analysisBy Jamel Arfaoui, Mohamed Saadouni and Jemal Oumar
Tunis — As the Maghreb marks the Festival of Sacrifice, attention is turning to the economic impact of the holiday on families and businesses.
Citizens across the Maghreb are preparing to celebrate Eid al-Adha. But for many families, the holiday presents significant financial stress.
Morocco's Agriculture Minster Aziz Akhannouch said October 8th that Eid al-Adha could help alleviate burdens on farmers hit hard by drought. "Demand associated with Eid al-Adha will inject some 8 billion dirhams (720m euros) for the benefit of rural areas," he said.
The ministry promised citizens that its agencies would monitor prices in market and protect Moroccan consumers, and would also ensure good quality and affordable prices in offered rams.
"Every year, the ministry says that rams are available at the market for reasonable prices," Casablanca resident Hassan Felil told Magharebia. "However, at the market, we find ourselves faced with another reality. We're faced with a mafia that is only concerned with raising the prices of rams."
"They do this under the pretext of low supply, high fodder prices and scarce rain, and then we find ourselves forced to pay high prices for rams in the absence of state control and its role in setting and controlling prices," he added.
In his turn, Ahmed Ouyache, head of the Moroccan Confederation for Agriculture and Rural Development, warned of a 10% rise in prices this year.
"The poor agricultural season this year has largely affected the availability of fodder, and this has increased costs for rearing sheep, and would be reflected on the market in Eid al-Adha," he added. "Therefore, the rise in prices this year may be up to three or even four dirhams per kilo of the total price of ram."
Eid al-Adha, Tunisia excused
Tunisian Mufti Othmane Battikh recently spoke about citizens performing their religious rites without burdening their budgets. "Muslims are required to perform their duties only if they have the means and ability to do so," the mufti said September 20th.
"There is no need to borrow and go into debt especially since the prices of sacrificial animals are skyrocketing, not counting additional expenses that impact consumer budgets, and such debt is a quagmire that Islam refuses," the mufti said.
He said that families unable to meet the cost of sheep could purchase a quantity of meat and present it as alms to the needy, hence meeting the religious obligation of Eid.
The statements from the mufti were met with mixed reactions among Tunisians consumers and livestock dealers.
Livestock breeder Alhaji Mabrouk Touati said that the majority of his colleagues were subject to unfair charges.
"Those who are accusing us of greed forget the prohibitively high prices for feed that we pay and the losses we suffer because of diseases that have afflicted livestock recently," Touati said.
Livestock experts expect prices of sheep this year to range between 400 and 500 dinars (200-250 euros), a difference ranging from 150 to 200 dinars compared to last year's prices.
Mali crisis weighs on Eid in Mauritania
Prices are also up this year in neighbouring Mauritania, where brokers said the situation in Mali was impacting the livestock trade.
In the days leading up to Eid al-Adha, the average ram price in Nouakchott was 35,000 ouguiyas (91 euros).
Rajel Ould Oumar, a local reporter in Hodh Ech Chargui along the Malian border, said that the prices soared because many Mauritanian herders preferred to sell their livestock in Mali at a higher return.
Nouakchott animal seller Lebatt Ould Inalla also attributed the higher prices in Mauritania to demand in Mali.
"Customers must realise that many sellers decided to cross the border into Mali and face the danger of terrorism to sell their animals deep into Malian soil," he said. "Some of them even went to areas controlled by armed groups in Timbuktu to sell their animals for much higher prices, and this has directly affected local prices here."
Timbuktu resident Hamma Ag Oussi told Magharebia by phone that most people in the city were struggling to find ways to cope with the harsh reality of life under Islamist rule.
"Employees no longer receive their salaries because of the absence of the Malian state, and livestock is no longer available because refugees moved to Mauritania and most of them took their animals with them," he explained.
"Frankly, since the armed groups controlled northern Mali, we only see the strict religious appearance," Ag Oussi concluded. "As to the atmosphere of joy and happiness, it has disappeared even on children's faces."