With the advent of Ramadan, food prices in Saudi Arabia have surged, prompting citizens to boycott commodities whose consumption, and consequently their prices, are higher during the holy month.
Saudis recently succeeded in launching an electronic campaign to boycott al-Maraai, a major dairy company which had raised the prices of its products overnight, inflicting huge losses on it in just a few days.
As a result, the Ministry of Commerce issued a resolution that prohibits raising the prices of milk and dairy products in order to maintain price stability in local markets, and imposes sanctions on anyone who violates the provisions of resolution.
"The ministry is keen on curbing price increases while preserving all rights of citizens and merchants, thus ensuring that consumers obtain goods at fair prices," said Khaled al-Sweiyan of the Commerce Ministry.
He told Al-Shorfa that ministry authorities are conducting field trips to monitor the prices, adding that the ministry began monitoring commodity prices and market availability before Ramadan.
Al-Sweiyan expressed concern, however, that the pressure on consumables would lead to a rise in the inflation rate in the upcoming period.
The Saudi government had recently increased its subsidies for livestock feed and its ingredients by 50% in efforts to lower meat, poultry and dairy product prices, and as a result, some merchants responded by reducing prices by 50%
Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Saudi Economic Association (SEA), said that Saudi families ought to follow a rational spending policy and avoid profligacy in purchasing food.
"Families can mitigate the damage of the crisis at hand by rationalizing their expenses," he said.
Al-Mutlaq also noted the relationship between higher prices and decreased consumer savings. "Eighty per cent of citizens are unable to save money at all as a result of the wave of high prices sweeping Saudi Arabia and various other countries."
According to Abdullah al-Zahrani, an employee of the ministry of Islamic affairs whose salary does not exceed 7,000 riyals ($1,866), "We are facing a real predicament as Ramadan falls in the middle of summer vacation, followed by Eid al-Fitr and back-to-school, all of which involve expenditures not covered by the budget of low income families."
Al-Zahrani said that -- for an average, middle-income family -- typical vacation expenses average near 30,000 riyals, while Ramadan costs reach nearly 8,000 riyals and Eid holiday expenses totaling near 10,000 riyals.
He added that the Ministry of Commerce needs to review the prices of some consumer goods, especially those produced domestically and are not subject to the customs system.
Noora al-Shalfan said her family had declared a state of emergency for this month and had begun to exercise restraint in their spending on certain goods, "despite the fact those purchases do not meet the needs of a family of eight people, who are provided for by my husband who is an employee in a private company, and whose salary has not increased to keep pace with the rise in prices, as is the case with employees of other companies."
Al-Shalfan demanded quick solutions to rising food prices, "especially those that are subsidised by the government and whose prices were reduced for a short period, only to rebound wildly, particularly rice, milk and some essential food items".
On the other hand, merchant Mohammed al-Ruweished said, "The pre-Ramadan overwhelming demand always leads to higher prices, especially the prices of indispensable commodities."
In al-Ruweished's view, consumers could exercise control over the market by using the boycott approach, such as the recent successful dairy products boycott.