The New Year’s market has been saturated by over-priced goods with items having prices of an all-time high. Holiday shopping always has the tendency to dig into the pockets of consumers with market price escalating at an alarming level. Often, consumers do not shy away from spending since traditions obligate most of us to subscribe to certain kinds of a consumerist culture.
The Ethiopian year that ended yesterday, however, has been marked by many economic, social and political events, making it among one of the most important years in the history of the country. The Reporter tried to assess the prices of food and other essential items in the holiday market.
The Reporter took to the streets of Addis Ababa’s biggest markets to look at the New Year’s Eve market. Merkato, being the largest open market in Africa, was the first place The Reporter decided to roam.
The price of food items and other commodities has generally increased. The holiday has added fuel to already escalating prices, especially of food items.
Despite the prohibitively expensive price of basic items, Merkato was packed with consumers looking for a bargain. One consumer told The Reporter that since the prices of basic products have gone up, she had to put her money together with her neighbor’s to buy the basic inputs for the holiday and then split the items between themselves.
An unnamed spice trader told The Reporter that the prices of products has not changed significantly in the past few weeks, but the consumer’s purchasing ability has decreased significantly. He said the people who go to him to shop are reducing their shopping volume by half compared to previous holiday seasons. Regardless, him and the merchants on his row are selling coriander for 140–150 birr per kilo. Goods like Mitmita (hot chili powder) which are said to have skyrocketed price are being sold for 280–285 birr per kilo, while washed coffee costs 250–260 birr per kilo. Unwashed coffee was also sold for 210–220 birr per kilo.
Doro Wot, a stew of chicken, is one of the items most Ethiopian households prepare for the festival. The stockier chickens were being sold for 500 birr in Merkato, 450 birr for the medium sized ones and 400 birr for the smaller chickens. Most consumers are worried that the chicken market will continue to rise as the holiday approaches. Some supermarkets are offering better prices for sorted chicken, with supermarkets like Safeway offering a whole chicken for 300 birr. Even though the reduced labor might seem enticing, most of the consumers we have spoken to prefer to buy live chickens instead.
Customers are convinced the open market offers better prices on all goods compared to supermarkets. Thus, The Reporter set out to compare the price difference between the markets. Supermarkets like Shewa offered nothing that is essentially needed for a traditional holiday like onions, cooking oil, eggs or vegetables, while supermarkets like Queens are offering lower egg prices (6 birr).
“It’s the best place to shop in my opinion. I bought eggs for 6 birr and found quality imported cooking oil for 580.Fruits and vegetables are extremely discounted as well; plus I bought 3 kilos of sugar for only 30 birr because I purchased more than 300 birr worth of goods. It’s amazing how people think it would be expensive because it’s a big supermarket but in reality, prices and services are better than what I’ve found outside,” said Sister Netsanet, a shopper at Queen’s supermarket.
In contrast, five liters of oil was being sold for 550 to 620 birr in the Merkato Shema area. It can be recalled that the government had allowed items to be imported duty-free to tackle increasing prices. However, the projected slumps in price have not been evident as there has only been a 30-50 birr decrease in price. Edible oil is available at these prices in both open markets as well as big supermarkets.
“We don’t have a lot of discounts this year, but since the government has directed us to lower our prices, we had to sell eggs at prices that are not profitable for us. We bought the eggs for 8 birr and 30 cents but we’re selling them at 7 birr. We’ve tried to introduce discounts on other goods like chicken and cooking oil for the holiday. Our prices for chicken and meat are lower than the outside market, which is a huge deal considering the current status of the cost of living.,” said the manager of Safeway atlas branch.
With this kind of increase in the cost of living, there were many individuals shopping at the open markets. These individuals, who barely earn enough to survive, are forced to spend more while their income stays stagnant. Amongst these individuals, The Reporter found Tadelech, an elderly woman, buying a quarter kilo of popcorn and coffee to keep the festivity alive amongst her neighbors and kids. She asks the shopkeeper to weigh the quarter kilo multiple times, trying to get her money’s worth. Due to the prohibitively expensive price of goods, Tadelech is confused as to what she can do for her children this holiday. According to her, the cost of living increased long before the holiday; and in addition to the prices of food and drinks, she has more to worry about when the New Year rolls around.
She says it will cost her a lot once the school year starts. And her children’s school fees and supplies chip of her earnings. Tadelech told The Reporter about the increase in school fees, and other daily essential items. Yet, she said, the company she works for has made no amendments to her salary to at least cope with the cost of living. Tadelech’s monthly salary is 2,560 birr, and she says she has spent half of it on holiday spending and she is worried about how the other half will sustain her till the end of the month.
The holiday might pass for many, but it has made major dents in many residents’ pockets. That leaves countless citizens to also worry about the looming month when school aged children go back to school, adding the pressure on families.
Contributed by Yosthena Aynalem