A couple of weeks back vegetable sellers in Turkey surely could not have imagined what confronted them on February 11—the sight of Turkish officials opening their own stalls and selling vegetables at half-price.
But, you see, according to the Erdogan administration—much out and about at the moment as it steps up campaigning for the March 31 local elections—the ranks of Turkey’s vegetable retail sector contain miscreants who have attempted to “terrorise” shoppers with artificially high prices, duplicitously excusing themselves by pointing to Turkey’s rampant food inflation.
Explaining the need for the populist fruit & veg stalls set to pop up right across Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a February 11 campaign speech reported by Reuters: “This was a game. They [the retail players] started manipulating prices, they tried to make prices skyrocket. This was an attempt to terrorise [society].”
The stalls operate on the principle that the Turkish authorities sell cheap vegetables directly to shoppers at around 50% of prices recorded by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) in January, cutting out retailers who, so the allegations go, jack up prices. The idea that economic mismanagement has sparked roaring inflation that, quite logically, has sent prices rocketing skywards is for the birds.
Crowds were seen queuing outside municipality tents to buy tomatoes, onions and peppers in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district. People waited for an hour for items selling at half the regular shop prices. A maximum of three kilos of goods per person is allowed under the scheme. Officials say the goods sold will soon include rice and pulses such as lentils, as well as cleaning products.
Several shoppers in Bayrampasa said they hoped the sales would carry on after next month’s vote. “I am curious whether this will continue after the elections,” 43-year-old housewife Nebahat Deniz was reported as saying by Reuters as she bought spinach and eggplants.
The project is presently only taking place in Istanbul, starting with around 50 sites selling the cut-price produce, and in Ankara.
Annual food inflation stood at 31% y/y in January, above the overall inflation rate of 20.35%.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli has said the project will continue as long as it is needed, and could become permanent.
Last week, authorities inspected fresh produce wholesalers and imposed fines totalling Turkish lira (TRY) 2mn ($380,000) on 88 firms for setting unreasonably high prices, according to trade ministry data.