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High Prices Affect Restaurant Owners, Rice Sellers in Casamance


Higher prices are affecting every corner of Africa, from capitals to remote areas. It is also not only consumers who are being affected but sellers as well. VOA's Nico Colombant studies the case of a restaurant owner and a rice seller in the southern Senegalese region of Casamance, with additional reporting by Ebrima Sillah.

Restaurant owner Ida Jahateh is frying some fish at her restaurant in the Casamance capital Ziguinchor.

As she moves around her kitchen to pound some spices, she explains the hardships she is experiencing.

She says a bag of rice can cost her up to $35 now, when earlier this year it was more like $25.

A kilo of meat has gone up from $4 to $6. She now sells a rice plate for $1.20 rather than less than a dollar, because she started realizing she was running her business at a loss.

She says many of her customers now buy just two plates for up to five people. She says she is very sad that she has been forced to lay off some of her restaurant employees.

She said she had no choice. She says it is not just food prices going up.

She says schooling for her children has become very expensive. She says a schoolbook which used to cost $5 now costs over $20.

She says a pen now costs more than a dollar.

She says she is angry, but she feels there is nothing she can do to make things better.

Because mango season has started, people here have started eating mangoes instead of rice for meals.

The United Nations said today that rice - a staple for more than half the earth's population - will remain in short supply on global markets, and poor countries that rely on food imports could see food bills up 40 percent this year after a similar price hike in 2007.

Bulk rice seller Khadim Gueye says rice sales are down a lot.

Speaking at his warehouse, as trucks are making a delivery, he explains that restaurant owners or merchants who used to buy ten bags at a time now just buy five at a time.

He says his business is not as profitable as it used to be.

He says customers blame rice sellers for higher prices, but he says a seller needs to raise the price a little from what he buys it for, or else, he says, there would be no point in doing business.

He says there are fewer and fewer rice sellers in Casamance because business is so bad, which means less and less rice is coming in. Gueye says he fears a really bad few months ahead, where less food will be available, because sellers cannot make a profit anymore and buyers do not have money.

Senegal's government has been trying to initiate programs to promote more local production of basic items like rice. But sellers and customers in Casamance say decisions made by the central government rarely affect them, and that all that can save them is world prices going back down, or finding their own ways to produce staple goods locally.


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