Teff Scarce, Prices Sky High



A rise in the price of stable food items remains typical of the local marketplace, since 2005. Yet, there seems to be no agreement between stakeholders on the driving factors of the price hike. Whereas officials claim that there is an increasing convergence of consumption choices, reality dictates that declining purchasing power and increasing exports have their own roles to play in the equation.


The current price of the staple crop, teff, varies from 1,400 Br to 1,650 Br a quintal depending on its colour; black or red teff being the cheapest.

Grain prices inEthiopia, in general, tend to slump at this time of year, weather permitting. This year’s weather has been the best in years.

As we have learned from frequent interviews broadcast through national television, farmers have never enjoyed better yields than the current harvest season.

What, then, is the cause for the untimely rise in the price of teff?

I recently met a young economist who had just returned fromEurope. He was sitting beside me at a wedding as we waited two long hours for the wedding party to arrive. After breaking the ice, we were soon chatting about general issues.

He introduced himself as a man who has recently returned home after a long stay inFrance, working on his doctorate. He was surprised, if not perplexed, to see so many people being subjected to more than a two hour wait, sitting next to a table richly laden with a variety of food. Most were keeping away from the food by sheer prudence, whilst yearning to devour everything on the table. But our mouths were too busy talking.

Even after the wedding party arrived, accompanied by a large number of people, quite a long time passed before we were led to the buffet table. The economist was no longer a stranger to me as he picked up a slice of red teff injera and unrolled on it onto his plate, in preparation for the wot(stew) of his choice. As he did so, he told me that he grew up in an area where red teff was abundant.

Red teff is baked and eaten as a variation; placed on the table as a mere alternative. Coming from abroad, he prefers the teff he is familiar to. I told him that more and more people are consuming teff because they are now able to afford it. Some are having teff for the first time.

Unlike the general assumption of many people, Europeans do not eat much bread. They feed on a variety of nourishing items of which bread is just an insignificant part.

The economist recalled a recent address by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to members of parliament (MPs), in which he said that the price of teff was increasing because more and more people are able to buy and consume it.

In Europe or America, according to the economist, it is almost impossible to figure out the type of food people consume at any given time, let alone trace down the change in the consumption choices of people.

Yet, he argued that there are many factors that explain the reasons for the high price of teff, the most important being the fall in the purchasing power of the Birr. This is complemented by the increase in teff exports, however scant they might be.

Teff is also selling higher than ever before, because of its special natural characteristics that qualifies it for consumption. Injera, baked out of teff flour, can last for at least three days if preserved properly.

One can bake injera using a small electric stove. Small twigs and leaves can also be located for a fire to place under a flat clay surface that could be used to bake injera. Injera can then be consumed as it is or after adding powdered pepper (mitmita), or other additives. It could also be dried to a crisp and eaten as a snack, with a glass of tea or water.

A recent finding by researchers is said to have revealed that teff has a hybrid quality that minimises the vulnerability of its consumers to the impacts of diabetes. This discovery may increase teff exports, increasing its demand and price in the process. Consequently, people may resort to consuming bread as an alternative to injera.

But loaves of bread seem to be a rarity these days, judging by the long lines at the gates of the few bakeries in our fair city. Queuing for bread, or even maize, is a saga of the legacy bequeathed by the Dergue Regime.

As if to recall the old days, people queue and inch their way forward, at a snail’s pace, to the counters, waiting for the hot loaves to be collected from the ovens. These loaves are getting lighter and lighter, until eventually they will weigh no more than a feather. They also easily crumble into small pieces at the slightest touch.

The price manipulation being conducted by both grain brokers and dealers, under the guise of trade, is another point that ought to be mentioned. The chain that starts at the farm gates keeps on increasing, changing hands until the grain is finally unloaded at the gate of the village-store-come-flour-mill.

In between, there are the grain debaters, brokers, transporters, loading and unloading labour forces, including the donkey owners, and long range transporters. The final destination will be the village flour mill. Each of these phases involves a monetary transaction.

On a minor scale, however, the expansion of horticulture and development of urban areas, compounded by the tendency of farmers to divert towards the production of cash crops, will have an impact on the volume of teff produced. Consequently, the increase in teff prices will eventually become unavoidable.



By Girma Feyisa


Published on March 3, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 670]


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