The shortage of oranges in Addis Abeba has been becoming increasingly evident over the past few months. Now, it is almost impossible to find the fruit. Various reasons, including pests, a lack of technology and prices, have been blamed for the shortage, with many suggesting that appropriate techniques are not used often enough in the sector. The current scarcity is predicted by some to last up until April, reports HIWOT SEYOUM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
The month of January was a time for the progressive decline of oranges in the fruit market, as far as Samrawit Mulugeta, a teacher in a preparatory school, was concerned. During the last two weeks, the fruit seemed to have vanished from the market, as she learned while roaming around streets and asking various fruit shops.
In the afternoon of Thursday, January 30, 2014, Samrawit asked a fruit shop owner around the Sidist Kilo area in Arada District if she could find oranges for her two-year-old child.
The price of oranges continued to grow for two to three weeks in January. It reached 26 Br a kilo during the last week, in the few shops where it was still available, up from 18 Br.
Samrawit and several other buyers approached by Fortune found that traders in the fruit market are not willing to sell oranges.
“I got fed up when nearly 20 shop owners did not want to sell to me, citing a shortage,” says Daniel Arega, 30, who visited four shops in the Addisu Gebeya area, in Gulele District, on the evening of Tuesday, January 28, 2014.
The shortage started in Addis Abeba at the beginning of the current fiscal year, in September, although on a smaller scale. Buyers approached by Fortune remember that they did not face a shortage of the current magnitude back then.
Although buyers, like Samrawit and Daniel, assume that the shortage has more to do with fruits in farms being hit by pests, sellers like Solomon Dagne, who owns a shop in the Addisu Gebeya area, say that the price is discouraging.
“This time is not suitable for the orange market,” he complained. “The highest we could sell a kilo of oranges for is 25 Br.”
Tatek Sheriff, 35, who rents a small shop for 10,000 Br in Arada District, said that he has been challenged since the scarcity of oranges emerged. He agrees with Solomon.
The talk around town of pests infesting orange farms, as reflected by some buyers, holds water for Solomon Dagna, higher expert in horticulture at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
“The shortage was caused by the prevalence of pests in orange farms and the minimal use of technical improvement in both state-owned and individual farmer orange farms,” he said.
Orange pests in Ethiopia prevail, he said, due to both local and outside sources. When the fruit of the spoiled ones drop, it has a high probability of spoiling other fruits in the farms, especially through expanding to the main sites of orange production in Ethiopia.
He recommends the proper use of quality seedling, compost and enough water usage to increase orange production.
Although pests represented a challenge to the healthy growth of the fruit in the last fiscal year, the Ministry prevented it from infecting more farms through the application of various techniques.
“These methods reduced the rate of transmission from 60pc to 70pc,” says Solomon.
The shortage is estimated to continue until April, according to some distributors approached by Fortune. One of these, Amare Wolde, who works for a distributor at Atikilt Tera area – the largest fruits, vegetables and fish market in Addis Abeba, in the Piassa area of Arada District – says the months of January and February see orange supplies dwindle.
“This is not a time of healthy production, as far as I can say based on experience,” he told Fortune.
When Fortune visited Atikilt Terra on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, oranges were scarce. None of the containers and the distribution storehouses had oranges on their shelves.
In the year 2012/13, 421,467 were farmers involved in the production of oranges, over 2,999.2 ha of land. The farmers produced a total of over 300,000 quintals, according to data from the Ministry. Oranges accounted for 7.6pc of the total fruit production in that year.
For Wasihun Kebede, a horticultural expert, the shortage is attributable to the dry season and traditional harvesting methods.
“Improved farming methods backed by the suitable weather condition can boost production,” he said.
The growing demand, coupled with the minimal penetration of technology and improved methods of practicing agriculture are largely responsible for the worsening shortage of oranges, says another expert from the Ministry, who requested anonymity.
Only 4.84pc of the total area covered by oranges during 2012/13 was harvested using irrigation, according to the Central Statistics Agency.
Even though inputs, such as water, land and suitable agro ecology, are available, there must be appropriate structures at the government level to check and control imported seedlings, the experts suggest.
In the last fiscal year, the Amhara Region had the highest production of oranges in the harvesting year, producing 128,315 quintals from 932.48ha of land. The Southern and Oromia regional states were second and third, with 99,389 quintals and 90,259.56 quintals, respectively. The total production of oranges in 2012/23 year was 487,504.78 quintals.
Et-fruit gets 90pc of its supply from the Upper Awash Agro Industry – a state-owned farm and agro-processing factory, located 174Km from Addis Abeba, on the Awash River. The remainder comes from farmers in different parts of the country.
Some private investors in the horticultural industry, like Tsegaye Abebe, say that the situation could change with the increased involvement of the private investor.
He suggests a technical solution to sustain the orange production throughout the year. According to this remedy, production could be sustained by cutting the flower of the fruit and postponing the production until another time.
“This helps to control the surplus production in the market for a short period of time,” he said.
According to a report from the Ministry of Agriculture, in the year 2012/13, the Upper and Middle Awash stood out for orange production. The Erer Gota in Dire Dawa was another area that prevailed in the production of orange. Arba Minch, in the Gamo Gofa Zone, is another area known for producing the fruit.
Abdela Negash, a horticulture expert at the Ministry of Agriculture, says the government plans to prepare a large tract of land for orange production. Availing improved seedlings and qualified irrigation system is important for the better orange production, he suggests.
Until this is realised, Samrawit continues to cautiously send her eyes in the direction of shops and vendors in case the fruit of her liking is available.
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