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French Version

Markets in Ramadan: Low prices fail to attract customers

The holy month of Ramadan this year is customizing Jordanians' pockets with much blessings.

Since the beginning of Ramadan, the new habit for Jordanians has been to go to the market soon before the Iftar prayer to buy their food, sweets and beverages.

What makes this Ramadan more interesting is the prices of foodstuffs and domestic supplies are today cheaper than in previous years.

Local economists say people this year are generally becoming more conservative in their consumption and outlays, something that is forcing merchants to sell their products at lower prices to ensure a better public demand. Many Jordanians believe the main reason behind the moderate to low prices of foodstuffs has to do with the abundance of fruits and vegetables available in local markets. "Economic sluggishness is having its toll on the Jordanian street. This has forced many Jordanian families to modify their priorities in regard to their financial commitments," said economist Dr Ahmed Al Namri. He added Jordanians in the past were able to spend more money on food and drinks because their commitments were much less than today. "The rising costs of education and the electricity and telephone bills in Jordan obliged many families to change their food habits. These rising payments have meant more income is being paid elsewhere and that means families are actually losing income for their daily needs," Al Namri told The Star.

He believes Jordan's GDP per capita decreased sharply over the last few years because of the hard financial burdens on Jordanians. According to the Central Bank of Jordan, the per capita in the Kingdom stands at around JD 1208 according to 2001 figures.

But there are other factors for the lack of buying during this Ramadan. Al Namri says one of these is the current political situation in the region.

"The general public alert over regional politics is rife and is forcing many Jordanian families to rationalize their spending in Ramadan," he explained. Al Namri added competition among merchants and grocers is also intensifying in Ramadan.

"Studies show the retail business in Jordan lost 20 percent of its annual revenues over the last year because of the uneven rising number of superstores and shops, a fact that increases the competition amongst them all." Many Jordanians today are likely to get their daily supplies by visiting the popular markets. More and more are going to these markets just hours before the Iftar prayer, to buy their needs at low prices. Many merchants today complain about the low turnout of customers because of the competition from these markets. Ismail Abu Hijleh, a 55-year-old grocery owner has been in the business for more than 20 years. He feels dismayed at the current retail situation in Amman.

"Trade during Ramadan was doing well in previous years. Today, I can hardly make a JD 20 per day," he said. Abu Hijleh's store is located in the downtown area, one of the most popular shopping areas during the holy month. His shop is often recommended for its fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh/frozen meat and dairy products. It is however, failing to entice much customers.

"I am not blaming people but the government for not implementing the right policies to deal with the financial situation in the country," he pointed out. Many other merchants are experiencing the same selling difficulties and feel the same way as Abu Hijleh. "The government only wants to collect money. It raises taxes on everything to increase its revenues," said Mousa Al Shalabi, who owns a grocery shop in Sweileh. "The government has failed to increase the basic salaries for employees, who still receive the same wages as they did 10 years ago." Al Namri agrees. "The social habits of Jordanian families have changed over time," adding "Many families are now forced to prepare for Ramadan well in advanced. They store their needs of foodstuffs and beverages to rationalize their daily consumption in Ramadan." Merchants like Abu Hijleh and Al Shalabi have spent much on preparing their stores for this holy month. Al Shalabi said he has just reached an agreement with a Lebanese company to supply his store with fresh foodstuffs and sweets that are especially made for Ramadan. "The agreement is worth JD 50,000 and only for Ramadan. If customers don't come and buy these sweets and foodstuffs, my losses will be doubled," Al Shalabi said. Abu Hijleh's losses, however, are expected to be less as he deals with locally-made products. Another issue concerning local economists is the rising rates of poverty and unemployment in Jordan. Although the government is already working on social development programs around the Kingdom, there are still families that subsist on less than $10 a day. Poverty rates in Jordan are estimated at around 25 percent of the population. The unemployment rate is 15 percent.

Ramadan is always remembered for its worship, self-tolerance and well-being. Al Namri, however, fears such memories will worsen in future. He warned that many parents these days are borrowing money from their relatives and friends to sustain their commitments towards their households.

"People are becoming more concerned about their daily expenditures. Eid Al Fitr is coming soon next month and I believe many families will miss the delight because of the financial situation in the street."

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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