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Tunisia: Monopolies push vegetable prices to record highs

The Youssef government is reportedly unable to cope with the continuous rise in agricultural prices in Tunisia, which has reached record highs in recent times. Producers confirmed that the products going from farms to wholesale markets are distributed through a parallel market controlled by monopolistic traders. Tunisian consumers are under threat, with inflation expected to reach 6 percent by the end of the year, up from 5.5 percent in September, if the government cannot find immediate solutions to curb prices.

In contrast to market laws that make supply and demand the main determinant of prices, the prices of vegetables and fruits continue to increase, although no Tunisian market in any of the governorates has any shortage of agricultural products, as the local production is almost enough to meet the demand.

"The maximum price paid for tomatoes and peppers in production areas is just 700 millimes (about 0.291 dollars) per kilo, while end consumers pay about 3 dinars (about 1.22 dollars)," states Yassin al-Saghir, a producer in the north-east of the country.

Yassin believes that both producers and consumers are the victims of organised monopolies, in which the owners of cooling storage facilities play an important role. He pointed out that the spread of vegetable and grain cooling stores has created a kind of "mafia" of agricultural materials. The owners of the warehouses acquire large quantities of various agricultural products, with market prices agreed upon in advance, and the government is unable to find solutions to tackle this phenomenon," he said.

In an interview to the new Arab, Husain Issawi, the head of the wholesalers' chamber, complained about the poor distribution of profits among the various participants in the production and marketing chain. He stressed that the main reason for the increase in prices of agricultural materials is the absence of all forms of monitoring of the cooling stores.

He pointed out that more than 60% of the agricultural products going through the wholesale market's formal routes were sold through the parallel market. And according to statistics of the Institute of consumption, fruit and vegetable prices have recorded an 85% increase between 2005 and 2015. Experts and workers in the agricultural sector believe that the main reason for this increase is the products' sale in the parallel market.


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