9 September 2017

Ethiopia: Severe Drought Costs Cattle Lives, Money

The couple Helen Kassa and Dawit Haile were at a cattle market, located in Bole District close to Medhanialem Church, in front of the stadium under construction, last Friday, September 8, 2017. The couple went to the market to buy sheep as a present for Helen's family who resides in Ayat area, in Yeka District.

The area was vibrant and very busy with the hustle and bustle of the buyers negotiating with the cattle traders, totaling to 42. The area was flooded with no less than 1,000 sheep, which mainly came from Harar, Jimma, Debre Berhan and surrounding areas of Addis Abeba such as Sheno, Kotu and Chacha.The couple Helen Kassa and Dawit Haile were at a cattle market, located in Bole District close to Medhanialem Church, in front of the stadium under construction, last Friday, September 8, 2017. The couple went to the market to buy sheep as a present for Helen's family who resides in Ayat area, in Yeka District.

These sheep and goats came in to the city through the six main gates where livestock enters Addis Abeba from different parts of the country. They are Kolfe Keranio (New Ambo road), Gefersa (Ambo road), Entoto and Gulele (Bahir Dar road), Kotebe (Asmera road), Akaki (Debre Zeit road) and Alem Gena (Jimma and Buta Jira road).

Their first attempt failed as the taxi driver who came with them shared his reservation on the sheep that grabbed the attention of the couple. "The sheep seems too old, and I identified that easily by looking at his teeth, which are not its milk teeth," explains the taxi driver. "The meat of old aged sheep is not as fleshy as the younger ones." Finally they settled on one of Mohammed Nur's sheep. After a 15 minute long negotiation with the trader, they agreed and paid 3,500 Br for a medium-sized sheep that was originally brought from Debre Berhan, 130Km from Addis Abeba, in the North Shewa Zone of Amhara Region.

Helen initially budgeted 2,000 Br to buy a present for her family. Graduated two years ago, she managed to get her current job a year ago. She is currently working with her boyfriend importing different types of vehicles including construction machinery, receiving orders from their clients. "Since I started working, I was planning to take presents to please my family," Helen, who has been taking torta cake for her family during holidays, she told Fortune.

After discussing with her boyfriend, scheduled to get married next year, she decided to buy a sheep and take it to her family's home budgeting 2,000 Br. But the situation was not as they expected. Benchmarking their previous experience, the couple went out to the market close to their office. When they went out to the market they found out the market was a bit beyond their expectation. "I frequently buy sheep but, I did not expect the price to surge this much," Dawit told Fortune.

Mohammed, a 49 year old cattle trader, has been in the business for the last three decades. He brought about 80 sheep for this New Year holiday up from his regular stock of 15 sheep including the one he sold to the couple. He sells his sheep from 2,400 Br to 5,000 Br. Just like Helen and Dawit , Mohammed witnesses an increase in the price of the cattle during this holiday, one of the festivals which is celebrated with sheep and goat, unlike Christmas and Mesqel holidays, creates a high demand for oxen.

Same is true for Qera cattle market, which is also known for the cattle supply. Traders at the area witness the price of goat and sheep increased with an average of 700 Br from the previous year. At Qera a goat is sold at prices as high as 11,000 Br and 3,500 Br being the lowest price, while a sheep was sold between 1,000 Br to 7,000 Br. "Last year we were selling the smallest sheep between 700 Br to 800 Br, but this holiday no sheep costs less than 1,000 Br," said Zeru Abawa, a sheep and goat trader at Qera, for the past three years. Considering New Year brings high demand for goat and sheep, Zeru brought 200 sheep and goats for the holiday.

Even though the price of these livestock escalates, supply is constant. Traders at Bole and Qera testify this. This is contrary to the recent report of the United Nation's agriculture agency, Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), which stated that two million animals have been lost to a devastating drought in Ethiopia. The Agency reported that, the drought had devastated herders' livelihoods as it exhausted pastures and water sources.

This disaster occurred in the country which has one of the largest livestock populations in Africa; having an approximate 50 million cattle, 50 million sheep and goats. But the effect of the drought is highly observed on the oxen that came from the Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples' and Somali regional states as well as from Harar and Gondar areas. The cattle from these areas are very meager.

So far, four oxen from these areas have died after their arrival at the Qera cattle market. And the administration of the market is going to burn them just like it did with the other 15 cattle during the past year. "Many farmers from the drought affected areas brought their cattle this year as a gateway to escape from the drought," said Tadesse Muleta, coordinator of the Qera Cattle Market. At Qera, where about 370 traders operate, 1,330 cattle came from different parts of the country including from Wollega, Harar, Bale, Borena, Adama, Kibre Mengist and Jimma. The number is a bit high from the previous year's supply which was about 1,100. An oxen at this market was sold for as high as 40,000 Br compared to 35,000 Br during the previous holiday.

One of the traders at Qera, Haile Afeworqe notices the price of smaller cattle this holiday differs from that of the previous Easter holiday. During this holiday the smallest size ox is sold for 6,000 Br, which was 7,500 during the previous holiday. Shegole one of the four cattle markets along with Aqaki and Yeka, in the city has same experience with Qera, during the last holiday of Easter the least price of oxen was 9,000 Br but this time the price has decreased to 7,500 Br. Teshome Wale, one of the traders at Shegole relates this with the size of the cattles. "The cattle which came from drought affected areas are very skinny, and that is why the price is lower compared to the previous holiday," he told Fortune.

Most of the traders as well as consumers pleaded that the price escalation of cattle is normal and expected holiday after holiday. But this does not limit consumers to go for buying the livestock for holidays. In line with the demand surge, the number of cattle coming to the city was estimated to reach 15,000 sheep and goats and 6,000 oxen, according to the Addis Abeba Trade Bureau. On the other hand, the state owned Addis Abeba Abattoirs Enterprise (AAAE), which slaughters livestock for holidays, targets to slaughter of 2,500 to 3,000 oxen, 600 sheep and 400 goats for this new year holiday.

During the recently ended fiscal year the Enterprise slaughtered 232,370 cattle, 89,362 sheep, and 31,478 goats. This figure has grown by 16.5pc from the previous year. About 90pc of the enterprise are butcheries, while the remaining are households and universities. For the service the enterprise charges 360 Br to slaughter cattle and 70 Br for sheep and goats.

Shewalef Yetbark, director of slaughter services at the Enterprise mentions there are many animals that are slaughtered illegally. But for most of the families in Ethiopia, including Helen's family visiting slaughter houses is not a causal trend. Rather they prefer to slaughters the cattle at their houses as it is believed to be part of the holiday culture.

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