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Rising Food Prices Hit Hard in West Africa

Food is getting harder to find in West African cities as prices skyrocket and people hoard supplies waiting for the best selling price. Senegalese shopkeeper, Naw Sow, talked with Naomi Schwarz about what it is like to survive the world food crisis in one of the world's poorest countries.

Naw Sow owns a small shop in a quiet neighborhood of Senegal's capital, Dakar.

He sells groceries to the people who live nearby. But with the prices of some food nearly tripling, his business is declining. He says he cannot afford to stock basic food items anymore.

"I have no rice, because it is expensive," he said. "I cannot get that money to go and buy rice and I cannot even see where they are selling rice because it is like traffic now."

When people come to buy rice, he says he must send them elsewhere.

"I am losing customers, but it is hard," added Sow.

Shopkeepers like Sow typically buy rice in 50-kilogram sacks, which they sell by the cupful to their customers. Sow says one of the reasons rice is so scarce these days is because people are holding onto these sacks, waiting for the price to go even higher as supplies dwindle.

He says one friend tried to buy a sack of rice recently, but he was refused.

"He went to town and he [saw] a boutique that is selling rice, but there was a long line where they are standing. And he wait all day, but after these people [sold to] 15 people, they say okay we are going to stop, because there is no more rice," said Sow.

But Sow's friend told him there was still rice in the shop. He said the shop-owner simply decided not to sell any more.

Six months ago rice sold for 60 cents a kilogram, today Sow struggles to buy rice for his family to eat.

At a shop across town, Sow has found some rice for about 85 cents a kilogram.

He paid double that price a week ago.

He says he thought about reporting that shopkeeper to a special hot-line set-up by the government to fight price gouging. People can call in to report to police when they see someone selling goods for too high a price.

But Sow says he knew the shopkeeper and sympathized with him. He decided he could not get the man in trouble.

Besides, he says, it is not like rice is the only problem. Even if you have rice, he says water cuts and gas shortages mean it is not easy to cook it.

"Sometimes you get gas, but you do not get water to cook it with. Or sometimes you get water, but no gas," he said.

Senegal, an impoverished, semi-arid country in West Africa, has been praised for its record of peaceful democratic elections and transfers of power. Rising food prices led to recent protests here and across the region.