Analysis: Amid soaring price and chronic shortage, Ethiopia’s staple grain becomes latest political boiling point

Addis Abeba city administration is supplying Teff through consumer associations (Picture: Mayor office of Addis Abeba/Facebook)

By Natnael Fite @NatieFit

Addis Abeba – Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Abeba is hit by unprecedented price hike coupled with chronic shortage of Teff, Ethiopia’s staple grain. But for political actors and activists supporting and opposing the ruling Prosperity Party (PP), the issue is not a mere supply-demand market malfunction. Critiques of the ruling Oromo Prosperity Party have overcrowded several media outlets crying foul about Amhara Teff farmers and traders being “systematically sidelined” from the market system in Addis Abeba, whereas officials of the ruling party itself blame “economic sabotage” for the crisis.

In the midst of the heated debate is the undeniably soaring price of Teff that has seen significant rise over the past few weeks alone. A quintal of Teff, which was sold between 5,000 to 5,500 birr two weeks ago is now traded between 8,000 to 10,000 birr in the capital Addis Abeba, sending residents in frantic search for the grain which is mainly used make Injera, the pancake like flatbread staple food among majority of Ethiopians.

During a visit to Addis Abeba’s Shola market last week, Addis Standard spoke to Sisay Bekele (name changed on request), a grain trader who said he had been selling Teff at birr 8,400 per quintal since a week ago.

“Usually, we don’t get it directly from the farmers, it reaches us through a chain of different people, which will result in price increase. The current one, however, is caused due to shortage of supply, as we cannot get as much grain as we used to,” Sisay said.

“At a time, the price increase started, I almost finished what I had in my warehouse. But I noticed there is a demand from my customers to buy in large quantities so I asked my supplier for more, and found out that the price is not the same anymore. I bought with an increased price, so I will sell as such,” Sisay explained how the price rise unfolded.

“… if the current situation continues, I don’t think I will be able to buy Teff again”

Getahun Teshale, Addis Abeba resident

Getahun Teshale, a resident of Addis Abeba and a father of three, who worked in garages for more than 16 years told Addis Standard that he is facing difficulties already to feed his children due to the current inflation in food prices.

“Teff can’t be found everywhere as it used to be. It has been made to disappear from the market. Even if you could find it, the price has increased. Yesterday, I bought 25kg of Teff for 2,100 birr and kept it at home along with 7kg of rice. But if the current situation continues, I don’t think I will be able to buy Teff again” he said.

The increase in Teff prices is not limited to Addis Abeba. Addis Standard has confirmed that the prices have also increased recently in the major cities of Oromia such as Bishoftu and Adama.

Ahmed Yusuf, who works in a grain mill in Bishoftu city, some 40 km from the capital, told Addis Standard that Teff price has also increased in the city, and is being sold at 7,500 or more per quintal in various stores in the city.

“To be honest, I don’t know why the price of Teff increased. But in the last two weeks, demand has also increased, and so have prices. We are selling at 7,500 per quintal. As I am an employee, I have no role in determining prices, but as a member of the community, I am concerned because the price increase affects me too,” he noted.

Ahmed however said it is not right to attribute the current price increase to shortage of production, noting that “Ada’a Teff is well known nationally, and it’s untrue to say there’s a shortage while we’re sitting in the area known for Teff production,” he said.

Alike Ahmed, Sisay and Getahun also believe that the current price increase may have not been caused as a result of shortage of production.

“I suspect that perhaps it’s a conspiracy rather than a shortage of production in the market. We hear there is some kind of conspiracy prohibiting Teff entering the city [Addis Abeba],” Sisay noted.

Getahun on his part said, “I don’t think what’s happening is a shortage of production. The farmers are still producing and nothing new has happened to cause lack of production,” he noted, adding that the government should exercise strict control as there may be artificial price rise.

“The people are also buying and storing it, that’s why the price is hiking”

Tadesse Kasahun, Teff seller in Adama

However, Tadesse Kasahun (name changed on request), a seller of Teff grain in Adama city who was selling a quintal of the grain for 7,200 birr since last week, and has now run out of stock, believes the reason for the price hike is a dwindling supply.

“Following the price hike in Addis Abeba, the Teff has disappeared from the market.  The people are also buying and storing it. That’s why the price is hiking, and it is the responsibility of the government to intervene and roll out a system,” he said.

The latest hike in the food prices particularly that of Teff grain came in the backdrop of reports of repeated incidents whereby travelers, particularly from the Teff producing Amhara region, were denied entry to Addis Abeba and forced to return back upon reaching the borders of Oromia regional state, which they have to cross to get to the city. 

Subsequently, there have been calls on social media to halt Teff supply from the region to the capital in what appears to be yet another boiling point in the ever deepening divergence between the two main stakeholders of the ruling Prosperity Party, the Oromia and the Amhara PPs and their respective constituencies.

On 14 March, addressing the regular assembly of the city’s council, Addis Abeba mayor Adanech Abiebie spoke about the challenges she said her administration has had to grapple with in recent days: “the youth are flocking to the capital from some regional states with the intention of overthrowing legally elected government”, the Mayor said.

Her remarks sparked uproars and criticism from opposition political parties, most notably National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) and the Ethiopian social media space. NaMA was quick to call out the Mayor’s remark as “dangerous, divisive and genocidal incitement” and called for the Mayor to be held accountable for her remarks.

“…unlicensed bodies massively purchased the product and concealed it and blocked the product from entering the market”

Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration

In a statement it released through its communication bureau on March 13 following the latest price hike in food grains especially Teff, the Oromia regional government said the price hike being observed is not a normal market inflation, and rather is “a race to achieve political purpose through an economy conspiracy” adding that “it is part of the foiled political conspiracy which used ethnicity and religion as a cover, and that this too cannot succeed,”.

“This economic conspiracy is created by greedy traders who want to cause artificial market inflation in the name of shortage of hard currency. These greedy merchants are working for political gain by buying products in mass and store it to cause a shortage of product in the market,” the statement further explained.

Mayor of Addis Abeba Adanech Abiebie also indicated that there are groups working to gain politically by generating artificial shortage in the market and intensify inflation to provoke the city residents especially the civil servants

To that end, the city administration has been distributing Teff with fair prices in different parts of the city through consumer associations working with farmers’ unions in Oromia and the surrounding to regulate the market.

In a press briefing, Head of Addis Abeba trade bureau Biniam Mikru corroborated that the market inflation is a plot created by “some merchants”, adding that the bureau is working in collaboration with Oromia region’s government to supply Teff and that the administration takes robust action against merchants who are involved in such acts.

On March 16, the Ministry of trade and regional integration, Amhara and Oromia regions’ trade bureaus and the federal cooperative association’s commission released a joint statement noting that the price hike occurred without shortage of production.

“The inflation was not caused by lack of production, but because “unlicensed bodies massively purchased the product and concealed it and blocked the product from entering the market” it said.

According to the statement, the regions are working in collaboration with the ministry of trade and regional integration so that the products could enter the market legally by merchants and cooperative associations. AS

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