It is not unusual for food prices to increase during holiday seasons. This is especially true for items like chicken, ox and onions vital for festive dishes. This Christmas, however, looks to favour the consumer, as prices are far lower than they were for the Ethiopian New Year , in September. People are still advised to get their shopping out of the way early, however, in order to avoid a last minute price increase, reports GETACHEW MENGISTE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
A chaotic atmosphere of jostling, pushing and chattering prevailed in Shola market – one of the biggest open markets in Addis Abeba, located around the Megenagna area, on Comoros Street – in the afternoon of Tuesday, December 31, 2013. Consumables, ranging from spices to vegetables and gifts of various kinds, were out on display as crowds of shoppers shoved their way along the narrow paths between the closely built shops. Needing to keep up with the fast-approaching Christmas, shoppers surveyed goods with eagerness, negotiated prices and purchased goods.
Some were particularly encouraged by the hope of escaping the possible price hike when the holiday gets nearer. They were thus looking for consumables, as well as peculiar items and decorations, at cheaper prices.
Most shoppers approached by Fortune agree, however, that what worries them more is the slight increase in prices relative to previous weeks, as opposed to the price hike expected when the holiday draws nearer.
Teruwork Demeke, 45, was one of those who do not expect an exaggerated increase during the holiday. She knocked on the door of the chicken market on Tuesday, finally settling for 65 Br.
“I came as early as Tuesday, when there was still a week to go before the holiday, fearing that I might be forced to settle for more expensive items if I came any later,” she said.
She expects a price rise in chicken around the eve of Christmas.
The data obtained from the Central Statistics Agency (CSA) reveals that the inflation rate of food items has undergone a dramatic fall each month since July 2012. In the last Ethiopian budget year, extending between July 2012 and June 2013, the general inflation rate in the country stood at 22.9pc and the food items inflation rate was 26.6pc.
During the Christmas holiday in the previous year, which fell in December 2012, the food inflation rate was 28.1pc. This figure showed a dramatic improvement in the month of the Ethiopian New Year in September, 2013, where the inflation rate was lowered to a single digit – 7.9pc. In November, 2013, which is the latest figure from the CSA, the inflation rate lays at a lower rate of 6.5pc.
Although not exaggerated, the price of chicken at Shola market is showing a marginal increment from previous weeks, Fortune learnt. Teruwork purchased the hen from Fitsum Zewdu, who has been in the business in the same place for the last three years.
“The price of chicken is between 110 Br to 150 Br today, based on its size,” he told Fortune. “This is an increase from 80 Br to 100 Br 10 days ago.”
The price of chicken shows variations, depending on the place of origin, according to Fitsum and other chicken sellers approached by Fortune.
Those from Arba Minch, the capital of the Gamo Gofa Zone in the South Region (354 kms from Addis Abeba) and Debre Markos, the capital of East Gojjam Zone in the Amhara Regional State (299 kms from Addis Abeba) are bigger. They thus sell for more expensive prices than those from Wolaita Sodo in the South and Jimma in Oromia.
The egg, which complements the chicken in the traditional chicken stew, Doro Wot, has seen a 20 cent increase from the 2.30 Br a week ago. In Merkato, egg is selling for 2.40 – 2.65 Br. The traders are not expecting exaggerated increases.
Onion, another crucial ingredient for Doro Wot, sold for between nine Br and 14 Br at Shola market, depending on its nature. There was, however, a marked decline in the price of onions at Atkilt Tera – the largest fruits and vegetable market in Addis Abeba, located around Piazza in Arada District. There, one kilogram of onion sold for 7.60 Br.
Recalling the fact that he sold a kilogram of onions for 12 Br in September, during Ethiopia’s New Year holiday, Tegistu Wolde, 24, says this holiday should make shoppers happier. He only expects a price increase of 40 cents, meaning that a kilogram will be available for eight Birr.
His sentiment is supported by Tigist Belete, who came all the way from CMC.
“I’m so impressed by the cheaper prices here,” she told Fortune. “In the CMC area, a kilogram of onion sells for as much as 14 Br.”
She frequently visits this market during holidays and when she wants to buy larger quantities.
At Shola market, the price of onion has more or less remained the same compared to previous holidays, as shoppers like Tewabech Ababu attest.
“I remember buying onions for seven Birr during the previous Christmas,” she said.
During the New Year in September, onions were sold for anywhere between 17 Br to 20 Br at Shola.
The average retail price of onions in Addis Abeba has exhibited variations over the last three months, according to the CSA. A kilo of onions sold for 8.82 Br in October, before it dropped to 6.47 Br in November. It rose again, however, in December, to 7.55 Br.
The total land covered by onions at the national level grew from 22,035ha, in 2011/12, to 30,478ha, last year. The production of onions for 2011/12 is 3.3 million quintals, compared to the 2.4 million quintals the previous year, according to the annual survey of the CSA.
The price of butter showed a slight fall when compared to last year. During the last Christmas holiday, a kilogram of butter sold for 165 Br.
Selamawit Birhanu, 24, has, for the last five years, been selling butter, which she now sells for 140 Br to 170 Br a kilogram, depending on the type.
Butter in both Merkato and Shola showed only a five Birr increment as Christmas approached.
Butter has shown a slight drop in price, according to the CSA data. Whereas a kilo of butter previously fetched an average of 144 Br, it showed a slight decrement to 143.88 Br in November. Staying more or less the same, it stood at 143.44 Br in December.
Christmas is a holiday where most Christians prefer to slaughter either sheep or ox. Ordinarily, a given ox would be apportioned and shared between five to 10 individuals.
The Addis Abeba Abattoirs Enterprise (AAAE) expects to slaughter 2300 to 2400 oxen and up to 1200 sheep on the demand of customers. It has also planned to supply up to 1000 sheep to distribute to customers.
“We only have a single day of slaughtering for customers,” says Tekola Hailu, Slaughtering Service & Meat Distribution process director at the Enterprise. “This is because Wednesday, which comes right after the holiday, is a fasting day.”
On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Kera – Addis Abeba’s largest cattle market – was crowded with sheep waiting for potential buyers. Wogbeza Dessalegn, who has been in the business of selling of sheep for the last 15 years, was waiting for buyers. He says the actual price would finally emerge on Saturday, when the holiday draws nearer. Depending on the size, a sheep among his collection was sold for between 800 Br and 3,000 Br.
Some, like Murad Liga, 26, on the other hand, were selling Debre Birhan Sheep from 1,500 Br to 2,000 Br.
Whereas sellers say the price of sheep has remained static in comparison to New Year in September, buyers agree and say that it has possibly fallen marginally.
“I find the price even cheaper,” says Ermias Alemayehu, who bought a medium-sized sheep for 1,200 Br. “The same sized sheep was sold for 1,500 Br in the New Year.”
He and other buyers approached by Fortune, nevertheless, expect that the price might rise on the eve of the holiday.
One could see oxen of varying sizes up for sale in the Kera market. As far as price is concerned, it is the place from where the oxen are brought, which serves as a decisive factor. Gezahegn Fente, who has been in the business for two years, says he sells oxen from Adama (also known as Nazret), Wollega, a zone also in the Oromia Regional State, and Harer, in the Harari Regional State (526 kms from Addis Abeba).
Depending on the place from where the oxen are brought, the prices range from between 9,000 Br and 14,000 Br. Some like Ayele Bekele, were selling an ox for as much as 30,000 Br.
The price of oxen showed an average 2,000 Br increment, according to Gezahegn and other sellers approached by Fortune. They expect an increment ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 Br when the holiday draws even nearer.
In the last three months, the average price of an ox has exhibited continuous reductions, according to the CSA. It dropped to 9,935.55 Br in November from 10, 266.06 Br in October. In December, it has even gone as low as 9,755.30 Br.
The holiday consumption boom encouragers other businesses to add some strange items in addition to their usual stock. This is true of Shola, where some garment traders are selling chickens on the side. This may create competition for supplies from rural areas, possibly pushing prices up, according to Limenih Alebachew, a chicken trader for 17 years. Until Tuesday, however, he was selling his fowls for 130 to 160 Br, up from 90 to 110 Br just three days earlier.
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