Food prices in Morocco: the potato, almost six times more expensive


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Status: 04/06/2023 10:57 a.m

As in Europe, food prices are also rising in Africa – especially in the agricultural country of Morocco. Many Moroccans can hardly afford vegetables in particular. Social associations are calling for protests.

Jean-Marie Magro, ARD-Studio Northwest Africa

A small market hall in the Moroccan capital of Rabat. A tall, muscular man is beheading a salmon with a long, sharp knife, the butcher weighs the minced meat on the scales, and the fruit and vegetable stand has baskets of strawberries on display. It smells like fish, some flies buzz in the air. Everything seems normal, but many Moroccans are upset. Regardless of whether you are a customer or a seller.

“A kilo of meat now costs 120 dirhams, more than ten euros,” the man complains. “And vegetables have also become much more expensive: 13 dirhams for a kilo of tomatoes, 18 for onions. Sardines, which are a staple for many poor Moroccan households, are now 28 dirhams a kilo.” Another says: “I now pay 1.50 dirhams for an egg, although last year it sold for 0.80 dirhams.” According to a woman, the price of potatoes has risen from three to 17 dirhams, and that of five liters of sunflower oil from 65 to 150 dirhams.

The poor hit it first

1.50 euros for a kilo of onions or a kilo of potatoes – in Germany that would be a bargain. But while in Germany the gross domestic product per capita is around 51,000 dollars, in Morocco it is not even 4,000 dollars according to figures from the World Bank. A saleswoman named Ghita recalls: “In the past, you could buy vegetables and fruit for a whole week for 100 dirhams for a family. Today, 100 dirhams is not even enough for a day.”

Inflation in Morocco climbed to over ten percent in February. So not noticeably higher compared to European countries. Lahcen Oulhaj, a former government adviser, explains why the rise in prices is still unusual: “Food prices have risen by 20 percent. This includes the vegetables most popular with Moroccans: tomatoes, onions and potatoes. It hits the poorer classes first of all, who spend on food make up a significant part of their budget.”

Drought, increased fuel prices and the war in Ukraine

There are many reasons for the sharp rise in prices: Morocco was hit by a severe drought last year. It hasn’t rained enough this year either. Added to this were rising fuel prices, also due to the Russian attack on Ukraine. The economist Hassan Azouaoui confirms the bad situation and also that this is reflected in Moroccans’ daily shopping baskets. The situation is made even worse by the fact that the fasting month of Ramadan is being celebrated.

Because during the month of fasting, you don’t eat less, but rather eat better. It used to be customary to put fish on the table every day. Today fewer and fewer enjoy this privilege. Many Moroccans don’t understand why in a country like theirs, with such a large agricultural sector, the shelves are getting emptier and the food more expensive.

The merchant Ghita says that as long as Morocco only exported food to Europe, everything was fine. “But after we opened up to Central Africa, exports have multiplied. There are no restrictions. That’s why there are fewer products on the Moroccan market – and automatically higher prices.”

The big landowners benefit

Red onions are often already sold out in the markets. If there are any left, then they are a few days old and a bit withered. Builder Omar says the government’s agricultural reforms have produced one main winner: “The big agricultural landowners have benefited by boosting production of commodities that are big exports: dates, pistachios and watermelons, for example.”

The economist Hassan Azouaoui from Rabat also finds the crisis management inadequate: “The prices for the food that Moroccans eat every day have risen unjustifiably high. And the government has swallowed up from the ground. It doesn’t say what it’s doing. And what what she does has no effect.” The Front Social Marocain movement is calling for protests against the price increases. Last for this Friday in 24 cities. A popular demand, for example, is an export ban on food products.

“It can not go on like this”

Former government adviser and economics professor Lahcen Oulhaj fears this will create a new conflict between the populace and export-dependent agriculture. He says: “The poorer classes have no cushion and can no longer feed themselves properly at these prices. If things continue like this, the poorer people would have to be helped directly with money transfers.”

All of the interlocutors agree on one thing: things cannot go on as they are at the moment. Official Sanaa says the result of last year’s policies is “a social resentment that takes the form of demonstrations. If no political action is taken, this protest could become larger and uncontrollable”.

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