All over the world, governments have had to deal with soaring inflation as a result of international developments that have only made the situation worse. The COVID-19 pandemic halted production and trade, the war between Russia and Ukraine impacted key commodities that African countries rely on, and the two-year conflict in the country’s northern region has turned the economy into a war economy. As a result of rising prices globally, countries like Ethiopia that rely heavily on imports have persistently high import bills, which are ultimately passed on to the consumer.
Yeabtsega Tilahun, 24, lives with her mother and two younger siblings in the Koye Fiche neighborhood on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Since her mother is unable to work for various reasons, she is the primary breadwinner for the family, working two jobs while also pursuing her master’s degree.
Since Yeabtsega and her family have to stretch every penny, most of their income goes toward buying teff. The recent increase in teff prices has forced her to drastically reduce her monthly outlays and reevaluate her budget.
“Every time the price went up, more of the money I made was used up to cover its cost, which means there will be way less for other expenses that also need to be covered,” she said. Previously, she paid 47 birr per kilo, but now it costs at least 75 birr for teff that is considered to be of lower quality and 90 birr per kilo for teff that is sold on the market as being of higher quality.
Yeabtsega opts to provide for her family with the cheaper variety, but she can only afford to buy it in small quantities, so it often doesn’t last as long as it should.
In the meantime, until she receives her next paycheck, they have to buy injera from a nearby kiosk whenever they run out of teff. The situation is made worse by the fact that ready-made injera is now more expensive.
“We buy injera for 25 birr now,” Yeabtsega says. “I have heard that it has gone down a bit, but with the price of the teff, I’m not sure.”
The rising cost of living has been especially hard on families like Yeabtsega’s. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that wage growth has lagged behind inflation for the vast majority of workers. There aren’t many routes left open to Yeabtsega or most families in the country. If she buys less teff, she’ll have to spend more money on store-bought injera.
“If the price of teff continues to rise as it has, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain our standard of living, and I sincerely hope that something can be done about this,” she said, adding that the price has already doubled, “and that’s a big change for such a short time.”
The price fluctuations have caused a dilemma for many people, not just Yeabtsega’s family. Even those who have more financial security are being forced to reevaluate their spending habits.
Seble Deribe, a single mother of two, is one of the many people with a relatively better, more stable income who have had to make adjustments to their lifestyles due to the rises in teff prices. She claims that during this fasting season, she spends very little money on anything other than vegetables, which has allowed her to significantly cut back on her usual monthly food budget.
Seble says it will be difficult to continue to maintain the teff expenditures while also purchasing other meat or milk products like she was able to do in the past few months once the fasting season ends. “So, I’m going to have to eliminate some things from my shopping list,” Seble said, adding, “to make sure that I can still afford to buy enough teff for my whole family.”
She claims to have been able to eat healthier for the majority of her life, but now she is concerned that she may no longer be able to provide adequately for her family.
The problem that Yeabtsega and Seble are having at home is shared by many people in Ethiopia. In order to keep feeding their families on injera, many have had to make sacrifices due to the high cost of teff.
Sadly, low-income families have even more challenges than just putting food on the table. The added pressure of paying for necessities like housing, clothing, and tuition is a major source of stress for them.