The final run up to Ethiopian Easter, the festivity that comes after the unique fifty-five days of lent, has witnessed huge crowds of cattle traders from all directions – Gondar, Jeru, North Shewa zone, Harar. Nobody seems to be bothered by the terrible smell of animal excrement, the sticky mud from the frequent drizzle or the pushing and shoving from others, including the cattle.
All of this takes place in the 20,000 plus sqm of Qera, off Alexander Pushkin Street. The cattle are scattered here and there along the muddy corral. Because the cattle are herded into the centre, the market was not over crowded by the large population of cows, bulls and oxen.
The corral was originally designed to accommodate an average of 2,500 cattle and 3,000 sheep and goats. On Tuesday morning, four days from the big day, 200 animals were registered as they entered the compound.
For one buyer in his later years, who Fortune met, the state ofthe market was not in his favour. Fortune met him while he was trying to buy one ox, with what he says was a fair price. It was then to be fairly distributed between eight people. Probably in his 70s, the buyer came alone to see the market, though he looked exhausted after a failed attempt to find what he was looking for. Dressed up in a green jacket on a sunny afternoon, his exhaustion was visible on his face.
“We have always had this tradition of sharing the ox’s meat among us, called Qirecha,” said the buyer.
He had come with 12,000 Br collected from his friends and had tried to negotiate with the traders after selecting an ox. Unfortunately, the price was above the money he has in his pocket; his selection was priced at 17,000 Br.
“Our estimated price was determined by the lower price we witnessed during the Christmas holiday four months back,” said the group coordinator for the Qirecha of eight.
January’s market saw a massive drop in both the quality of cattle and price from the past two years, since 2014.
The Christmas cattle market saw a relative decline, which traders from the rural areas explained as the escape from death hovering over cattle due to the drought.
“This is way out of our budget,” he said as he retreated from the bargaining, with intense pressure to convince him from the trader’s side.
He contemplated two options; visiting the other four permanent dedicated cattle markets. In addition to Qera, there is Bircheko in Kolfe Keranio District, Shegole, in Gulele District, Kara Allo in Yeka District and Aqaqi. The city is now rehabilitating the centres in Qality and Shegole. For the time being, traders are using alternative areas in these two centres, nottoo far from the original space.
The second option was to come back here for the remaining few days and see how the market would unfold. His assumption from experience guided him to think that, as the holiday approaches and the remaining market days dwindled, more cattle would come. This, he assumed, would play to his advantage.
Alfa Gizaw, a trader that claims to have invested much in the cattle, commented that the unfair price almost irritates him.
“I have spent an average of 5,000Br on feed for each ox,” he said. “This is a big holiday where the best quality cattle have to be presented.”
Out of the 100 cattle he bought from the primary market-farmers from the Chellega, Shenfa and Shedi Weredas – he has only brought 16 for the first round.
Along the lines of the elderly man’s assumption, Alfa had, up until Tuesday, brought only five percent of his flock. He was so sure that he would manage to sell the rest in the remaining four days.
He also believed that the last call will be to their benefit.
“No one will afford to have this holiday without its tradition,” he said.
Reports by USAID in March 2016 indicated that an estimated 1.8 million livestock are facing acute food shortages – affecting at least 118,000 households. Drought conditions in Afar have already resulted in the death of approximately 105,000 cattle.
On this issue, Alfa explained the situation on the ground at the primary markets.
“The price of animal feed has increased by at least by 50pc, particularly on by-products from food oil and beans,” he said.
This point was backed up further by the coordinator of the centre.
“Well, the point is that there is no feed for the cattle, so those who supply for the secondary market used by-products, with prices having soared significantly,” explained Tekeie Gediye. “So, in order to compensate for this, the price of the cattle at the secondary market also increased.”
Fortune approached Alfa at Qera, where he was waiting for traders. Out of his total cattle, which he brought from Gondar, he has already sold 16 at prices ranging from 12,000 Br to 13,000 Br.
In the same month last year, 1,602 cattle were brought to the centre. In terms of prices, these cattle were sold from 6,855.6 Br to 11, 323.7 Br, according to a report by the Central Statistics Agency (CSA).
These cattle, on average, can give 190 to 200 Kg of meat to the end users. Speaking of the meat, its price has also increased in parallel with the price of cattle. During last year’s Ethiopian Easter, the price of meat in Addis Abeba shops was priced at 80 to 120 Br for a kilo. In December, 2015 it shot up to 153 Br, while the minimum price was 120 Br per kilo, according to a CSA report on the retail prices of goods and services exchanged throughout the year.
In order to bring those cattle form Gondar, he had to rent a car, which he said cost him 10,000 Br to 12,000 Br per truck. One truck can carry up to 16 cattle at once. It took him almost 20 hours of driving to reach the capital. Most of the trip was done at night for the safety of the cattle – to save them from thirst and dehydration from the scorching sun overhead. This can also have an impact on the quality of the leather by-product.
The cattle from Gondar has become familiar with the market over the past couple of years, following the decline in cross border trading with Sudan. The shift was caused by a decline in the exchange rate between the two countries, with the buyers from Sudan losing interest.
Cattle at market in and around Gondar shows an increment, according to data from CSA. Back in December 2014, the retail price of cattle in and around Gondar was 5,564 Br, 4,762 Br and 8,163 Br, respectively. While one year later, it became 7,263.7 Br, 5,262 Br and 8, 830 Br. In the same year, these cattle were sold in the range of 5,000 Br to 12,000 Br at secondary markets like the one in Qera.
In addition, the general retail price of cattle in Qera in April last year was between 6,804 Br to 12,234 Br. While in other markets, like Kotebe and Aqaqi, it sold for between 6,093 Br to 10,399 Br.
Aside from this, there are also cattle from Jeru, North Shewa. This segment of the supply usually comes once a year, during Easter. The price goes up to 35,000 Br, according to market sources.
Fortune observed a bargaining over a large level ox, which a trader from Bahir Dar refused to sell for 14,400 Br, with Ebrahim, a middle man between the suppliers and the owners of butcher houses, insisting on this price.
“My profit margin is up to 200 Br from one cattle,” Ebrahimsaid.“Whereas sometimes I can lose somewhere around 1,000 Br.”
The market is not yet determined, said Ebrahim, as Fortune spoke to him on the afternoon of 26th April, 2016.
During the last Christmas holiday, the centre served up to 1,916 cattle over three days, including the holiday – much more than what was witnessed during the same holiday last year. Back then, Qera only received 1,381 cattle over the two days before the celebration and the on the holiday itself.
Traders at Qera and Tekeie attribute the increment during the Christmas period to the ongoing drought, with many farmers being forced to sell their cattle in order to feed themselves and their families.
With close to 50 million heard, Ethiopia is among the top ten nations in terms of its livestock population. When the holiday arrives, people will have to choose either to buy or not with the resources they have at their disposal.
Faced with one of the worst droughts, the Ethiopian cattle market will be affected and the end customers pocket will be challenged.
Fearing the undetermined market environment, a head at the Addis Abeba City Trade Bureau has already facilitated a market link between trade unions and suppliers from Borena to supply 1,800 cattle. This will help to stabilize the market, both in terms of price and supply.
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