Last Sunday marked the end of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Lenten fasting period, allowing the sale of meat, dairy, and other animal products. Many people were looking forward to purchasing and consuming these items again after abstaining from them for the past two months during lent.
In addition to the increased demand for milk and milk products caused by the end of the fasting season and the beginning of the Ramadan fasting season a month ago, there is also the ongoing drought and famine in Ethiopia as a result of five consecutive failed rainy seasons. This has had a drastic effect on the country’s cattle population, leading to milk shortages.
Since the beginning of 2021, more than 4.5 million cattle have perished as a result of drought, which has led to a decline in milk production rates. According to research conducted by ACAPS, a non-profit organization, in February 2023, pastoralist milk production in Somali and Oromia accounts for approximately 80 percent of Ethiopia’s annual milk supply.
The severe loss of livestock in these two specific pastoralist regions has resulted in little to no milk production. This decline in production may have contributed to the widespread milk shortages in Addis Ababa.
The end of the fasting season has also resulted in soaring demand for milk and milk products, leading to stockouts at supermarkets and kiosks in recent weeks. Distributors have often cited shortages in milk production and drought as reasons, among others.
For instance, distributors have been unable to bring milk to one kiosk owner, Mohammed Amin, for the past four days. The reason given to him, he said, was a milk shortage. The distributors still haven’t brought any milk for him to sell, even though Lent is over.
“I keep asking if they can bring me a few liters, but they say they are out every time.” Now, he said, “many of my regulars who come to my kiosk in the morning to get milk have been left disappointed because I have told them that there is no milk for more than three days now.”
As a result, Mohammed has been directing the vast majority of his milk-buying customers elsewhere. But even the other shops can’t seem to get their hands on enough milk to meet demand.
Just a few meters away from Mohammed is a kiosk run by Habtamu Seid, who has milk on hand thanks to repeated requests to his distributor for a small amount of milk. Three days of begging resulted in them bringing him five liters of milk, despite the fact that he has been a loyal customer for years, he claims. The five liters of milk he ordered are sold in a matter of hours, which leads him to once again inform his clientele that he cannot supply them with milk.
In the same way that smaller stores have been turning away customers looking for milk and milk products, larger supermarkets have been doing the same, always citing the same reason: “The distributors told us that there is a shortage, so they aren’t able to bring any milk.”
Businesses aren’t the only ones losing out. Customers who want to buy milk and milk products on a regular basis for their families or children are also having a hard time doing so.
For the past week, Bethlehem Molla has been desperately searching for milk, to no avail. She says she’ll visit as many as five different grocery stores or convenience stores just to find half a litter of milk. If she can’t find any milk, she’ll have to get up early the next day to try again.
“Most shops make an effort to reassure customers that distributors simply weren’t able to make it that day but would be back soon. I’ve given up hope at this point because I know it won’t come for at least another day,” she said.
Emebet Tamiru, however, is tired of hearing all the reasons why there is a milk shortage. “It’s either the drought or the road closures that have been happening in the Amhara region for the past week, according to store owners.” She claims she regularly buys her mother milk, but she hasn’t been able to do so this week.
Even though she doesn’t know exactly what’s causing the shortage, she hopes it will end soon.