Egypt’s police are stepping in to fight a potato shortage that has caused prices for the staple to double at a time when Egyptians are struggling with steadily rising food costs.
Pro-government newspapers and TV stations have been publicising raids on warehouses where authorities say businessmen are hoarding potatoes to try to drive up prices.
For the first time, the Interior Ministry, which runs the police, has begun selling potatoes at reduced prices at temporary outlets, drawing long lines of customers.
The potato crisis has showcased the lengths to which authorities are willing to go to prevent popular discontent from boiling over as they impose a raft of austerity measures intended to reform the economy.
The Egyptians were shocked with extraordinary hike in potato prices, jumping from EGP 5 to EGP 15 per kilo, to become one of the most expensive vegetable in the country. The interior ministry’s vegetables outlets sell potatoes for EGP 8 per kilo.
The price hike of potatoes followed a shocking shortage across the country. Potato traders were blamed for the crisis, after the government revealed that tonnes of potatoes were stored by the traders to sell them later at higher prices.
Meanwhile, the ministry of agriculture adopted strict measures to find reasons behind this shortage. The ministry carried out inspection campaigns nationwide, which resulted into discovering large amounts of potatoes stored in special refrigerators at several wholesale warehouses, head of the agriculture ministry’s central department of pest control Mamdouh El-Sebay said in a televised interview.
He revealed that traders buy potatoes from farmers for EGP 2 per kilo and sell them for more than EGP 10. “The ministry’s campaign found around 300 tonnes of potatoes at one of traders’ stores which he bought from a framer at EGP 2.5 per kilo,” El-Sebay said.
Deputy Head of the El-Obour Market Union Hatem Naguib said that wholesale prices declined by 30-40%, thanks to the supply and interior ministries, as well as civil society groups’ efforts. He added that traders should decrease their products’ profit margins to between 10 and 20%, to maintain affordable potatoes prices.