Volo Volo is one of the largest markets in Comoros, located in Moroni, the nation’s capital. Each day, hundreds of small-scale farmers gather here to sell their products directly to consumers. Fatima Abdullah is one of these farmers. She frequently travels 35 kilometres from her village of Ivembeni to sell her cassava at Volo Volo.
But since the beginning of Ramadan, market days have been an ordeal for Comoran farmers and traders. Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims. Fasting happens from sunrise to sunset. The fast is broke with a meal at sunset called Iftar. Ramadan is also a time when food is in high demand. In an effort to provide relief for consumers, the government has imposed price limits on food. Farmers and traders say they are losing money as a result. Many are refusing to comply with the price limits.
Fatima Abdallah says she sold her cassava at the government rate on the first day of Ramadan. But after calculating her costs, she realized that she was losing money. Ms. Abdallah typically sells three bags of cassava per day. Normally, this would bring her 22,200 Comoran francs (56 american dollars), which allowed her to save some money. Ms. Abdallah notes: “With the new measures, I can only earn 15,000 francs (38 American dollars) by selling three bags. I lose more than 7,000 francs (18 American dollars). This is why I decided not to comply with the price limits, no matter what the consequences.”
The consequences could be serious. Police and trade officers are patrolling markets to enforce compliance with the government-imposed price limits. Ahmed Hadji is the deputy commissioner at the police station in Volo Volo. He explains: “Every day, we work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our mission is to enforce the prices set by the state, by any means. We ship all offenders to the police station where we keep them for 24 hours.”
Zalifa Abdou Ali is another farmer who is risking arrest by defying the price limits. She travels thirty miles to sell her bananas at Volo Volo. She says that if she had known about the situation at the market, she would have stayed home. Ms. Abdou Ali notes, “I didn’t earn much there [in my village] either, but at least I would avoid this long trip for nothing.” She adds, “If I sell a kilo of bananas for 400 francs as I’m asked instead of 600 francs, I’m losing. I have to feed my family and soon I must also pay school fees for my five children.”
Maman Andhumati is spokesperson for the vendors. She says the state has taken no action to offset seller losses. She notes that the price of entering the market has, in fact, doubled. Ms. Andhumati says that vendors were not consulted when the government set the food prices for Ramadan.
Abdullah Ali Youssouf is Director of Internal Trade. He insists that vendors were invited to the price negotiations. He defends the price limits, saying they are in everyone’s best interest. Mr. Yusuf Ali says: “We have a duty to protect the population without sacrificing the interests of producers and traders. We believe that each will benefit from these new measures. It is unfortunate that some producers and traders are not complying.”
Faced with the intransigence of the producers, the executive assistant to the President of the Union of Comoros has started direct negotiations with producers. As the negotiations continue, so does the price war in local markets.