Editor’s Note: The average Ethiopian has to work two weeks to afford one chicken. Meles Zenawi’s economic nirvana is creating a living hell for Ethiopia’s 99 percent, while creating unprecedented wealth for a tiny ethnic minority.
One chicken costs US $11.50 while the average civil servant earns $25 a month. The astronomical cost of living has to do with bad policy, the printing of worthless money by the government and the decision to export food while local people starve.
By Solomon Bekele | Capital Ethiopia
Last Easter chicken was sold around 90 birr. Now it has skyrocketed to a ghastly 200 birr, shocking customers like this one who returned the chicken she tried to buy after hearing the price. For many this is not a holiday without chicken but for the last couple of years consumers have been playing a game of chicken at the market as they struggle to afford what is a holiday staple.
Easter Holiday market, no trade bonanza
In the laissez-faire school of thought, markets-know-best, prices are free to rise and to fall as supply and demand require. But considering the last three or four holidays, ‘the free fall’ action has never been witnessed. Rather, what we have observed is a one directional upward market movement. In the year 2010 Easter Holiday, the average price for a chicken was between 50 and 70 birr in markets across the city. In 2011 for the same Easter Holiday, the cost for chicken went up to 90 birr. This year in the week leading up to the Holiday, the price of chicken has skyrocketed up to an unbelievable 180 birr.
To the surprise of many, a week from the Holiday a chicken was sold up to 200 birr at Debre Zeit market. “The first time I heard about this exorbitant price, I screamed. I checked and it was true. I decided not to buy the bird for the Holiday, though, traditionally having Dorowot -sauce made of chicken- is a must for Easter,” a woman residing at Debre Zeit who preferred anonymity told Capital. In relation to the chicken, in 2010 the price of an egg was 1.15 birr. Last year it was 1.50 birr. And this time it is 2.20 birr per egg.
Capital’s Easter market animal and animal products assessment suggests that the increase of prices is here again remarkably high as compared to the previous years. Of course, the reason for the sharp price rise is well understood. The Easter holiday is special for the Orthodox Christian community in Ethiopia as it comes after a two-month long fasting period. That makes it different from all other religious holidays. The Christian community hence flocks to the markets to buy sheep, oxen and other animal products such as cheese and butter.
Ox’s price tag has shown a great leap forward. In the year 2010 the price stood between 4,200 and 6,000 birr. Last year it was available between 5,000 birr to 7,000 birr. This year the price shot up from 7,000 to 10,000 birr. As usual very many people put their money together to share an ox. In Amharic this is called Kircha. The price of an ox used for special raw meat has now gone up over 15,000 birr. A kilo of meat for the raw meat in butchery shop now has gone up from 120 to 140 birr.
Butter has shown considerable increase with the price tag ranging from 160-180 birr per kilo. Last year its price was from 100-150 per kilo. What is said to be the best butter, Sheno butter, has risen to 200 birr per kilo. Last year Sheno butter was sold at 150 birr. In 2010 the same quality butter was available for 100 birr only.
The price of sheep ranged from 1,250 birr to 2,500. Last year the price tag was between 750 and 1,800 birr. The year 2010 passed showing the price tag between 700 birr and 1,200 price range for sheep. Currently, the best quality, which is called Mukit in Amharic, costs over 3,000. Last year it was only 2,000 birr.
Capital learnt that onions are sold between 8.50 and 9.50 per kg at the newly set vegetable market at Saris. Last year it was 4.50 to 6.00 birr per kg. In a very unusual market character, onion prices had shown little increase in the two-month Easter fasting season where a lot of vegetables are consumed.
Opposite to this, one finds cheese. Although cheese is not consumed in significant amounts during the two-month fasting season, it showed a sign of price increase. Now cheese is sold 50 birr per kg at groceries up from 40 birr. In small markets the price is well over 35 birr per kg. But their quality is lower than what is sold at big groceries.
The price of Teff went up to 1,250 birr from 1,000 birr per quintal (100kg). This increase occurred regardless of quality. White Teff, or Magna rose to 1,450 birr while middle quality Teff, Sergegna, was up to 1,350 birr.
Though not directly related to the holiday, coffee has shown a modest price increase with the tag of 115 birr per kg. It is not only coffee that showed minor price rise this time. Locally produced edible oil went up from 45 birr per litre two months ago to between 55 and 65 birr. At Shola market, oil price per litre was 55 birr while the product of the Abuare Edible Oil Mill was 65 birr per litre. The reason for the price rise was directly related to the Orthodox Christians’ fasting season, where it is not permissible to eat butter, meat and other animal products and the unavailability of the imported oil in the market for the last couple of months.
The unavailability of imported oil from the local market is not an exception. Other commodities like sugar and oranges were also scarce. The sugar price went up to 25 birr per kg while oranges are sold 19 birr per kg.
As usual Bazaars are organized in almost all sub cities in Addis Ababa in connection to the holiday. They are accessible for shoppers, because they are at the side of the main city roads. What is noticeable at this time is the expansion of the areas of the bazaar. For instance, the number of pavilions set at Kazanchis and Arat Kilo has almost doubled compared to the last Christmas holiday. All pavilions are packed with different kinds of materials for sale. People do not usually buy home furniture for the Easter holiday. The usual stuff people prefer to buy for Easter are kitchen utensils and food items, in particular animal and animal products. In the pavilions one gets things ranging from cheese and honey up to electronics materials. Another noticeable factor Capital observed is the flow of people at the bazaar expecting a price reduction, as the prices in these bazaars are traditionally lower than one finds in the shops. For example shoes are available from 155 to 190 birr. The same kinds of shoes in shops would cost from 175 to 225 birr respectively.
Besides this bazaar, what is a custom in the holiday season is a big sale in Addis. Big Christmas and New Year sales have been a tradition in the west. Both the public and the traders get ready to participate in that trade bonanza. The traders want to clear what they have in store and the public want to buy what they want at cheaper prices. What is interesting to note is that during the big sale, prices are genuinely reduced.
In Ethiopia this time it seems the businesses are attempting to duplicate this world experience. We now see businesses in areas such as Piazza, Merkato and Kazanchis advertising by poster or showing signs of their ‘big sale’ with up to 50 percent price reduction. In some cases the reduction is not genuine. Capital learnt that some shops ‘make a certain percentage reduction from the fake price tag.’ As it stands, assume that the price of a shirt was 200 birr before the big sale. The price of that material is now slashed by 35 percent sale price. But the price tag shows the original price as 270 birr, and then after the sale it becomes close to the original 200 birr. But different boutiques and shoe shops do make genuine price reductions, as we witnessed actual price reduction at Kazanchis shoe shop and Piazza boutiques. However, few people go and take advantage of the sale.
The big sale practice didn’t knock at the door of groceries just yet. In Europe and elsewhere in the world the big sale include all markets. There is even a holiday travel fare. In our case the vegetable and groceries and supermarkets are unfamiliar to this kind of practice.
Even though prices are rising, people’s purchasing power generally is not. As a result, people may not be able to afford extra shopping for Easter. As it stands, they do not have much discretionary income though prices of animals and their products, directly related to the Easter holiday have once again gone up.