When charity meets high prices: Egypt's Ramadan bags

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 28 Mar 2023

The annual tradition of distributing Ramadan charity bags loaded with staple foods is facing unprecedented challenges in Egypt this year, as charities and benefactors grapple with rising costs and scarce supplies.

Volunteers preparing Ramadan food boxes at Cairo Stadium within the Shoulder-To-Shoulder initiative in mid-March, launched under the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW). Photo: NACDW


"It was a double challenge for us," said Haitham El-Tabei, the founder of the Abwab El-Kheir Foundation, as he described the difficulties of preparing this year's Ramadan charity food bags.

Due to the inflation and supply shortages, staple foods have become increasingly expensive and harder to obtain. This has put a strain on both charitable organisations and individuals who are trying to uphold the annual tradition of assisting the less fortunate.

Despite the challenges, charity organisations and individuals alike have increased their efforts to meet the growing demand.

This comes in light of Egypt’s annual core inflation rate, which recorded 40.3 percent in February, compared to 31.2 percent in January 2023, as reported by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) in early March.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) the annual headline inflation surged in February to 31.9 percent, up from 10 percent in February 2022 and 26.5 percent recorded the previous month.

The CAPMAS attributed the five-year record increase to the rise in the prices of bread and grains by 9.2 percent, poultry and meat by 29.7 percent, seafood by 19.5 percent and dairy products by 11.1 percent.

The increase in prices has had a significant impact on Egyptian charity NGOs and individuals, who work hard to prepare and distribute the annual Ramadan charity bags.

"The impact of the crisis on charity work started several months ago, in September," El-Tabei said, describing how the NGO began receiving fewer donations while costs doubled, including transportation costs, at the same time as requests for aid increased.

El-Tabei wrote about the situation in his NGO in January, which not only provides monthly food supplies to the needy but also provides medical and housing assistance.

"Currently, the situation is very hard, especially when it comes to monthly food supplies, particularly with the daily increase in meat prices; as well as the increase in the prices of medicines, speech and physiotherapy sessions," he said on his Facebook account.

Although donations increased as the Holy Month of Ramadan drew closer, requests for aid also increased at an unbelievable rate from new segments and new areas, El-Tabei said.

However, even if the issue of donations is resolved, another problem remains for NGOs and individuals involved in organizing these bags: finding sufficient food quantities with the available funds.

A.G, who prefers to be referred to by her initials, used to independently prepare and distribute Ramadan charity bags with her family members. It was an annual tradition, but this year, she faced the challenge of obtaining packs of rice and other items from retailers and supermarkets.

In previous years, she used to buy the food items from a local grocer in her neighborhood.

"But this time we had to buy multiple times because not all the items were available in the quantity we wanted," she told Ahram Online, adding that the recent rice crisis had its impact on this annual tradition.

Last year, a rice crisis began in Egypt when the cabinet issued a three-month fixed-price scheme for rice. The price of premium rice was set at EGP 18 per kg, packaged rice was set at EGP 15 per kg and unpackaged rice was set at LE12 per kg. In mid-December, it extended the compulsory pricing mechanism for three more months.

The decision did not satisfy retailers, farmers and factory owners who said the prices did not reflect their costs or offer them fair profit margins. Many of them stopped supplying the market with rice, preferring to store it instead. The prices soared, and many supermarkets issued instructions that some still follow, stating that the consumer should not buy more than three packs of rice.

There were also crises with oil and ghee. The price of natural Egyptian Falahi ghee jumped to over EGP 150 per kilo, while the price of imported ghee reached over EGP 400 per kilo.

"There are cheaper local brands of artificial ghee, but they are unhealthy. If you want to do something good, you should provide high-quality items in the Ramadan charity," A.G. said, adding that she and her family decided to replace ghee with Falahi butter.

NGOs also faced difficulties. El-Tabei told Ahram Online that it was challenging to find rice and pasta in the quantities they needed. Despite dealing with wholesalers, it was still hard to find oil.

"It was hard to find rice, pasta, and oil. Even legumes were also hard to get," he said.

Meat prices were another challenge as prices jumped by 60 percent in a matter of months. Nevertheless, the NGO continued to include meat in its bags.

Ramadan charity bags: A history in Egypt to help needy people

At present, the Egyptian government is taking measures to stabilise food prices in anticipation of increased consumption during Ramadan, including products in short supply, such as rice.

The budget for the upcoming 2023/2024 fiscal year includes new social support measures to alleviate the negative impact of inflation on citizens.

Recently, the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW) in cooperation with businessmen launched the Shoulder-To-Shoulder initiative, which aims to distribute six million cartons of food supplies nationwide during the holy month, making it the largest social protection initiative in Egypt's history, providing food for 20 million people.

The NACDW is a 34-charity entity alliance that includes the Decent Life Foundation (DLF), Resala Charity Organisation, Orman Association and the Egyptian Food Bank, which rely on donations from citizens.

The practice of distributing Ramadan bags with food supplies began during President Gamal Abdel-Nasser's rule when some public sector companies and factories distributed them.

In the 1990s, MPs, political parties, and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood also distributed them to win votes. However, in the early 2000s, NGOs like Resala and Life Makers made it possible for regular citizens to participate in charitable action. Later, individual families and friend groups began to organise them as a charity action before the holy month, away from NGOs.

Short link: