Rising fuel costs mean Egypt's salad days are over

Bassem Abo Alabass, Sunday 17 Mar 2013

A shortage of cheap diesel fuel has pushed the prices of fruit and vegetables up dramatically

street vendor
An Egyptian street vendor sits at the back of a pickup truck along with vegetables displayed for sale, in Cairo, Egypt (photo: AP)

A new wave of price hikes has hit fruit and vegetables on the Egyptian market due to an ongoing diesel fuel crunch.

Diesel shortages have had a direct impact on prices, with the cost of transporting shipments from farmers to wholesalers increasing by nearly 33 percent.

“Freighters are paid LE200 ($29.5) compared to LE150 ($22) two months ago to transport a small shipment of 1.5 tonnes,” Magdi Ibrahim, a vegetable wholesaler, told Ahram Online.

According to Ibrahim, major vegetables have seen their prices soar for consumers over the past month; for example, the price of green peppers leaped from LE2 ($0.29) to LE6 ($0.88) per kilogram.

The price of cucumbers reached LE2.25 ($0.33), up from LE1.5 (0.22) per kilo, while the price of potatoes, previously ranging between LE1 ($ 0.15) and LE1.25 ($0.22) per kilo has hit the LE2 ($0.29) to LE2.25 ($0.33) level.

Tomato prices doubled to LE2 ($0.29) per kilo in the past month.

Egyptian housewives expressed their discontent with the sharp rise in prices.

“I used to make a plate of green salad every day, but with these high and ongoing increases in vegetable prices, I make it two or three times a week,” a woman at a street vendor's tomato stand told Ahram Online on Saturday.

Fruit prices went up as well, said Yasser El-Fakahani, a street fruit vendor.

Lemon and cantaloupe prices surged from LE3 ($0.44) last week to sell currently for LE5 ($0.74) per kilo, while apples reached LE12 ($1.7) compared to LE10 ($1.4) per kilo two weeks ago.

Truck drivers are queuing up at petrol stations nationwide to fill their tanks with diesel, which remains subsidised by the government at a fixed cost of LE1.10 ($0.16) per litre.

Drivers complain about the emergence of a black market in which a litre of diesel is sold at double the normal price. Many say they are buying 20-litre jerry cans of the commodity for between LE40 ($5.9) and LE50 ($7.3), compared to the official LE22 (roughly $3).

Egypt will start implementing a ‘smart card’ system to sell subsidised petrol to government vehicles in May 2013 and to private cars in July, Planning Minister Ashraf El-Arabi announced earlier this month.

Under the new system, vehicles with smaller engines (1,600cc or smaller) will be assigned an annual 1,800 litres at the subsidised price. If consumption exceeds this amount, motorists will have to buy petrol at market prices. Larger engines will not be entitled to any subsidy.

Unsubsidised prices for diesel would reportedly stand at LE5.2 ($0.77) per litre.

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