGP (about one dollar), something that was given away for free in the past.

A few months ago, a major controversy erupted in Egypt after images circulated of a charity distributing livestock bones to low-income families in the province of Alexandria (in the north of the country), boasting about the benefits of bones, provoking widespread criticism on social media platforms.

Many Egyptians are now substituting red meat with what is colloquially known as “meat fruits” or “livestock accessories”, including tripe at the cost of 100 EGP ($3.2), lungs at 150 EGP ($4.8), sausage casing at 100 EGP ($3.2), head meat at 250 EGP (about $8), spleen at 200 EGP (about $6.5), tongue at 250 EGP (about $8), calves’ feet at 200 EGP (about $6.5) and liver and heart at 320 EGP (about $10.3) per kilogram, according to market sellers in Giza, near the capital.

Last December, the Egyptian media was busy promoting the benefits of chicken feet, the price of which has risen in the local market due to increased demand, reaching 30 EGP ($1) per kilogram. In addition, chicken carcasses are priced at 40 EGP ($1.3), wings at 55 EGP ($1.8), necks at 75 EGP ($2.4) and chicken meat at 76 EGP ($2.4) per kilogram.

Consumption decline

Inflation forced 93.1 per cent of Egyptian households to reduce their consumption of proteins (meat and poultry) and 92.5 per cent of households to reduce their fish consumption last November, according to a study by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

Egypt’s average per capita meat consumption has declined annually from 10.7 kilograms in 2017 to 7.3 kilograms in 2020. However, this rate may be on its way to dwindling to unprecedented low numbers.

The well-known Egyptian writer Anwar Al-Hawari expressed his frustration at the madness of meat prices, posting on Facebook: “Three months ago, meat was 325 EGP, today it’s 397 EGP, and lamb is 410 EGP in a store frequented by the middle class, which we are now entirely out of.”

However, a butcher in the Sohag governorate has sought to alleviate Egyptians’ suffering, launching an initiative to sell meat by the piece, with the price of a 100-gram piece set at 28 EGP (around $0.9) and an 80-gram cut at 22 EGP (roughly $0.7).

Continuous rise

The price of a kilogram of beef currently stands at about 135 EGP (approximately $4.4) and buffalo meat at 125 EGP ($4), the price of live cattle before being slaughtered, skinned and sold in the retail market, which is experiencing a decrease in supply versus demand.

The rise is due to an increase in animal feed prices, with the price of cattle feed reaching 25,000 EGP (about $810), soybean meal costing 36,500 EGP (about $1,181) for local varieties, crushed soybeans priced at 20,000 EGP (about $647), corn at 15,000 EGP (around $485) and wheat bran prices at 11,000 EGP (approximately $355) per tonne, according to Egyptian newspapers.

Ahmed El-Sharkawi, one of the senior butchers in Cairo, spoke to MEMO, stating that the rise in feed prices due to the Russian-Ukrainian war has caused significant losses for cattle breeders, forcing many of them to exit the market. In addition, some are resorting to slaughtering female animals due to their lower price, which has resulted in a shortage of supply and exacerbated the crisis of rising meat prices.

El-Sharkawi adds that at least 30 per cent of butchers have closed their shops or reduced the quantities of meat available for sale following a decline in consumption and increased likelihood of losses. He points out that the price of a 500-kilogram calf (live weight) can reach 70,000 EGP (around $2,265).

Vice President of the Butchers Division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce Haitham Abdel Basit attributed the rise in meat prices to the small farmer’s exit from the production system in press statements a few days ago. He confirmed that 70 per cent of farmers have refrained from raising livestock, and 30 per cent of butchers have exited the production system, especially after the cost of fodder skyrocketed due to a shortage of hard currency.

Dollar crisis

Egypt possesses approximately 7.5 million head of cattle, while the annual consumption volume is around 1.3 million tonnes of red meat. Of this, 40 per cent is imported, amounting to approximately $1.6 billion in 2022. According to government data, this includes a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth from Sudan.

The Sudanese war casts its shadow over the meat market in Egypt, with the stalling of buying and selling deals conducted in Egyptian and Sudanese pounds. This supplies the Egyptian markets with about 30,000 tonnes of frozen meat daily, compared to the need for meat deals from Brazil, India and Chad, which require dollars.

READ: Paralysis hits Egypt market

In general, imported meats do not enjoy the trust of Egyptian citizens, who prefer fresh local meats. Most imported quantities are directed towards hotels, restaurants and consumer complexes provided by the Egyptian Ministry of Supply for 195 EGP (about $3.6) per kilogram.

According to an anonymous economic expert, the Egyptian government faces a significant shortage in providing hard currency, which has been negatively reflected in several ways: the accumulation of goods in ports, the unavailability of fodder, the inability to diversify sources of meat imports and the failure to compensate for any shortage in the product supply from any other source.

As Eid Al-Adha approaches at the end of June, expectations of the crisis worsening increase. The number of sacrificial animals has declined as many can no longer afford them and meat has become an unattainable dream for low-income citizens in Egypt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.