Crowded open markets in the city have witnessed a diminished number of consumers, for the current Ethiopian Easter. After close to a two months long fasting season, the residents used to enjoy the festivity with high animal products which they were refrained to use. But the rise in the market led the residents to revise their trends, report HAIMANOT ASHENAFI & SOLOMON YIMER FORTUNE STAFF WRITERS.
Dereje Gutema is a banker in his late 30s at a private bank. For a married man that is raising two children, the holiday does not only mark a moment to lay back and cheer. It is also a time when he incurs high costs, especially in buying cattle as is the Ethiopian tradition.
He was at a cattle market near Gofa Sefer last Wednesday, opposite Guinea Bissau Street, to buy a sheep for the Easter holiday. There were hundreds of sheep and goats, many of them having been brought for sale from Harar, Wolaita, Benishangul, Jimma and towns of the Oromia region surrounding Addis Abeba.
The market was alive with buyers and sellers negotiating and in some cases arguing over prices, even if there were some days before the holiday.
“I often go out shopping a week before a holiday, for it helps me get a more reasonable price,” he said. “Better quality products are also more likely to be still unsold.”
His calculation has not hit its mark this year though. Dereje had budgeted between 2,300 Br and 2,500 Br for a sheep. He left the market having bought a modestly-sized sheep for 3,000 Br. It was 800 Br more expensive than the one he bought for Christmas three months ago.
While the price of sheep ranges between 1,700 Br and 5,000 Br, goats have been selling in the range of 2,500 Br and 6,000 Br.
It is not just cattle that have become expensive but the products with which to make an Ethiopian traditional holiday meal.
Yeshi Kassa, a mother of three, has found preparing food expensive. She went to Yeka district of the Shola Market, located in Yeka District, to buy food items that are not perishable or require prior processing.l
“I bought onions and butter,” she said. “I only bought half a kilo of butter of the Wellega type, for I have limited money.”
She bought a higher quality of butter for the same value during the last holiday of Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) as she did now.
This rise in inflation is a trend that has been observable since August last year. By March, it has reached 15.2pc – its highest level since half a decade ago.
Food inflation has contributed highly to this. In the same period, it stood at 19.9pc. The gain in price was highlighted in that of cereals, vegetables and fruits.
Amongst the reasons for this, disrupted agricultural supplies to Addis Abeba have been cited as a driver of the inflation. This was a result of unrest in towns of the Oromia Regional State surrounding the capital.
The devaluation of Birr by 15pc against a basket of major currencies is another reason, which has pushed the price of imported food items such as edible oil high.
And although this season is known to witness an increase in the price of living and leaves consumers dry, it is highly anticipated by traders. One of these are merchants in the cattle market.
That the Christian-Orthodox majority had taken to fasting for close to a two month period before Easter has hurt the businesses of business people such as Solomon Tesfaye, who operates in the famous Qera market of Addis Abeba. The unrests in parts of the surrounding Oromia region have also complicated the market further.
“It seems enough supply will be available in the market,” says Solomon, attending to the 12 oxen he has brought for sale. “But we are receiving the cattle at a high price.”
He is one of the many traders in the marketplace of Qera. Established over a century ago, it can accommodate 2,000 cattle.
“It is part of a market chain that is very long, from the farmers to the sellers; costs are likely to get higher,” said Tekia Gidey, coordinator at Qera.
The season, being one where the fasting season ends, as usual, is inundated with demand for meat. Merchants like Solomon thus are trying to enhance supply by bringing cattle from different places.
The popular sources are Harar, Borena, Wolita, Guji, Wollega, Gonder and Bahir Dar.
“It was a blessing this year in that much cattle have been brought from Gonder,” Tekia said. “It has stabilised the market.”
At both Shegole and Qera, the price of cattle could go as high as 40,000 Br, and as low as 10,000 Br.
That the price hikes in food and food-related products are coming from the source has also been noticed by Messert Hunde, a retailer of butter for the past decade at the famous Shola marketplace.
She receives the butter she sells from suppliers and sometimes goes to Sheno, Northern Shewa Zone of Oromia to buy directly from farmers.
“There is an increase from the origin besides the repeated transportation blockage,” she said. “The farmers claim the rise in the price of other consumer goods they purchase to produce dairy products is pushing them to hike their prices.”
But her experience this holiday is different to that of the cattle merchants. People are not buying despite the price increments, saying that she has had the lowest number of customers this season.
Many items have shown a rise in price compared to the last holiday. One of these is in the price of eggs, which has shown about half a Birr rise to that of the Gena period, selling at a maximum of four Birr.
Chicken has become even costly. At both the marketplaces of Shola and Merkato, chicken has been selling as high as 500 Br, and as low as half that price. This is about a 100 Br rise relative to that of the last Easter holiday. The primary sources have been Wolita Sodo, in the SNNPR, and Gojam.
Sellers have noticed that there is a fall in demand when it comes to chicken.
“The decrease in demand is visible,” Endashaw Markos, who sells chickens at Shola, told Fortune. “There should not be these few customers three days before the holiday.”
The edible oil market is faring better. A litre of locally processed edible oil sold within a price range of 65 Br to 70 Br. But it has not been without its challenges.
“We used to send gallons of oil to various cities, but since the political unrest intensified, those regional cities’ markets have been lost to us,” a retailer of oil at Merkato who asked to remain anonymous said.
The case of red pepper is different, with its price having stabilised. It was selling as high as 85 Br. This is in contrast to its price of almost double that amount over a month ago.
The problem is lack of productivity, according to Atilaw Alemu (PhD), an economist and lecturer at Addis Abeba University.
“The claims of road blockage causing price hikes doesn’t hold water as its effects can’t extend for more than two days,” he said. “If the farmer is productive, he would not sit idly as items perish to protest”.
Anticipating a rise in demand and an increase in prices, the Addis Abeba Trade Bureau supplied food products to the 141 consumers associations located in the 10 districts of the city. Close to 1,500 oxen are in stock, as are chicken, eggs and teff.
“Al-sam Group, Alle Bejimela, Belayneh Kinde Exporters are supplying the oil needed to the city,” said Solomon Bekele, director at the Trade Bureau.
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