Rising food prices foil Ramadan traditions in Senegal

Astou Mandiang and her family gathered around a large silver bowl after breaking their fast at nighttime in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, where Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan are feeling the pressure of inflation.

Food costs in West Africa have risen by 20% to 30% in the last five years, according to relief groups, as drought and violence have driven millions off farmland and slowed food production.

At the same time, supply lines have been interrupted due to border closures during the pandemic.

The crisis in Ukraine is going to put even greater strain on Muslim households who are stockpiling food and beverages to feed visiting relatives, neighbours, and those in need.

Mandiang, cooking a simmering fish and tomato stew in a wet kitchen without power, remarked, “At the market, there is a dearth of food.”

“Prices have risen, and we come home with no idea what to cook,” said the 64-year-old, who makes a job selling oatmeal on the side of the road.

Fish is now the only animal protein Mandiang can buy for her family because it is cheaper than beef in the ocean-facing country.

She was glad she had loaded up on onions, which are essential in many traditional meals, before the increased demand during Ramadan drove up prices even higher.

The majority of traditional Senegalese foods, including the staple rice, are imported.

“We rely on external logistics,” Mamadou Diop, a regional representative for Action Against Hunger, said.

Economic restrictions imposed on Mali following a military coup, for example, have raised the price of beef in Senegal because Malian animals cannot be sold over the border, he noted.

Food distribution charities are struggling to meet their regular donations during Ramadan.

Astou Ndour, a charity worker scouring market booths for the best discounts, said her organisation would only be able to help 80 families this Ramadan, down from 90 last year.

The cost of cooking oil has increased by 50%. The price of rice has increased by almost 10%.

“We assume [shopkeepers] made a mistake when they give us change,” Mandiang explained. “They say the price has gone up, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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