Haile Aregawi became a cattle trader in 1989. He
used to travel to Jimma frequently for other
business, and his friends coaxed him into the cattle
business. His first shipment included 10 bovines
from Jimma to the cattle market in Nefas Silk-Lafto
District, Addis Abeba, near Kera.
“Back then, a good ox could be bought for 750 Br,”
he said. “And 10,000 Br was a large capital to start
Wednesday morning, September 8, 2010, one big animal
was bought for 16,000 Br by a restaurant that served
raw beef, he said while standing under a shelter at
the cattle market during the following very rainy
afternoon. In earlier times, some big oxen sold for
as much as 18,000 Br, but these animals are not as
“You should have come in the morning,” said a guard
at the market. “Some were so big that you would have
wanted your picture taken leaning against them.”
The cattle market operates in somewhat the same was
as other agricultural markets. khat, vegetables, and
cereals make their way to Addis Abeba daily, loaded
on numerous trucks from farms and markets around the
country. The big cattle markets in Addis Abeba,
including the one at Kera and another one beyond
Kotebe in Yeka District, are flooded with cattle
from towns and villages near Addis Abeba as well as
places farther away such as Harar, Jimma, Wolayta
Sodo, Arba Minch, Wolega, and Wollo. Most arrive in
Addis Abeba on Isuzu trucks that carry up to 12 of
the beasts and Efecer trucks that carry up to 17 of
them. Others, although less frequently, travel on
foot for as far as 200km, a journey which can take
up to three gruelling days.
Yemane Mamo, a cattle trader, sources his
merchandise from areas in the vicinity of Addis
Abeba, including Jiru, Debre Brehan, and Kotu, near
Sheno. The farthest of these is Jiru at 200km.
Traders like Yemane make their purchases and leave
them to experienced drivers to bring them to the
markets in Addis Abeba. The traders make deals with
up to eight drivers, who, in turn, hire extra hands.
Over the past three years, the price that the
drivers charge has increased from 20 Br to 30 Br and
now 50 Br, according to Yemane. During the best of
times, drivers can drive up to 400 cattle, but that
is rare, mostly just during the big holidays.
Along the way, the cattle are prevented from grazing
on the grasslands they traverse by local peasants.
Instead, some peasants make occasional revenue from
the sale of fodder.
Truck owners charge as much as 300 Br per head of
cattle for transport from Wolega, according to a
trader, Kebede Messele, who was trying to sell 15
oxen. This mode of transport is expensive,
necessitating the alternative services of the
By truck and by foot, Addis Abeba receives thousands
of cattle during the established market days of
Wednesday and Friday. Some traders are now beginning
to develop Sunday as a third market day during the
On Wednesday, 750 cattle arrived at the Kara market
alone; there were an extra 250 from the previous
The traders are charged 10 Br per head when they
take their animals into the fenced market, but that
onetime fee ensures them the use of the market until
they have sold all their cattle. On Friday, the eve
of the New Year, however, so many more animals are
expected to arrive that there will not be room for
all of them in the 8,000sqm marketplace which can
accommodate up to 3,000 cattle, according to Dawit
Kebede, the market centre coordinator under the
Modern Trade and Industry Office of Yeka District.
On the eve of Easter, 1,900 cattle were delivered in
only one day. In the month of July, revenues of
71,400 Br had been collected by the office.
“On holiday eves, the market compound gets so jammed
that most of the animals are sold from outside,”
said one of the guards.
These figures, however, are far from testimonies of
considerable meat consumption nationwide. With about
40 million cattle, according to the Central
Statistical Authority (CSA), Ethiopia boasts the
largest such population in Africa, but the per
capita consumption remained almost stable at an
average of 4.8kg between 1999 and 2004. That comes
down to 13 grams per person per day, equivalent to
the weight of just one level tablespoon of sugar.
Besides, Ethiopia’s numerous livestock, known for
their poor productivity, rely on natural grazing and
browsing for 80pc of their feed, according to a
study by the Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce and
Sectoral Association (AACCSA) and the Swedish
International Development Agency (SIDA).
The quality of the animals faces serious scrutiny
once the traders bring them to market where they
meet the shepherds who watch and feed their animals
and the sometimes unwanted brokers. The shepherds
are responsible for the wellbeing of the animals
from the time the market opens in the morning until
it closes late in the afternoon. When the oxen are
sold, some of these boys are also responsible for
getting them marked with the unique identification
number of the buyer, which is issued by the Addis
Abeba Abattoirs Enterprise for its regular clients,
mostly butchers and restaurants.
With the brokers, the business becomes so
complicated that it even has a term, muri gofer. The
muri gofer system is mainly established to milk the
buyer for some extra cash, but it also ends up
causing the trader to lose some revenue as well.
The real price of an ox is 3,000 Br. The broker
ensures that. Then he approaches a potential buyer,
promising to help them buy a good animal at a good
price. That price could be 4,000 Br. The extra 1,000
Br thus earned is called gofer. The broker extends
20pc of the gofer to the trader, and this is called
muri. The first loss to the trader is that he
himself could have sold the animal for 4,000 Br.
Some of the brokers go out of their way to force the
buyers to make the purchase at the prices they have
“You come with enough money to buy a chicken and you
want to get an ox for it,” they sometimes say.
The harassment of buyers by brokers, forcing buyers
to go to the Kera or Sheger markets, led to a
meeting on Wednesday between the traders and Yeka
District officials. The officials also met with the
brokers the following day.
Usually, the one who gets cheated is the one who
does not have experience with the cattle market.
When Ermias Tsega, from Ato Digafe Gebremeskel
Memorial Tej House and Butchers Store bought one big
ox from Yemane for 7,000 Br, he did not have to
negotiate. He has been buying from him for three
years, and Yemane tells him only the going price.
“We have established trust,” he said. “We deal with
each other truthfully.”
Between the animal’s point of origin and the final
buyer, the owner of the butcher’s store, the
restaurant, or the individual buyer, there are
several people making a living, thereof. In the Kera
area, for example, several households earn their
main revenue from food and drinks sold to those in
the cattle business. There are also many who survive
by washing the clothes of the traders and brokers,
and their clothes get dirty so very easily.
The cost of preparing an ox for market is so
expensive that everybody in the process makes less
money, according to Yemane. Farmers spend up to
3,000 Br to fatten an ox, according to him. The oxen
used for farming, which are much stronger than those
raised for slaughter, are so expensive (up to 9,000
Br, according to Yemane) that the market price is
pushed upward. Sometimes, it can take such a very
long time (a year for example) to sell an ox, that,
with costs going up every day, it eventually ends up
being sold at a loss that could amount to thousands
Part of the loss is recouped by bigger profits made
from inexperienced buyers. Most who have been in the
business claim, however, to know the quality of an
ox just by looking at it. Dhaba Tola, who spent
close to 50,000 Br for 12 cattle for his store in
Sebeta, even knows where an ox is from just by
looking at it, he goes so far as to claim. With such
buyers, price negotiations are short. They just go
around picking their choice of the animals.
Ten thousand Birr may no longer be such a large
working capital. Nonetheless, Dhaba will sell all of
the meat from the 12 cattle by Saturday, he says.
Most of it will go to his clients in Addis Abeba. On
bigger holidays, marketwise, such as Meskel, Easter,
and the end of the short Filseta fasting season,
some butchers buy as much as 50 head of cattle,
according to Dhaba.
Now the end of the Muslim fasting season of Ramadan
and the Ethiopian New Year offer a double
opportunity for the sale of cattle. In a little over
two weeks, Meskel will come, also promising a big
market. While most cattle traders keep themselves
busy there, Haile, the trader who went into cattle
business 13 years ago, will also be thinking about
selling off 1,000ql of maize that he has grown in
Assosa with other partners.