Arab countries face problem of food waste during Ramadan

Sunday 04/06/2017
Overconsumption. People buy vegetables on the first day of Ramadan at a market in Tunis, on May 27. (Reuters)

Tunis - Walking around the Municipal Market in Ariana in north-east­ern Tunisia, Ahmed Mattousi, a 34-year-old banker, stared at vegetables and fruit on display. Now and then, he stopped to ask the sellers about the price of bell peppers, parsley or to­matoes.
For Mattousi, along with most other Tunisians, the holy month of Ramadan is an occasion for spiritual development and family get-togeth­ers.
“It is the third day of Ramadan and I feel blessed for being able to experience the true spirit of the holy month,” he said. “In the company of the larger family, I usually break my fast with dates and water. Then, we have soup, salad, breek (a popu­lar stuffed pastry in Tunisia), other appetisers and, finally, the main course. After iftar, we fancy fruits like watermelon and peaches and later in the evening we enjoy a vari­ety of traditional sweets.”
Leila Barakat, a 42-year-old housewife told of another impor­tant part of a Ramadan day: Suhur, the pre-dawn meal.
“The suhur is essential and it has grown into a very important tradi­tion. The most popular meal is the Tunisian masfouf yet it has regret­tably become quite unaffordable. To prepare masfouf you need cous­cous, dry raisins, nuts, sugar and butter,” Barakat said.
Mattousi and Barakat agreed that the prices of many food products “skyrocketed” after the 2011 upris­ing and the ensuing economic crisis.
A few weeks ahead of Ramadan, the National Consumer Institute (INC) launched a major campaign to warn against the detriment of consumer frenzy. In line with the campaign, Tunisians were reassured that all food products would remain available and in abundance, with the Ministry of Industry and Trade assuring it had taken necessary measures to ensure a regular market supply.
“Two days ago, I received a text message from the INC, saying that 900,000 loaves of bread are wasted every day in Tunisia,” Mattousi said, noting that he had consulted with his wife before going to the market.
A recent survey on food waste stated that about two-thirds of Tu­nisian families waste lots of money by throwing away enormous quanti­ties of food.
The INC pollsters randomly sam­pled 2,004 families from differ­ent regions of Tunisia. The results showed that Tunisians waste bread (46%), fruit (32%), pastries (20%), meat (19%), milk and its derivatives (18%), vegetables (14%) and bever­ages (13%).
Family spending increases 30% during Ramadan compared to the rest of the year, the survey showed.
There is also an increase in the consumption of soft drinks (155%), fresh milk (119%), fruit (101%), bread (52%), meat (45%), derivatives of milk and egg (31%), fish (29%), min­eral water (23%) and pastries (21%).
“The spike in food waste dur­ing Ramadan is attributable to the preparation of lavish meals that far exceed the needs of families,” said INC Director Tarek Ben Jazia.
The INC, which operates under the Tunisian Ministry of Industry and Trade, was created in 2008 to provide technical assistance and in­formation on the consumer culture in the country.
The problem of food waste during Ramadan is not exclusive to Tuni­sia. Overspending peaks in many Muslim countries during the holy month.
“The build-up to iftar is marked by people thinking of the perfect menu and overspending on food purchas­es. Such a trend boosts the demand for certain food products. On the trade front, businesses respond to the increased demand with a wide range of marketing strategies,” said Mohammed Ali Shamsi, who works at a supermarket in Algiers.
In the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Environment and Cli­mate Change reported that “food waste doubles during Ramadan and contributes to an estimated $4 bil­lion in yearly food waste.”
In Bahrain, recent figures show that food waste exceeds 400 tonnes per day during the holy month and in Qatar almost 50% of the food pre­pared during Ramadan is dumped into waste bins.
“Ramadan is neither a food festi­val nor an occasion to display lav­ishness and exaggeration. A tour around some restaurants in down­town Beirut would reveal to the visi­tor that public iftars are no longer affordable for the poor,” said Imad Nasser, a 52-year-old Lebanese who recently returned from umrah.
“We surely need to contemplate the meaning of the holy month. It is a month of blessings and a time when people give generously to charity and devote themselves to prayer and good acts,” he added.