Teff shortage in Israel after export ban

By Ayanawo Farada Sanbetu – HAARTZ

The price of teff – the grain used to make injera, a pancake-like bread that is a staple for Ethiopian immigrants – has risen sharply in recent months, causing hardship to many families.

The reason for the rise is a decision made by the Ethiopian government two years ago to prohibit exports of teff because its price was soaring in Ethiopia. Initially, that decision caused Israeli prices to rise from NIS 100 for a 50-kilogram sack to NIS 300. But in recent months, as merchants’ stocks of teff dwindled, the price has risen to NIS 600 a sack.

“We’re a big family and eat injera twice a day, and sometimes more,” said R., a mother of nine from Rishon Letzion. “We buy a 50-kilogram sack of teff, and that’s hardly enough for two months. When there are special events, we buy another 10-kilogram sack, and lately I’ve been adding other grain, barley and wheat, to it.”

Teff does still get to Israel, despite the Ethiopian government’s export embargo, through merchants who smuggle it from Ethiopia via Djibouti to the port of Ashdod. From there, it is sold to spice shops catering to the Ethiopian community, as well as to merchants who go door-to-door. The immigrants say the teff merchants do not issue receipts, and charge sky-high prices because of the shortage.

Injera can also be made using wheat, corn or barley. But the Ethiopian immigrants say that teff has vitamins and iron and is also tastier. They are therefore willing to pay exorbitant prices for it.

Ethiopia is the only country that raises teff, although Canadian farmers have been experimenting with its cultivation. Israel’s soil and climate are not conducive to the special grain.

The Ethiopian embassy in Israel has recently been flooded with complaints by citizens protesting the price rise and Ethiopia’s refusal to approve the grain’s export to Israel. The embassy responded: “In light of the inflation in Ethiopia, it was decided to ban export of teff from the country. Exports are now carried out illegally, and the Ethiopian government is trying to enforce the law.”

The director of the Jewish Agency’s department for Ethiopian immigrants, Moshe Bahate, who has overseen the arrival of 8,000 Ethiopian immigrants in recent years, said: “The rise in the price of teff impacts the immigrants’ economic situation, and we at the Jewish Agency are unable to increase their living allowances.”

The Tax Authority, asked about the alleged black market in teff, said: “We are unfamiliar with the matter. If specific cases are brought to our attention, we will deal with the problem.”

Teff merchants refused to be interviewed for this article.

FORUM | AMHARIC