As the New year approaches, the sensible among us are already shopping for ingredients forthe festive feast. It is common that as the festivities get near, prices rocket up. Currently, however, shoppers have been surprised by the attractive prices on offer, with many key ingredients going for less than last Easter. The demand for cattle is down on last year, however, despite the good prices; traders hope that this will change as the New Year draws in, reports FASIKA TADESSE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Mizan Haddis, 60, a mother of five, preferred to shop early for the upcoming New Year holiday and went to Merkato on Thursday, September 4, 2014, from her home at Betel, in the Kolfe Keranio District. A son living in the US had sent her 200 dollars, and she wanted to shop quick to avoid the higher prices she feared would come as the holiday approached.
She was at the market on that rainy morning to buy ingredients for doro wot (chicken stew) – a common dish during most holidays. She was surprised to find that prices of chicken, butter and onion were either the same or cheaper than during the pre-Easter holiday.
Trends over the past couple of years have shown an increase in food prices, especially during holidays. Although food inflation reached an all time high of 13.8pc in 2008, it has gradually dropped, reaching 7.9pc in January 2013 and 6.5pc last month, according to data obtained from the Central Statistics Agency (CSA). The overall inflation rate stood at 8.5pc in July 2014.
The current nature of the market in Addis Abeba seems relatively stable, even with price decline in some commodities, such as onion and butter. Mizan first went to Doro Tera, where chickens are sold, and bought 10kgs of yesudan shinkurt – large onions farmed in Kelero in the Somali Regional State; she paid 100 Br, a significant reduction from the 16Br a kilo she paid during Easter.
There are three varieties of onion. The most expensive, at about 14Br a kilo, is the local variety, yehabesha shinkurt. Yesudan shinkurt is significantly cheaper, but more expensive than the fat onion, yeferenj shinkurt, which holds a lot of water in it, and sells for only seven Birr. Prices at Shola market, another large market in Addis Abeba, were higher for these same items at 17 Br, 12 Br and nine birr, respectively.
Last New Year, a kilogram of yeferenj onion, which most people buy, was sold at 14 Br, on average. Even better, it went down to around 13 Br last Easter; now the price has declined by half from last New Year.
At Atkilt Terra, the best known in vegetable market in the city, the price of yeferenj shinkurt has significantly increased from five birr, three days ago, to seven birr a kilogram on Thursday.
Unlike Mizan, Sisay Debru, who was at the market with a budget of 500 Br for the holiday shopping, it is a luxury to choose onions with a higher price. She bought five kilograms of yeferenj shinkurt for 35 Br.
After she bought the onions, Mizan moved on to buy chicken. She picked three that she liked, negotiated with the seller, Assfaw Beshe, and agreed to buy all for 330 Br.
“Unlike the last holiday, the market has chicken from different areas, so the price should not increase when the holiday gets nearer,” said Assfaw.
Depending on size, chickens were selling for 80 Br in Merkato and 100 Br in Shola; larger ones were 180 Br in both markets – this is more expensive than the 130 Br to 150 Br price for the large fowls.
The price of chicken varied not just with the size, but also with origin, and in Addis Abeba, Merkato was still cheaper by at least 10 Br than Shola Market.
A chicken from Wolaita, in the Southern Regional State, 500km south of the capital, costs the most, while those from Assebe Teferi, in Oromia Regional State, 300km south-west of Addis Abeba, cost the least. This is because their taste differs, according to the chicken traders Fortune talked to.
At Gojam Berenda in Mercato, butter buyers had started showing up in larger numbers, having started earlier in the week, according to Mekdes Assefa, one of the retailers, even if most were not buying.
Butter comes in four grades at both Gojam Berenda and Shola. A type of butter originating from Sheno, 78kms from Addis Abeba in the North Shewa Zone of Oromia, was selling for 180 Br a kilo at both the Shola and Gojam Berenda markets. Fresh butter, which is locally called lega, is sold at 150 Br at Merkato and 175 Br at Shola, whereas the mekakelegna (medium) butter, which is not as fresh, was selling for 140 Br at Mercato and 155 Br at Shola. The fourth and last grade, besal (ripe/stale) butter, was selling for 130 Br at Gojam Berenda and 140 Br at Shola.
The price of butter shows a 20 Br to 25 Br decrease from last Easter, except for the Sheno type, which is selling for the same price of 180 Br.
“Usually during Easter holidays, the price of butter rises because the holiday follows a two month fast,” said Wogayehu Akalu, who sells butter at Shola. “But it always goes down on the following holiday, New Year.”
A kilogram of butter was sold at 85 Br four years ago. The next year, the price jumped to 100 Br, increasing by nearly 18pc. Two years ago, the prices soared to 140 Br, registering a 40pc increase; the last three holidays saw the price soaring even higher to 180 Br.
Merkato was selling yehabesha eggs for 2.50 cents; yeferenj eggs were yet to be delivered to the market. At Shola, both types of eggs were selling for 2.80 Br a piece, compared to 2.30 Br last Easter.
Although palm oil remains among the price capped goods, along with wheat, flour and sugar, it didn’t have as much demand as niger seed oil, which was being sold for between 65 and 70 Br – the same prices like the previous holiday. Three litres of palm oil, packed in a jerry can, sold for 73 Br at the consumers’ associations stores, whereas other types of imported oil at Merkato and Shola were selling for 60 to 65 Br a litre, and a local oil, called Ahmed Wollo, was sold for 56 Br.
One major commodity showing a double price increment is Garlic, sold at 60 Br a kilogram at both markets, compared to 30 to 35 Br, last Easter.
“I am surprised with the price of Garlic. My plan was to buy a kilogram, but I decided to buy just half,” said Sisay.
Before she left Merkato, Mizan bought two kilograms of butter for 360 Br and the same amount of honey for 170 Br, to make tej – honey mead. Honey does not show a price increment at either market for this holiday. It was selling at 85 and 90 Br based on its use – the first price for tej and the second one for food.
Aside from chicken and its ingredients, lamb and mutton are also a favourites during the holiday feast, which drives the people to sheep and oxen markets.
At the Kera Cattle Market, one of the recognised five livestock markets in Addis Abeba, oxen from different parts of the country sold for prices ranging from 4,500 Br to 22,000 Br. Mikru Yemane, who has been in the business for the last six years, says the price has declined from the last holiday, when a large bovine sold for 27,000 Br. Demand is also lower this time, he says, especially for the larger oxen.
“But I hope the demand will be like previous holidays as it gets closer,” he said, recalling past experience.
Having bought 11 oxen a week ago from Harar, a place known for its beef cattle, Mikeru has so far sold three.
“Most of the people want to buy medium sized oxen, with prices from 6,500 Br to 7,500 Br,” he said.
The price of a sheep varies from 1,200 Br to 3,200 Br at Shola market, depending on the size of the sheep and, of course, the area from where the sheep has come. But at Kera, small sized sheep sold for 900 Br and the biggest sized sheep sold for 4,000 Br. Goats from Harar also sold with a price range of 1,300 to 2,400 Br at Kera and are found only with specific traders, unlike sheep. At both markets the price remains the same for the animals as the last holiday.
On the other hand, the state owned Addis Abeba Abattoirs Enterprise (AAAE), which slaughters livestock for holidays, is expected to slaughter 2,500 oxen and 3,000 sheep on average for the New Year holiday. The Enterprise not only slaughters livestock provided by large clients, but also slaughters cattle, sheep and goats and sells carcasses to individual customers and from butcheries it has opened in certain areas.
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