A vendor waits for customers at Obour market in Cairo, capital of Egypt, on Nov. 19, 2016. Located on the northern outskirts of Cairo, Obour wholesale fresh fruit and vegetable market was once the busiest depot in Egypt, until economic recession started to hit every corner of it. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Xinhua writer Wang Xue
CAIRO, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) — Located on the northern outskirts of Cairo, Obour wholesale fresh fruit and vegetable market was once the busiest depot in Egypt, until economic recession started to hit every corner of it.
“Our business has been going down over the past four months," said Khaled Mahmoud, a vegetable seller, told Xinhua. “The worsening economic situation in the country as well as the rising commodity prices have caused an unprecedented recession."
Gripped by economic downturn, Egypt has recently devaluated its currency against the U.S. dollar, which has risen from 8.85 Egyptian pounds to 15 to 17 pounds in the official market.
The severe economic recession, a result of five years of political instability, has led to a decline in foreign currency reserves, a growing budget deficit and the rise of foreign debts to as high as 55.8 billion dollars.
Mahmoud, who expressed dissatisfaction with his country’s worsening economy, said that such conditions have taken a negative turn for both sellers and buyers as prices of locally grown and imported food have almost doubled.
“The prices have gone up drastically due to the rising inflation," he said. “Buyers are not happy at all; they come and buy the very essential items and in very limited amounts."
The fifty-something man attributed the price hike to the rise in fuel and travel costs as well as the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
“Farmers pay more now. They buy imported fertilizers and fuel for higher prices, and transportation fees have doubled, making the prices of all commodities jump crazily," he said with eyes looking around for potential customers.
“Four months ago, one kilo of onion was sold for 3 pounds, now we sell it for six pounds. This has driven many small sellers to buy less amount since people are now reluctant to buy goods at the current price," the man said.
As Egypt’s largest wholesale fruit, vegetable and fish market, Obour market stretches over an area of 311 acres and has some 1400 shops, covering most of the daily food needs of the capital’s 25 million population.
On the other side of the barracks, trader Lotfi al-Halwany was busy overseeing his workers who are loading a truck with boxes of his potatoes and onion. However, he did not look very happy.
“This truckload is going to a restaurant in Cairo," he said. “The sad thing is that this restaurant used to buy at least two truckloads a day, but they have to cut it to one a day now."
Al-Halawany, whose family has been in the business for decades, said this season is one of the worst in years, adding that he barely makes profit because of the acute drop in sales.
“Sometimes I sell my goods at a lower price to avoid big losses," he said. “My goods will go rotten if I do not do so."
The price hike in the northern African country has stoked resentment among all walks of life, prompting the government to consider raising pensions, improving healthcare and educational services and implementing a social safety net program to limit the suffering of low-income citizens.
Traders who come to buy their goods and resell them in other smaller markets across Greater Cairo have suffered more losses since they directly deal with the customers.
“Prices of vegetables and fruits increase every day," a vendor who preferred not to mention his name said. “Suppliers set the price according to their and the farmers’ costs. Small sellers like me must pay what they ask for."
The father of three said people often groan at his vegetable prices, lamenting that he would consider changing his job if the situation remains the same.
“I sell my goods in poor areas. People there cannot afford to buy food for high prices, but they have to feed their children, so they buy less and this negatively affects my business," the man said as he started the engine of his tricycle and sped off.