Unrelenting market of the New Year
Fundamentally, holidays in Ethiopia are costly. Of all the back breaking holidays, Ethiopia’s New Year is undisputedly perceived to be very costly to a larger segment of the society. The New Year festivities come with the start of a new school year; adding more spending necessities across households. According to the World Bank’s figures, close to 85 percent of an average Ethiopian earns a daily wage of USD five per day, which translates into 140 birr daily wage or 4,200 birr in a month. This tiny income may perhaps make it hard to believe how life is so unrelenting for many Ethiopians, especially during the times of Awde-amet; the New Year holiday approaches.
The New Year, which will be celebrated this Tuesday, comes with relative tranquility after three years of heightened political unrests. Both traders and consumers spoke about the availability of commodities essential for preparations of holiday cookeries. Chickens, cattle, sheep and goats, eggs and cheese, edible oil and butter, onion, garlic, ginger and red pepper are some of the required food staples to make the holiday feast full.
In addition to spending on special caterings, people do spend a good deal of money on apparels, home appliances, decors and the like. But the chunk of the budget is allocated for the cuisines. Doro wot is the major one in this case. It is an exceptional stew and a well-recognized traditional cuisine. In addition, raw meat and beef stew are also parts of the holiday caterings. Sheep and goats are the most important sources of meat and meat-based delicacies during the holidays.
The in-house holiday slaughter tradition is mostly exercised around sheep and goats, while cattle slaughter is also practiced widely on a communal basis. They call it shared (kircha) system. A group of families pitch-in to buy an ox and slaughter and apportion the meat according to their contributions. This custom has spread across the Diaspora communities mostly residing in the US. In Ethiopia, the most evident reason behind the kircha system is the price of the cattle being ludicrous to bear alone. Traditionally, kircha was introduced to avoid food waste; hence, given other assortments of meat are also prepared, an entire cattle for a single household appears to be wasteful.
In many ways, holidays are costly and New Year is the big one. Like many outlets do, The Reporter has also developed a customary sense of reportage to try to capture the picture and present its readers what the buzzing markets look like. With that similar notion, The Reporter went out to witness a few markets to learn a bit about the trending transactions. Prices of some commodities have seen movement. For instance, earlier in the week, the price of egg has increased to five birr from 3.40 birr. If one has visited the shola gebeya as did Elfnesh Berhe on Thursday; it is not only the price of eggs that went up to five birr in that market; so did onion – both are necessary ingredients to help prepare dorro wot. The price for a kilo of onion, according to Elfnesh is 17 to 18 birr from what it was, around 15 birr days ago. Across the shops of the Ethiopian Fruit and vegetables marketing SC (Etfruit), a kilo of onion has fetched 20 birr on Thursday. Prices of chicken, according to Elfnesh, seems okay since she was able to buy one with 250 birr. Tadelech Gemechu was also buying those necessities at Shola. She bought a relatively weighing chicken with 350 birr. Both have whined about the moving prices contrary to the expectations for ample supplies during the rainy seasons. Both argued, not much has changed since last year’s market situation. For instance, the price of butter has gone up to 300 birr per a kilo. Wolde Hailu, who sells butter at Shola, said that the prices range from 240 to 300 birr depending on the quality of the butter. However, he argues that the market is not yet witnessing that sort of upsurge as compared to previous holidays. Yet, he agrees that it is picking up gradually. But prices are all about bargaining and it’s often misleading to relate what sellers and buyers tell about the transactions in real terms.
Kera is another similar market with all its uniqueness. Legendary for its livestock trade in the middle of Addis Ababa, Kera houses close to a 60 years old open market center. The Kera Market Center for cattle stretches 20,000sq.m. It can house a regular 2,500 cattle and 3,000 sheep and goats at a time. But to the best of its presence, the center has been unloading cattle only.
Tekei Gidaye, coordinator at Kera Livestock Market Centre, told The Reporter that unlike last year, since the beginning of the rainy season in June 2018, the Centre has been receiving cattle from across major breeding areas of the country. He said that prices have shown a slight decrease from three months ago. A well-fed and a well-kept cattle costs up to 20,000 to 30,000 birr. Relatively, a small sized cattle will cost up to 9,000 birr whereas a medium sized one can fetch up to 13,000 to 15,000 birr depending on their origins.
Apart from the trending prices, the supply is what Tekie sees as a promising start to the holiday buyers. In his view, prices could have gone down much lower had it not been to the mounting costs of transportations, storages and feeding attached to the cattle traders. He said that early arriving cattle will be sheltered in anybody’s houses nearby the market center. For the night traders, they are obliged to pay up to 30 birr per cattle. Despite that, chicken retailers at Kera have devised a smart approach in providing services to their customers. They sell live chickens and as per the request of buyers, kill the chickens and arrange the meat in accordance with the custom. Paying 10 to 20 birr for the service charge and then within 20 to 30 minutes, the tiring customers mostly young women, settle the bills and shove off to their awaiting daunting tasks of the holiday.
Tigist Yihune, 29, is a regular customer of Amsale – retailer at one of the shabby shops sequenced around kera — who calls the service as “after-sales service,” says it is a relief to find such things close by for contemporary women like her.
This New Year, above all, is hosting thousands of Ethiopians from the Diaspora community as well. In accordance with that, the Addis Ababa Trade Bureau on Wednesday announced that supplies will be made available in the market and prices will be monitored to avoid hikes. Abdulfetah Yusuf, the newly appointed Bureau head said that 65,657 quintals of wheat flour, 120,000 quintals of sugar, and seven million liters of edible oil will reach to some 28,000 retailers on a monthly basis and that distribution trend will keep reaching consumers during market days leading to the New Year’s holiday.
Contributed by Birhanu Fikade and Dawit Tolessa