Yusuf Ahmed, 26, was selling mushebek, the popular baked pastry made
from flour with melted sugar on top, for the month
long fasting season which started in August. Traders
bring in this popular treat from Harar for around
three Birr which Yusuf sells for seven Birr
depending on his customers’ bargaining ability.
On the third day of Ramadan, a foggy and rainy Wednesday, August 3,
2011, Yusuf stood in the rain wearing a plastic
jacket. Although he had not eaten for 12 hours, he
concentrated on the flood of customers who were
eager to buy what he was selling, mushebek.
The inclement weather forces people to rush and push without
considering the people in front of them while
neglecting to haggle for better prices. His daily
income of 40 Br during this month is enough to save,
aside from paying for his expenses of Ramadan. It is
also better than his 10 Br daily income on other
days from his business of selling sugarcane.
Merkato, famed as the largest open market in Africa, was flooded with
customers who, like Yusuf, have also spent the
entire day fasting. Those who fast, do not eat
during the day time, but end up shopping for their
feasts at sundown.
The market place which had been quiet during the daytime was filled
with people, at 5:00pm, rushing either to purchase
food items or on their way to Anwar Mosque before
the Ramadan feast begins.
For Yusuf, who came from Dessie, 401Km north of Addis Abeba, looking
for a job, Ramadan is an opportunity to exercise his
entrepreneurial skills in a bid to earn more than
his regular peddling of sugarcane. He is trying to
save for his wedding day which is set for this year.
In the chaos, before the daily fasting hour approaches, Yusuf collected
a little over 300 Br from mushebek sales. In three
hours, he had earned more than he earned in a week
The fasting season brought more cash for Yusuf and his fellow traders
who are selling their mushebek for seven Birr a
piece and also making tidy profits on other items
deemed essentials by their customers on the fasting
Dates, temir, a sugary dried fruit imported from Middle Eastern
countries, is a delicacy and is the first food item
eaten after having abstained all day. Wholesalers
charge 340 Br for a package of dates which contains
10Kg. The price of the package has only risen by 15
The time after prayers is the time that Yusuf and his friends wait for,
as those who are ready to break their fast, flock to
the makeshift stalls and buy small packets of dates
tied in plastic, without haggling.
The market, having experienced a lack of customers, sits in
anticipation of dusk when customers would come
pouring in. This anticipation causes prices of
fruits, vegetables and cereals to increase, and in
some instances, drastically.
Apples and grapes now selling at 60 Br and 140 Br, respectively, saw an
increase of 10 Br for the kilo; and watermelons,
oranges, both selling for 12 Br, currently, went up
by three Birr per kilo. The small package of
strawberries now priced at 18 Br was sold for 14 Br
in July. Bananas selling at seven Birr two weeks ago
are now nine Birr for a kilo.
Half a litre of milk, whether store bought or home processed, remained
the same at an average of seven Birr and five Birr,
The market offers food items that customers demand during the Ramadan
fast, but for a price. Well-off customers, who do
not feel the heat of price hikes as much, do not
complain much. In fact, they justify the price
increments and point to the dynamics of supply and
demand, and increase in demand.
However, paying over 100 Br for a kilogramme of beef which had been
capped at 52 Br until June 1, 2011, remains a bone
of contention with traders and customers. Beef is an
important component of the feast. The prices of goat
meat and mutton have both shown an increase of 10 Br
for a kilogramme at butcheries in Piazza. The prices
of all three have now synchronised and sell at 100
Br for a kilogramme.
The prices of live goats and sheep also have shown an increase by an
average of 100 Br. Sheep and goats are being sold
for a minimum of 650 Br and 890 Br, respectively.
The maximum could go as high as 1,700 Br or 2,200
Br, respectively; depending on the size of the
animal at Shola wholesalers’ open market a.k.a. beg
This season of fast and feast, brings challenges for many when it comes
to affording items whose prices have spiked almost
Fozia Kemal, mother of three, sells soup on a corner at Merkato, near
the Anwar Mosque at a price of seven Birr per bowl.
She also offers tea, coffee and pastie, the popular
fried dough often served as breakfast or snack.
Fozia her husband, who works as a daily labourer,
have to save as much as 3,000 Br every year to
purchase food items for the fast.
On the other side of the economic spectrum lies Meka Adem who spent a
minimum of 3,000 Br in a week for the fasting feast.
Married with nine children, her large family lives
in the up-scale neighbourhood of Ayat Real Estate,
where their extended family also comes over to enjoy
her fried delicacies.
During this time, as the consumption of edible oil, flour, cereals, and
sugar by the families who observe Ramadan increases,
the demand in the market likewise rises. With rising
demand, almost all fresh produce has seen an
increase at the Merkato market.
Spring onions, for example, commonly used for the soup which begins the
feast, is now sold at 20 Br for the bundle from 15
Despite only palm oil, flour, and sugar remaining on the government’s
list of price capped items, retailers charge and
consumers pay higher than the government’s set
prices. Sugar has more or less stayed at its capped
price of 14 Br for a kilogramme and 16 Br at retail
outlets as Merchandise Wholesale & Trade Enterprises
(MWTE) has injected 18,631tn of sugar into the
market, in mid July.
A quintal of flour which is being sold at a minimum price of 760 Br and
a maximum of 1,150Br has increased by 100 Br per
quintal. The price of palm oil, generally preferred
by the fasting people to fry and prepare food items,
has increased by an average of 10pc at retail
The Ministry of Trade (MoT), obtained all palm oil from major importers
such as, Al-Sam International, Get-As, Country
Trading, AHFA, Camel Trading, Sherefa, Netsa, and
Misgena Wolday, and flooded the market with the palm
oil; selling it at the capped price of 24.50 Br for
These companies had imported a total combined amount of close to 600
containers of palm oil, over 13 million litres
annually. In 2010, the government imported 222,130tn
of palm oil mostly from Malaysia, according to
statistics from the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs
Et-Fruit has been distributing palm oil through its 43 container shops
in the capital, and MWTE has started distribution
from mid July. However, 3,189 shipping containers of
palm oil are not meeting the demand of customers who
want more than one container of palm oil at a time.
This has given way to a situation where retailers at Merkato obtain
containers from those who have queued at shops of
Et-Fruit and MWTE and deliver it to these retailers
at a profit margin of five Birr.
A litre of palm oil increased from eight Birr to 10 Br at retail
outlets, traders who are not selling at the capped
price. Customers prefer them since they can get as
much as they want without having to queue at the
Although the Ethiopian domestic edible oil sector produces
approximately 20,000tn annually covering 20pc of the
market demand, the public prefers the 160,000tn of
imported palm oil which has market coverage of 80pc,
according to the 2009 launch of Businesses
Aside from being sold cheaper than the local nigger seed (noug) oil
which goes for as much as 57 Br for a litre, palm
oil is preferred mostly for frying by customers such
as Meka who also admires the taste.
The price of palm oil, which used to be sold for as much as 32 Br for a
litre last year, has decreased due to the price cap.
The price of sugar has also decreased by five Birr
compared to last year while the price of flour
remained the same as compared to the 2010/11 fiscal
However, traders and customers speculate that prices will increase
towards the middle of the fasting season bringing
more income for Yusuf while it places more burdens
for Fozia who is struggling to afford the escalating
prices of the feast.
The economy, which has registered an inflation rate of 38.1pc in June,
is affected by the price hikes which may also
continue to increase.
It is not possible to assess to what degree the fasting season will
impact the market due to absence of research,
lamented an economist saying that the market may
stabilise itself after the end of the fasting
The price increment of vegetables does not have any relation with the
fasting season as opposed to those of sugar, palm
oil and flour, touted Yared Mussa, a flour trader at
Whether related or not, the price increments of food items are eroding
Fozia’s already weakened purchasing power even as
Yusuf looks forward to a more lucrative season.
“I give half my income to my fiancé who saves it and we use the rest
for Ramadan shopping,” he said.