Ethiopia: Onion Tears

They may be few in number, but consumers are venturing to the vegetable market in Qera to buy basic food items at prices that are becoming more and more prohibitory.

They may be few in number, but consumers are venturing to the vegetable market in Qera to buy basic food items at prices that are becoming more and more prohibitory. One of the main culprits is the red onion, an important ingredient in traditional Ethiopian cooking but which consumers are finding hard to justify as its price soars.

Beginning in mid-May, the price of red onions has doubled and is currently selling for between 30 Br and 40 Br a kilogram. Some consumers have, as a result, been forced to stretch each purchase of red onions as long as possible before venturing back to the vegetable market.

The reason for this is a combination of seasonal supply shortages and certain unique disruptions to the market chain. The case of the former is related to the rainy season, which complicates the logistics of bringing red onions to market.

Adding to these seasonal problems is the government's halt of supplying productive hybrid red onion seeds, which farmers are now buying from private suppliers. But the Ministry of Trade & Industry, which has assembled a national task force to conduct an assessment into the price hikes, believes that this may have more to do with both the legal and illegal export of onions. In May alone, 10,000ql of red onions were legally exported to Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya.

The Ministry has also found that intermediaries are a negative influence on the market by dictating prices to the disadvantage of farmers, which are in turn disincentivised to grow the vegetables. The response from the government has been to establish a strategy to weed out the intermediaries and make the connection between consumers and producers more direct.

This is a good start, according to experts, but the government should also focus on long-term considerations, including boosting agricultural productivity by creating incentives and introducing more mechanised farming technology.

You can read the full story here.

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