Algeria's government pushes staples to subsidized markets to stave off Ramadan shortages

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria's government has flooded newly opened markets selling subsidized goods with pantry staples to stave off shortages during Islam's holy month of Ramadan, when demand typically increases in Muslim-majority countries and prices tend to rise.

Authorities have moved to increase food and fuel imports and also limit exports, hoping to meet the demands of Algerians preparing nightly feasts as their families break the sunrise-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan.

The policies mark a reversal of the government’s longstanding practice of limiting imports to buoy local producers in the oil-rich North African nation with a struggling economy.

At one state subsidized market in the country's capital, Algiers, shopper Sofiane Ameri commended the government's strategy for reining in prices.

“Prices are lower here,” he said. "It’s about 20% (less).”

Prices of red meat fluctuated during the first week of Ramadan, which started earlier this month, but later stabilized. Others, including many fruits and vegetables, stayed steady through the first week and spiked in the second, raising concern among the public.

With more than half of Ramadan behind them, officials are applauding their efforts to stabilize prices of products such as meat and avoid shortages.

“The availability of products in quantity and quality is a palpable reality across the country’s regions," Commerce Minister Tayeb Zitouni said on public radio this week. "With reasonable prices, I am sure that has a positive effect on the citizens’ purchasing power.”

But while grocery stores in Algiers and other cities and towns are well-stocked, residents of mountain regions have taken to social media with worries about whether the imports can get to their markets.

"If residents of Algiers are gorging themselves on affordable red meat from Brazil, we in Tizi Ouzou aren't seeing or tasting it," said a posting on a popular Facebook group.

Olive oil, white flour and semolina — key staples in this Mediterranean country — have stayed available so far through Ramadan.

But the price of potatoes has gradually risen, much like peppers, green beans, peas, oranges and strawberries.