MARKET FACET: Increasing Cost of Feasting Food

14 mins read

Last week, foremost in the minds of most Ethiopian Christians was the celebration of Easter over the weekend. It culminated in a big feast for which households typically spare no expense.

On the windy afternoon of Monday, April 18, 2011, Shola Market, located close to Megenagna in Yeka District, was crowded with shoppers.

Vendors and hawkers called out the prices of their goods to potential customers. Those in the crowd seemed to ask after almost every commodity available, but few seemed to buy much. Some were frustrated with the prices they encountered.

The food items used in the preparation of a traditional Easter feast were in highest demand. As a result, the prices of onions, garlic, butter, oil, and meat showed varying degrees of increase over their prices of the preceding months.

A mix of spices, used in preparing butter and doro wot, the popular chicken dish common in most households around holidays, showed a significant price increase from 90 Br per kilogramme the week before to 125 Br for a kilogramme last week.

While prices have seen an increase from one week to the other, they often skyrocket spurred by last minute shopping, on the eve and the day of the holiday. Some consumers have acquired the habit of trying to avoid this phenomenon.

Yeahute Belete, 88, a retired grandfather of three, went shopping at Shola on Monday. For him, the weekend was not only the breaking of his fast on Sunday, April 24, but he would also celebrate his 89th birthday the following day.

Yeahute and Zayide Asgedom, his wife of 47 years, receive strong financial support from his two daughters living abroad (one is in Sweden and the other in Canada). He has been a regular customer of Shola market since his wife was paralysed eight years ago. He is in charge of not only shopping for the holiday but also for everyday groceries.

For Easter, he bought five kilogrammes of fresh Sheno butter from his long-time supplier, Birtukan Walelegen. Her asking price was 130 Br per kilogramme, the highest price any trader at the market charged.

Yeahute tried to bargain with her to lower the price, reminding her that during Christmas he paid only 90 Br for a kilogramme. However, he had to compete with the loud Aster Aweke music blaring from the speakers of the music shop next to Birtukuan’s to make himself heard. Eventually, she relented and gave in to a small discount of two Birr per kilogramme.

Along with the butter, Yeahute bought a chicken, as well as onions, garlic, and eggs to prepare doro wot.

A live chicken on Monday at Shola could cost anything between 60 Br and 100 Br, depending on the animal’s size, Live yeferenge chickens were sold for 65 Br apiece by Elfora Agro Industry from the company’s pickups around Mexico and Lam Beret areas, while skinned yehabesha chickens cost 84.56 Br per kilogramme at Bambis Supermarket, which charges 44 Br for a yehabesah chicken, which are not sold by weight.

Half a century ago, when fuel prices and inflation were low, and the purchasing power of the Birr was much higher than it is today, Tiruworke Beyene, 70, could buy five hens for a total of 50 cents. She also recalled that one kilogramme of butter and one litre of oil each cost three Birr in Gonder Town, in 1961.
Kara Kore neighbours and long-time friends, Tiruwork Beyene (centre) and Mulunesh Walelegn, haggle over the worthiness of the cocks with a hopeful Tadesse Haile, chicken vendor for 10 years. He claims that this year’s consumer has far less purchasing power in comparison to last year’s.

By contrast, noug oil cost 33 Br per litre three weeks ago. This price increased to 41 Br two weeks ago, and by the beginning of last week, the price stood at 50 Br per litre at Shola and Merkato markets. At the same markets, sesame oil cost 33 Br per litre three weeks ago, and by last week the price had increased to 42 Br per litre.

Aside from oil, the main ingredient in the preparation of doro wot is onions.

The price of yeferenge onions has significantly decreased from seven Birr the week before to 4.50 Br per kilogramme while the price of locally grown habesha onions increased from eight Birr the week before to 10 Br per kilogramme.

However, the habesha onion is preferred for its taste and ability to keep wot viscous.

In Atekilt Terra, a marketplace located in Piazza, Arada District, yeferenge onions cost 2.30 Br per kilogramme from wholesalers selling from the backs of Isuzu trucks. The drawback of the low price was that shoppers cannot purchase less than five kilogrammes.

The onions cost 2.50 Br per kilogramme from retailers in the same market while the price of garlic ranged from 38 Br per kilogramme to 42 Br per kilogramme, depending on the quality.

An onion seller, Lema Shimeles, has been working in Merkato for the past 30 years, and attributed the low prices of onions to the abundance in the market. She bought her 100ql supply for 35,000 Br from a farmer in Zewai Town, Oromia Regional State.

Merkato provided most of the holiday food items at up to five Birr less than Atekilt Terra and Shola.

The prices differed mostly due to transportation costs incurred by the traders bring the goods from the wholesaler, retailers agreed.

With the exception of onions and eggs, which showed a price increase of only 25 cents over its price of 1.40 Br the week before, the prices of everything Yeahute bought at Shola was significantly higher than the week before. Even the price of garlic increased significantly from 36 Br per kilogramme the week before to 48 Br last week.

However, shoppers with different incomes still bought the items required for an Easter feast.

Tsegerda Asegedom, a single mother of two, earns her living by washing clothes around the neighbourhood in Bole District where she lives. With an average monthly income of 400 Br, she bought all the food items needed to prepare the holiday meal for 300 Br at Shola.

After purchasing a kilogramme of sheno butter, three kilogrammes of onions, half a kilogramme of garlic, and two chickens she had only 100 Br left for the remainder of the month to cover the living expenses of her family, for whom she is solely responsible.

“I spent so much on the Easter celebration, despite the knowledge that I will suffer trying to feed my family until I next get paid, but it is the custom and all my neighbours are doing likewise,” Tsegerda told Fortune while pushing down the live chickens trying to escape from her grocery bag.

Aside from chicken, other meat is also popular with which to break the fasting period over Easter.

Mutton and lamb, eaten roasted or stewed, is another prominent ingredient of the Easter feast. As a result, the prices of sheep and goats have shown an average increase of 100 Br per animal since the previous week. This is a less of an increase than the price hike of approximately 500 Br seen over the New Year and Christmas celebrations, in January 2011.

The Addis Abeba Abattoirs Enterprise (AAAE) sells a sheep at 46 Br per kilogramme to amount to around 460 Br for a sheep, which is delivered to the customer’s house following processing at the abattoir for a price of 15 Br or 30 Br, depending on the size of the animal.

The enterprise has an estimated supply of 800 sheep to contribute towards meeting the increased demand in the market during the holidays, according to Yosef Derissa, head of information and communications for the AAAE.

Geremew Desse, a sheep and goat seller at Shola market, charges between 500 Br and 2,650 Br for a sheep and up to 2,800 Br for a goat, depending on the size of the animal. He was optimistic that he would attract more customers as the weekend drew near, as that is usually the case, especially on the eve of the breaking of the fast.

He attributed the high prices, compared to the holiday season of January 2011, to the price hike in fuel and transporting the animals to the city.

However, the beef market should face no such phenomenon as a price cap was imposed on beef on January 6, restricting the sale of one kilogramme of meat to 52 Br.

The meat is available at even lower prices in Kara Area, located close to the outskirts of the capital. The price of an ox and calf in this area range between 15,000 Br and to 6,000 Br, respectively, depending on the size of the animal.

Most of the customers buy the meat by weight, instead of purchasing the entire live animal, because the meat spoils easily if not consumed soon after the slaughter.

These vendors, most of whom offered the cattle from their own herds, sold a kilogramme of beef at a cost of 40 Br or less.

It might even drop as low as 35 Br, depending on demand from customers, according to Aseged Dalicha, a salesman in one of the shops.

Tsegerda was happy to hear this as she could afford to buy a kilogramme of beef at these prices, and it would make her holiday celebration feast complete, she said.

One the other hand, the holiday season is not such a joyous occasion for all.

Kirubel Sieferaw, 31, a web designer for a computer software company, is feeling sombre this Easter, after losing his mother in a car accident on Christmas Day, January 7, 2001. Haunted by the horrifying accident, the only child who had also lost his father prior to the death of his mother, had in the past preferred to forego the festivities.

“Although my friends would invite me to their homes, I never went,” he told Fortune. “I think this year I will try to move on and celebrate Easter at my friend’s house with his family.”

It remained to be seen exactly how the market would behave towards the end of last week, as this would determine whether a seller like Geremew broke even or made a killing. However, Yeahute had no plans to find out, as his holiday shopping had been completed in advance, and despite the increased prices he found something to appreciate about his holiday shopping experience.

“As I do the shopping with the maid instead of my wife, I enjoy it because afterwards I can have a drink of araqe or tej,” he confided to Fortune.


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