The price of a loaf of bread in Morocco is a particularly sensitive issue. But for a while the country's bakers have been pushing for a a price increase. Traditionally a single round loaf, known as khobz, has been one dirham. This may not sound like much but for poor people it has been a constant for years.
Also at issue is the weight of the bread. Legally a round khobz should weigh 200 grams, yet bakers often reduce that to as little as 150 grams.
A price hike was to have been brought in at the beginning of next week, but the Moroccan commercial bakers have come to a last minute agreement to hold off a price increase pending the outcome of talks with the government.
The plan by some 15,000 bakeries to raise prices 10 - 30 centimes per loaf is on hold, the head of the Moroccan Federation of Bakers and Patissiers (FBPM) announced on Wednesday (November 13th).
The increase was envisaged because the Benkirane government had yet to honour an agreement reached in 2011, federation chief Lahoucine Azaz said.
|Bab Marrakech bread vendor Hassan Herdoul says his customers seek the lowest prices. photo: Mohamed Saadouni|
"The problem of the increase in the price of bread, in terms of tension between the government and professionals, is not new. This has been on the table for many years," the head of the Moroccan Federation of Consumer Rights (FMDC) told the English web site Magharebia. According to Bouazza Kherati, "The loaf should meet the legal weight requirement," the consumer advocate said. "Manipulation of weights is the problem that citizens do not see."
Another issue complicates efforts to regulate the sector, Kherati said. "There are people selling bread in the street weighing no more than 150 grams at 1 dirham," he noted. "They are popular with ordinary citizens who do not care much about weight, because the important thing for them is to get the bread at the lowest possible price."
One such unregulated vendor is Hassan Herdoul, who sells bread in front of the Bab Marrakech market at 1 dirham per loaf. "Citizens accept my goods because I sell hot bread for less than bakers offer. This is what the citizen is looking for - a lower price" he says. "I do not care if bakeries increase the price of their bread. I'm fine so far and making good money," he added.
Noureddine Adib, who leads a popular movement called "Don't Touch My Loaf", warned of the consequences of touching the bread of the poor. "The events that took place in Casablanca in 1981, when the authorities entered into a bloody confrontation with the citizens and many lives were lost, was triggered by an increase in the price of bread," he told Magharebia.
He continued, "Bread means a lot to the regular citizen. Most ordinary citizens live on bread, olives, and tea. Touching their daily loaf means a real revolution, so I warn against increasing the price of bread even by one cent."
"The citizen may cope with an increase in the price of sweets or milk, or any other consumable, but if you touch bread and the basis of his life, the consequence could be dire," Adib warned.
Khobz is the Moroccan and standard Arabic word for bread. Tamazight (Berber) kesra
Although khboz and kesra may mean different things to different Moroccans, both terms are used in a general sense to refer to oven-baked bread which is shaped into round, flattish loaves with lots of crust. During a traditional Moroccan meal, khobz often replaces utensils such as forks or spoons as it is used to scoop up meat, vegetables, sauce, salads, dips and more.
Different types of flour can be used to make khboz. Exactly what goes into each loaf, and how large or small it is shaped, is a matter of personal preference. White, semolina, wheat, rye, bran and barley are some of the flours that might be used, while anise and cumin seeds are just two additions that could be added for extra flavor.