Egypt’s Armed Forces announced that it would begin overseeing the importation of infant formula on Saturday, following recent protests over price hikes that have seen the cost of one unit of formula reach LE60.
According to a statement from military spokesperson Mohamed Samir the intervention comes after the Armed Forces noticed those selling the formula had monopolized the market, pushing up prices for citizens already affected by poverty.
In coordination with the Ministry of Health the military will receive its first shipment of formula on September 15, after which it will be sold for LE30 per unit. This represents a 50 percent markdown on the current market price. The statement went on to deny speculation that the Armed Forces had already begun stockpiling the formula to distribute to citizens, emphasizing its ongoing role in combating monopolizing practices that affect the average Egyptian.
Habiba Hassan Wassef, a nutritionist and long-time researcher on child health, told Mada Masr that while this offers a temporary solution to price controls it ignores the bigger problem causing dependence on milk formula in the first place.
“While in Europe and America women are going back to breastfeeding, latest trends show a progressive reduction in mothers’ breastfeeding in Egypt.”
She stressed the importance of excusive breastfeeding in the first 4-6 months of a child’s life as an overall indicator of early childhood health, adding that children who were not breastfed in these early months suffered in terms of growth and overall immunity. Only 29 percent of children in Egypt aged 4-5 months are exclusively breastfed, according to statistics from UNICEF.
Wassef attributed the decline to increasing poverty, which requires many women to seek work outside the home for long hours in the early months after giving birth, forcing them to opt for infant formula instead of breastfeeding.
“This means there is growing dependence on outside milk, and thus a growing demand. The minute merchants see demand rising, they respond by raising prices.”
Citing a recent surge in sugar prices, Wassef went on to say that the recently announced intervention shows the government’s inability to control powerful commodity merchants, who she said continually exploit their position to cause price hikes and artificial shortages in crucial goods. This continues to result in deferral to the Armed Forces to solve the country’s food supply problems.