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Price-tag: Easter shopping

Price-tag: Easter shopping

Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are preparing to celebrate Easter, this Sunday, a week after the rest of the Christian community across the world. Finishing up the longest lent season in Ethiopian orthodox tradition — Tsome-Hudade—Easter heralds the end of the two-month vegan diet for millions of Ethiopian. It is almost a tradition that the prices of common food items attain one of their highest levels of the year around Easter. This is particularly true for meat products, eggs and butter which make up the basic ingredients for Eastern holiday feast. As the main source of meat, livestock sales shoot through the roof around the holidays as Ethiopians prefer to do their own livestock slaughters at home or around their neighborhoods,which is another peculiar feature of Ethiopian holiday feast. Nevertheless, traditional butcheries doubling as raw-meat restaurants are major meat dispensaries in many part of Ethiopia. Pictured above is YonasGirma, owner and operator of Chercher Butchery and Restaurant, popular joint among raw-meat lovers in Addis Ababa, bargaining to a buy a cattle priced at a whopping 80,000 birr, annual salary of an employee having a lower-middle class status in Ethiopia.

Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are preparing to celebrate Easter, this Sunday, a week after the rest of the Christian community across the world. Finishing up the longest lent season in Ethiopian orthodox tradition — Tsome-Hudade— Easter heralds the end of the two months vegan diet for millions of Ethiopian. 

Price-tag: Easter shopping

 

It is almost a tradition that the prices of common food items attain one of their highest levels of the year. This is particularly true for meat products, eggs and butter which make up the basic ingredients for Eastern holiday feast among the faithful. As the main source of meat, livestock sells like hotcake around the holiday season.          

Basically, in Ethiopia, prices are bargained and no certain standard exists. It is quite elusive and erroneous to make judgments based on what traders or customers say about the nature of the prices and supply. However, there are certain norms that indicate the movement of prices. This year’s Easter, it seems that supplies are sluggish to reach major market areas including Kera livestock market- the largest livestock trading center in the capita that has existed for more than 50 years.

Usually, a week before Easter, cattle will arrive from different parts of the country. But, it is not only Kera that has experienced shortage in supply. The streets of the capital seem to be deserted, compared to previous holiday weeks, on account of the instability in Ethiopia in the past two years and conflicts constantly rocking the country. But modest supplies have been somehow available. As late as Wednesday, the amount of cattle in Kera livestock market center was not as they have been last year, says Tekei Gidaye, coordinator of the market. Tekei being a regular source of information to The Reporter argued that this year’s prices have exceedingly gone up while deliveries are yet to arrive. 

According to Tekei, cattle are offered for sales in different categories depending on potential buyers. There are regular buyers who run butchery shops and there are holiday buyers arriving at the market individually or in groups to buy cattle together – a traditional arrangement of cattle meat sharing called qircha. Apparently, another peculiar feature of holiday feast in Ethiopia is the fact that Ethiopians prefer to do their own cattle slaughtering at home or around their neighborhoods. Hence, prices vary depending on who is buying.

For instance, on Wednesday, smaller-sized cattle, mostly calves, tagged between 11,000 birr up (the lowest) to 15,000 birr (highest) was seen flooding the market together with medium and large (well-fed) cattle, priced between 18,000 to 25,000 birr and 25,000 birr to 35,000 birr, respectively.

Butcheries are primary consumers for the high-end livestock products spending from 25,000 to 40,000 birr, on average, per cattle. In fact, the price variation also depends on the origin of the livestock and the preferences of the buyers. In this regard, earlier this week, news was trending on social media with the most expensive bulls tagged at 95,000 birr. Indeed, Tekei confirmed that this exceptional bull has in fact arrived at Kera this week. However, Tekei argued that it was a rare specimen which fetched a rare price of 95,000 birr.

Despite last year, where supply side shortages were explained by lack of security and transportation issues especially to and from the major sources of cattle, this year Tekei says that he is witnessing an actual supply shortage, unusual at this time of the holiday. He speaks of problems related to cattle traders who are exercising reservation when it comes to purchasing livestock from farmers; and farmers as well preferring to keep their livestock produce speculating for better prices ahead.

In fact, if one could recall last year’s reports, similar supply side concerns were echoed sector operators. But, when compared with the reports of last year, the prices have shifted staggeringly, this year. A 5,000 to 10,000 birr rise could be observed, simply. “The price increase is witnessed everywhere and I wonder why it is like that. The whole world seems to be afraid of buying or selling,” Tekei said.

The price hike does not seem to be limited to livestock markets, however. From what has been observed from the markets in the peripheries of Addis Ababa, other markets as well are experiencing similar upswings in price. Around Sebeta, for instance, an onion was sold for 16 birr per kilo and on Wednesday; meanwhile, the price went up to 20 birr for a kilo of onion within a matter hours. Raw butter, one of the mainly applied ingredients of holiday cuisine, has shown a steady rise, during the past two weeks. Depending on its quality and origin, a kilo of butter was sold for 250 to 300 birr. Now it has climbed to 350 to 400 birr. Chicken prices have also witnessed similar trends. The price of a moderately sized chicken costs between 350 birr to 500 birr; and eggs could be bought for four to five birr in and around Sebeta area.  The price of sheep in that same place ranges from 2,500 birr to 5,000 birr depending on the size and origin of the animal.

Similarly, in Shola Market and Kara market centers, prices have responded to the holiday expectation. The prices have moved but not to the extent as in the inner city centers. For instance, chickens fetched between 250 to 400 birr with respect to their weights sold in the open markets of Kara and its environs. Relatively, supplies are moderately made available.

According to the recent inflation figures, the Central Statistics Agency (CSA) has published, despite going down, inflation remains in the double digits for both food and non-food items. Yinager Dessie (PhD), governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), while reporting an eight month performance to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR), he said that containing inflation to a single digit has not been achieved as planned. Since last April, the inflation rate remained at 10.9 percent. But food inflation alone was around 11 percent.   

One can wonder when the statistics suggests that Ethiopia is home to some 54 million chickens and 50 million cattle’s; and fails to capitalize on such abundantly available resources at hand. Well, lack of capacity and infrastructure, well developed marketing and trading capabilities have contributed to the poorly utilized resources of the country.

This Easter, one of the biggest challenges to face consumers is the price of wheat flour. A few days ago, bakeries have announced increased prices for breads even for subsidized wheat the government was providing.

According to the Grain and Feed (GAIN) Report, supervised under the State Department of Agriculture, Ethiopia is likely to escape 1.8 million metric tons, up from last year’s 1.5 million metric tons of wheat this year where local production is estimated to be around 4.5 million metric tons and consumption will reach more than 6.3 million metric tons.

These are some of the issues hanging around the disrupted supply and hiking prices of food commodities in a country where there are more than 16 million people (7.9 million through productive safety net and 8.3 million are victims of communal conflicts and drought), are in need of food aid this year and that makes supply and availability of food items a trying task including for Sunday’s Easter holiday.

Ed’s Note: Dawit Tolesa and Nardos … have contributed to this article