Ethiopia: New Year's Blistering Market

opinion

Holidays often bring with an abounding sense of new beginnings and opportunities that make us look forward to the days longingly. Overseeing the coming holiday and preparing the cultural feast and extravaganza, however, is bound to make people feel the pinch in their pockets.

In numerous cultural celebrations around the world, food plays a big part in festivities. Enkutatash, the New Year holiday, however, comes at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic runs rampant in almost every corner of the world. The disease has managed to impact every economic, social and political life globally, and Ethiopia is no exception.

Ethiopia, like the rest of the world, is not just fighting a health pandemic, but also an economic one. However, the markets have seen plenty of supplies available during the week before the New Year on September 11, 2020. Chickens, sheep, cattle, and vegetables were made available despite the fears of shortages caused by COVID-19.

Precautionary measures and restrictions taken on the movement of people and goods across the country, to curtail the viruses spread, have directly or indirectly impacted availability and prices. Many businesses and industries have sustained declines in production. As a result, shortages of products coupled with shrinking income has created a challenge for many Ethiopians.

Recent report released by the Central Statistics Agency (CSA) has revealed that inflation reached 23 percent and food inflation rose to 26 percent. Nonfood items have also shown an increasing trend for years and it continues to rise as the holiday approaches.

Ethiopia's New Year can be a burden for many households as the new school year also brings added expenses, on top of holiday budgets. Both consumers and traders have said that prices are trending upwards, as expected in any holiday season, but some argue the prices are not as feared considering the pandemic and unrest have made it impossible to resume activities.

On Tuesday morning, Zeritu Wasse and her husband Mekonnen Addisu went out to nearby markets to buy holiday essentials. Mekonnen went to the Kera Cattle Market, while his wife was responsible for shopping for groceries. In late afternoon, they returned home at which time The Reporter called the couple to share their shopping experiences.

"The prices were more than what I expected. The cattle market, as usual, shows an increase," Mekonnen said adding, "I was planning to spend nearly 3,000 birr for a sheep, but I found out that it could cost me around 4,200 birr. It has shot up. I need to spend an extra 1,200 birr in addition to the budget I have allotted." Zeritu also said the same about the prices of butter per kilo. She said the price increased to 380 birr, from 280 to 300 birr, days before the holiday.

According to Aschalew Messle, a sheep trader in Kera, the prices for this New Year are not as worse as expected. The prices, he said, range between 2,500 to 2,800 birr for a small-sized sheep while medium sized sheep could fetch between 3,000 to 4,500 birr. Well-fed sheep cost between 5,000 to 7,000 birr depending on the buyers bargaining capacity, Aschalew said.

When looking at the availability and price of onions, one can remember that a kilo of onion was sold as high as 60 to 70 birr, a few weeks ago. Onion, one of the core ingredients, has seen a price surge over the last two to three months. However, now the price for a kilo of onion is somewhere around 35 birr and despite the demand, it has seen a relative decline over the last month. Nevertheless, when compared to the prices set in 2019, it has almost doubled. Last year, the price for a kilo of onion was 18 birr or less.

Similarly, at Shola's open market, one of the major shopping areas of the city located in Yeka District, has witnessed a hike in the price of a live chicken. Mostly sourced from Wolaita and Gojjam areas, chickens are being sold as high as 700 birr for the larger ones and 350 birr for a smaller chicken.

Habtamu, a sheep trader around Goro in Addis Ababa, has 200 sheep collected from Debrebrihan, Dessie and Wolita, to make available for the New Year's market. He said this is his largest supply he had. "There are enough available sheep in the market for the holiday. But we haven't seen buyers," Habtamu said on Tuesday, just four days before the holiday. According to him, the maximum price of a sheep was between 6,500 to 8,000 birr, whereas an average weighing sheep could fetch between 3,500 to 5,000 birr. A small sheep can fetch around 2,800 birr.

As usual in the holiday markets, the price of a sheep has increased compared to prior seasons, said Habtamu, who has spent over ten years in the business. "The market is not normal. The coronavirus pandemic has highly affected it. When income declines; buyers tend to spend their money only on essentials."

Furthermore, the imposed five-month State of Emergency law was lifted, easing restrictions imposed on public transports, resulting in a mass movement of people and goods to and from the market. During the beginning of the pandemic, Makonnen used to run a small business in Wurgessa, a small town in the North Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region. He was forced to limit his movements to buy and sell commodities in neighboring markets. "Since the transport cost doubled, it has greatly affected my income," he said. According to Mekonnen, markets in his locality have seen shortages of food and other items, during the pandemic. But now things seem to have improved.

For instance, the edible oil market is faring better. Mekonnen sells five liters of imported edible oil for 320 birr to 340 birr. At one time, customers were expected to pay over 450 birr for the same product.

Yossef Belay, 28, a teacher in one of the private schools, was bargaining with a sheep trader when approached by The Reporter in the market.

"New Year is a big festive season in our family and it is unthinkable to celebrate it without a sheep," said Yossef, who lives with his mother and brother. Mentioning the price hike, he said it would not be easy for him to take a live sheep home. "Last year, I remember buying an average-sized sheep with 2,500 birr, but today I am expected to pay more than 3,500. I should look for alternatives, perhaps joining a group of people in our neighborhood for Kircha," Yossef said.

The volatility of prices and the availability of consumables, relatively speaking, have seen no dramatic changes given the political situation in the country and the pandemic challenges. Prices, as witnessed during the week of the coming New Year, fared more or less better than the last Ethiopian Christmas, or Epiphany.

Contributed by Solomon Yimer

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