Meanders of Easter markets
In almost all cultures and societies around the world holiday celebrations are linked with either some sort of ritualistic spectacle or a grand holiday feast. Holiday celebrations in Ethiopia are nothing different. If anything, Ethiopians go all out during holidays. One defining trait, however, is the fact that Ethiopians would like to kill what they eat; and lie to do that at home. Yes, home slaughters are common in Ethiopia during holidays. But, a typical holiday feast in Ethiopia is significantly different from an ordinary meal, and of course the local markets around holidays exhibits biggest shifts, write Birhanu Fikade and Dawit Tolossa.
Ethiopian Easter, one of the biggest religious holidays in the country will be celebrated tomorrow. The holiday has a great religious significance to Christians especially to the followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Thewahido Church. Every year Easter comes to mark the end of a two-month fasting season. Despite its religious sermons, Easter is a holiday customarily associated with food festivities. The two months of fasting season is known as Hudadé (lent). During that time most of the followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church avoid eating animal food products such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Hence, the end of the fasting season is received with special holiday celebrations.
The last week of lent is often a time when markets start to be packed with holiday shoppers across the country. The holiday requires preparation of all sorts of traditional things for the celebration. Since food is the central element of the holiday, Ethiopian women pay particular attention to their unique traditional cuisines. It is high season for meat and other animal products to say the least. Markets will be flooded with chickens, sheep, cattle, eggs, butter, onions and the like. Mostly those who have been fasting will enjoy the Easter festivities with Doro Wot a unique chicken stew and a well-recognized traditional Ethiopian cuisine.
Apart from that, raw meat and beef stew are also integral members of the Easter food feast. Around holiday times, sheep and goats are primary sources of meat and meat based delicacies. However, traditional cattle meat is also in the mix. The holiday slaughter tradition (in-house) is mostly around sheep and goats. Although cattle slaughter is also widely practiced, the cattle slaughter tradition is shared or communal one. They call it shared (kircha) system. What they do is a group of households pitch in to buy an ox and slaughter and apportion the meat among them equally.
The most obvious rationale behind kircha is the cost implication since the price of cattle is largely unthinkable to bear alone by a single household. But, this more true for the current realities. Traditionally, kircha came to be because no individual household would have the need to consume the whole cattle in context of a holiday feast where other assortments of meat and nonmeat cuisines are prepared. In a way, it is system devised to avoid wastage.
In many ways, holidays are costly and Easter is one of the holidays that require a lot of spending. Customarily, media outlets try to picture and present activities to their respective audience about the buzzing holiday markets mostly in relation to available products and prices. This tradition as well is rooted in an understanding that the Ethiopia product market is largely dominated by food and food related items and a movement of that magnitude in the food market is bound to have profound impact in the overall market. This is particularly true for the food-dominated consumer price index. The Reporter as well has established a trend and has been able to demonstrate the reactions of the holiday markets for some time. In a similar trend, The Reporter went out to observe a few markets to learn how traders and customers are transacting.
One thing that was observed during the week is that prices have been moving up steadily. Some food items perhaps have been showing a sharp increase from the previous Ethiopian Christmas (Genna) let alone from last year’s holidays. Hence, on Wednesday which is relatively early to see the wheeling markets, the price of onion, one of the ingredients of Doro Wot has seen a two-fold increase compared to what it was a week ago at Shola market. A week before, one kilogram of onion fetched around six birr while now costing up to 13 birr per kilogram. Despite the increase in the price, customers say that the changes are somehow modest given the fact that the supply remains wobbly.
But back in January, the price of onion maintained a price of 12 birr/kg at Atikilt Tera market, one of the chief veggies market in town. But on Wednesday, a kilogram of onion fetched up to 27 birr in the same market to show a two-fold increase from what it cost three month ago.
Basic ingredients like butter have exhibited price hike starting from early in the week. For instance, in Shola, a kilogram of butter is sold between 220 to 260 birr. According to Emebet Gebreselassie, whom The Reporter approached while retailing at Shola, prices are steadily increasing from last year’s Easter season. As far as butter is concerned, Emebet asserts that it was between 190 to 220-birr last year at the same spot and now it has shown a steady increase. Emebet illustrates that it is not unique to see prices shifting during holidays. But her customer, Edelawit Negash, argues that the trend in holiday prices is becoming worrisome. She says early shopping helps to avoid unnecessary price hikes during holidays. Mercato, one of the largest markets in Africa, is home for a range of commodities and is one of the preferred market places for most residents of Addis Ababa. It is a place where everything is available. During the middle of the week, The Reporter observed that prices of butter have shown movements as expected. The price of butter went as high as 270 birr around Amede Gebeya, one of well-recognized districts in Mercato. The price of butter is quite steep in Mercato by comparison than it is in Shola.
Similarly, the price of chicken as well exhibited some steep escalations in recent times especially compared to Christmas shopping season. Currently, one chicken is sold for 350 birr in Mercato. Prices, however, vary depending on the size. The price range starts from 180 birr in some corners and successively goes up, Edilawit comments. At Queens’ Supermarket, which is one of the companies under MIDROC Technology Group, the price of chicken goes down to 155 birr. When it comes to eggs, the prices vary from 2.75 birr to 3.50 birr across the markets. Edible oil, on the other hand, costs 58 birr per litter at customers’ union outlets in Shola; three litters of palm oil could be acquired for a subsidized price of 78 birr.
According to the Ethiopian Livestock Market Information System, to which many local and international aid agencies grant assistances, livestock like cattle, sheep and goats are classified as mature and fat, moderate or thin. It is difficult to relate those classifications into the markets in the capital, but the prices of sheep in Shola ranges from 1,800 birr to 4,500 birr depending on size. According to Assefa Girma, who has been selling sheep and goats around Addis Ababa for a decade, the Easter holiday market has seen an early peak by almost 400 birr or more.
The supply and the price of cattle exhibit dramatic variation depending on the origin of livestock. Since last year, the dominant supply of cattle to the capital’s market is coming from the Gondar area in the northern part of the country. In fact, Gondar is becoming the single most supplier of the capital’s market. While Babile in the Oromia Regional State was one of the determinant suppliers of livestock to Addis Ababa. In addition to that, the Borena area was also one of the predominant sources of livestock mostly during the fasting season to serve the non-fasting Christians and other segments of meat eaters.
The shift in origin, according to Tekie Gidey, coordinator of the Cattle Trading Center under the Addis Ababa City Administration, which is located around Kera, is partly because of the absence of Borena cattle. He somehow related it to the existing drought. Borena is a drought prone area and is affected by recurrent episodes of devastating drought and loss of livestock. In addition to that, skyrocketing prices for cattle feeds, has contributed to the dwindling cattle population coming from the Borena area.
Wollega and Jimma from Oromia and Kibre Mengist from the Southern Regional State have also been part and parcel of the central livestock market although it is not the case this year, Tekie told The Reporter. For that reason, and because of some tight measures taken to halt the illegal cross border trading in northern Ethiopia, Gondar has become the dominant player in the livestock markets of the capital.
In terms of prices, cattle from Babile used to be the most reasonable. Well-fattened mature cattle from this region ranged in price between 25,000 to 27,000 birr in those days. But, currently, Gondar is dominating the market with prices that range between 12,000 to 25,000 birr. The supply is peaking up and the markets are more exorbitantly heated during the eve of the holiday. Tekie expects to see around 1,500 cattle destined mostly for kircha at Kera locality. The capacity of Kera as well is limited to hosting 2,000 cattle.
In spite of sizable supply before those people who exceptionally kept and fattened bulls that used to fetch as high as 40,000 birr there have been in a rare supply mood during this Easter. According to Tekie, there are quite a handful of such cattle traders in and around Kera and the demands of upscale butcheries in town.
The Easter holiday perhaps is not a holiday limited only to satisfying the needs of Christians who will break fast. It is one of the major contributing holidays that supply good portion of raw hides and skins to the country’s tanneries and leather factories. Berhanu Abate, president of the Ethiopian Hide and Skin Traders Association told The Reporter that some six million pieces of hide and skin, representing 40 percent of all the supply size is expected to be generated during the Easter holiday slaughters. Annually, the off take at country level reaches up to 20 million pieces. Out of that, close to half a million in what is called in the Addis Ababa markets are anticipated to generate during Easter.