7 January 2013

Ethiopia: Christmas Greets Shoppers With Cheaper Prices

Sellers Stay Tight-Lipped About Whether Prices Will Increase

Shops in Atakilt Tera like Dagem Mengesha's shown above were selling onions for 4.50 Br a kilo on Tuesday January 2, 2013.

Almaz Belay, 30, was busy returning a rooster she had bought two minutes earlier, at Shola Gebeya, mid morning on Wednesday, January 2, 2012.

"What kind of chicken is this?" she asked Hailu Alemu, the farmer who had brought 30 roosters from Sheno, to sell for Ethiopian Christmas, which is taking place on Monday, January 7.

"It does not crow, cackle or flap its wings," she complained.

Indeed, Hailu's brood of roosters were a peaceful bunch, not making the usual noise, which is the trademark, in the corner of Shola Gebeya where chickens are sold. The rooster, Almaz bought, even went quietly into a black plastic bag that she had brought along to carry him home.

Almaz had yet to start shopping, in preparation for the traditional Christmas holiday feast. She was just passing by Shola Gebeya, on her way to work, when the 90 Br price, Hailu was offering for the chicken, caught her eye.

She was too busy, successfully bargaining a five birr discount, to notice that the rooster was unusually quiet. She only noticed after she paid the money. However, Hailu did not put up much of a fight and returned the money promptly.

"I only have six roosters left," he told Fortune.

He said nothing was wrong with the chickens. He is hoping to finish up quickly and go back home with some extra money in his pocket. He claims to earn a 10 Br profit from each chicken, on average.

Habtamu Eyasu,above, who had been selling butter and honey for the past 25 year was offering bargain prices at his shop located in Gojam Berenda.

As for Almaz, she says she will buy a bigger and feistier chicken. Of the 4,000 to 5,000 Br average monthly income, she and her husband earn running a beauty salon, she estimates that she will spend 3,000 Br for the holidays. She plans to go looking for a chicken at Shola Gebeya, where they are being sold for an average of 130Br.

Although she has yet to buy anything, the prices of items she has browsed so far seem okay to her.

"It seems fine," she told Fortune.

This statement is repeated by those who were doing their Christmas shopping early on Tuesday and Wednesday, albeit, warily.

"Prices may hike nearer the eve of the holiday," they quickly add. Or they simply shrug and say, "Who knows what will happen tomorrow?"

Trends for the past few years have shown a dramatic increase in food prices, especially during holidays.

In the previous year, for example, annual food inflation had reached an all time high of 50.3pc, in November 2011; a month before Christmas. For November 2012, the year-on-year inflation rate has tamed down to 13.4pc.

This is still being reflected on the holiday market, which has shown no dramatic increase in price, when compared to previous months, or even last year. In fact some items are showing a marked decrease, when compared to prices offered during the Christmas holiday week from the previous year.

For the holiday feast, the primary focus, for most, is the preparation of Doro Wot, a traditional chicken stew.

Chicken was selling for an average price of 135 Br, during the holiday week the previous year. The last Ethiopian New Year also brought prices as high as 150 to 160 Br, although bargaining could bring it down a little.

The current minor decrease of five Birr, therefore, has come as good news to customers.

Eggs cost 2.20 Br a piece, in Merkato, when Fortune visited the market on Wednesday. Ye ferengi egg - eggs from foreign chicken breeds - cost double the price of local eggs. There was an increase of 20 cents in Shola, with traders claiming that the eggs are bigger in size. Eggs have also shown a decrease of 20 cents, when compared to last years prices.

Perhaps the item that has shown the most remarkable decrease in price is onions, when compared to the previous holiday seasons. Red onions (yeabesha shenkurt) are an essential ingredient of traditional chicken stew and need to be bought in bulk (at least three kilos).

These onions were being sold at a price of 4.80 Br a kilo, down by 60pc, when compared to the previous year, on Tuesday, January 2, at Atkilt Terra. Although the price for onions was seven Birr, at Shola market on Wednesday, it was still better than the 16 Br price-tag, during the Ethiopian New Year, in September.

At the time the City Administration took action, putting a price cap on certain items. The price cap forced traders to sell onions at eight Birr, initially, and 12 Br as the week moved along.

Shoppers have been buying an average of five kilos of red onions from Dagem Mengesha, a trader at Atkilt Terra, for the past five years. They are fearful that it may increase in the coming weekend, because of Christmas, he explains. But the price could not go farther than seven or eight Birr he predicts, as the season's harvest is very good.

The Meher harvest of onions, during the September-October season, was 236,922tn, 28.5pc more than the previous year.

The price of garlic has reached 23 Br, this holiday season, and tomatoes are selling for 15 Br at Atkilt Terra; a five Birr decrease in both, when compared to September, although this price was before the price-cap.

Butter, another costly expense during the holidays, was selling at fairly similar prices, when compared to the previous year and the Ethiopian New Year. First grade butter, from Sheno, was selling for 165 Br to 170 Br, on Wednesday at Shola market. Second grade fresh butter, from Gende Beret, sells for 150 Br, and Besel, or ripe butter, cost 140Br.

At Gojjam Berenda, however, prices showed a decrease of 35 Br for Sheno, and a 20 Br difference for second grade fresh butter and ripe butter, respectively.

Butter is abundant during this time, as cows get feed easily, according to Habtamu Eyasu, who sells honey and butter at Gojjam Berenda, explaining the decreased prices. For him, however, even this price is still high, because he remembers selling butter for 10 to 15 Br a kilo, 25 years ago, when he was just starting out.

Spices that go into butter have also stabilised, except for cardamom (korerima), which costs 90 Br a kilo, an increase of 10 Br when compared to the Ethiopian New Year's price. Koseret (Lippia adoensis), another spice for butter, is still selling for 30 Br a kilo, whilst the cost of beso bela (basil) showed a 10 Br decrease, coming down to 35 Br. Nech azmud (ajowan) and tikur azmud (black cumin) both have also shown a 25 Br decrease and currently sell for 35 Br.

The price of 17Kgs (one feresula) of red pepper has decreased by 100 to 630Br.The price of Niger seed oil is also stable, currently selling at 42 to 49 Br a litre, depending on whether it is packaged or not.

Despite such stable prices, shop owners, at both Shola and MerKato, were complaining that there was no market. Indeed even Merkato's usual hustle and bustle seemed muted, when Fortune visited the place, on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Only a few people were seen taking advantage of the decrease in prices. Some, like Wolete Estifanos and Haileyesus Habtegiorgis, a married couple, did so because they wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle, and price hikes that could follow.

"Besides my wife is a good cook and likes to have an early start," Haileyesus added jokingly, as they shopped at Merkato, on Tuesday.

The couple, who have three children, did not state their income, but classified themselves as 'upper middle income'. Haileyesus is employed at the American Embassy and Wolete works at Hilton Hotel. The couple are ready to spend 5,000 Br for the holiday season.

"I have already paid 2,000 Br for kercha," Haileyesus said.

Kercha is a term used to signify the act.

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