Mogadishu — Consumers are demanding that merchants at Mogadishu markets lower their prices on basic food items so that poor people can feed their families during Ramadan.
"We ask our brothers who sell goods to have compassion for people who are poor and bring down the cost of essential foods during Ramadan," said Wabari district resident Aadan Hussein.
As responsible citizens, merchants must be responsive to the public outcry and do something to mitigate the sudden increase in food prices that many families cannot bear, said the 48-year-old father of seven children.
Prices for staples such as rice, flour, pasta, sugar and cooking oil -- as well as for other traditional Ramadan-time meal ingredients like dates, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products -- have risen since the Muslim holy month began on July 10th.
"Prices of food items have gone up noticeably compared to before the fasting month," said Hamar Weyne market food merchant Ahmed Hussein.
The price of rice has risen from 532,000 shillings ($28) to 620,000 shillings (about $31) per 50-kilo sack, while a sack of sugar now costs 680,000 shillings ($34) compared with 595,000 ($30.2) previously, according to Hussein's observations.
The price of flour has risen from 550,000 shillings ($29) to 610,000 shillings ($30.5) per sack, while a kilo of dates has gone up to 50,000 shillings ($2.5) from 36,000 shillings ($2), he said.
The same goes for beef and goat meat, as a kilo now costs an average of 120,000 shillings (around $6), while it cost 80,000 shillings (approximately $4) before Ramadan. Consumers are also feeling a price pinch when it comes to cooking oil, vegetables and dairy products.
While some shoppers accuse merchants of jacking up prices, food sellers respond that price increases are a normal trend during Ramadan driven by market demand.
"It is not up to us to raise prices because this is due to high demand for food items, as consumption rises on the part of families who buy more quantities of essential items during this month," Bakara Market food merchant Ahmed Osman Tarabi said.
Appeals on behalf of poor, displaced
The cost of food has gone up despite a pre-Ramadan appeal to merchants from Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to refrain from raising prices.
"As we welcome the month of Ramadan, I call on all merchants and the business world to not raise prices of essential food items and I also call on all Somalis to help each other and show compassion towards one another," Mohamud said in a statement after meeting with a group of merchants at Villa Somalia on July 7th. "I ask them to help those that are in need and to work toward building and reinforcing national unity."
Mohamud said for the duration of Ramadan the government would reduce taxes levied at Mogadishu's port on imported food items, and asked that business owners' pass those saving on to consumers.
Poor people, especially families living at internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Mogadishu, are especially feeling the pinch.
"The high cost of food is weighing down on IDPs who cannot afford to buy their daily food requirements," said Fatima Mohamed, 36, a mother of six who lives at Siliga camp.
"We have welcomed the month of Ramadan this year with a wave of high food costs," she said. "This will double the burden on IDPs who have been living under very difficult humanitarian conditions."
She appealed to relief agencies, charitable people and authorities tasked with delivering aid to help families such as hers put enough food on the table during Ramadan.
Tarabuunka camp resident and father of five Ali Abdullahi said the price increase is a huge burden on displaced people.
"We cannot provide enough food for ourselves during this month. These high prices are turning our already difficult conditions into true suffering during Ramadan," he said.
Abdullahi, 38, who earns less than $2 a day as a porter at Bakara Market, said he does not make enough to feed and support his family.
"The state of IDPs is getting worse day after day, especially during the month of Ramadan. Living in refugee camps is very difficult and is even more so during Ramadan. If we do not receive aid as soon as possible, we will suffer even more," he told Sabahi.
Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations were doing a lot to try and help needy people and IDPs make it through Ramadan, said Ahmed Ibrahim, director of local non-profit Solidarity Charity Association.
His organisation is planning with other non-governmental organisations and charities to provide iftar meals for around 3,000 IDPs, he said.
"The suffering of IDPs in the refugee camps of Mogadishu is ongoing, but it is increasing and getting worse with the arrival of the blessed month of Ramadan," he said.