Approach a vegetable vendor in Cairo in recent months looking for potatoes, and you’ll likely be in for a surprise. For one kilogram of potatoes, a staple food item for many Egyptians, you might pay as much as LE14, more than twice the usual price.
The price of potatoes across Egypt skyrocketed in September, and they are still high two months afterward. A market in Cairo’s Bab al-Louq neighborhood closed last week with a price tag of LE17, while the going rate for a kilogram of potatoes in markets in lower income areas across Cairo is LE10.
What started as an immediate strain on the budgets of citizens across Egypt has since evolved into a political episode featuring all the usual characters: state bodies rushing to intervene on behalf of the “suffering citizen,” pontificating state officials quick to promise a crisis averted, the vilified hoarding traders serving as scapegoats, a president defending austerity measures as necessary sacrifice.
But behind much of the political maneuvering, farmers and agricultural insiders that spoke to Mada Masr paint a picture of a sector that has been under strain due to the economic program the government rolled out in coordination with the International Monetary Fund in November 2016.
This program’s push for liberalization has left production costs and distribution for the food staple open to market forces, which has invited the formation of monopolies and compelled farmers incurring heavy losses to think more about bottom lines than how the majority of citizens will put food in their mouths.
And while the state has held up its intervention as sufficient to remedy the crisis, sources tell Mada Masr that leaving the root causes of the potato crisis unaddressed may leave the door open for a recurring cycle.
This economic program has been a defining feature of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s time in office, and he was quick to defend it in light of hardships that have been exacerbated by the potato price surge.