Flick teff price upsurge hits wallets: A story of supply problem taking timely revenge against long-ignored productivity improvements

23 Aug

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Addis Fortune‘s Flick Teff Price Upsurge Hits Wallets is an interesting article on the making of shortage of one more of an Ethiopian popular crop I have come across in the last few weeks.

The article deserves attention of researchers, with some background in Ethiopian politics of past five decades, if interested in seeing how much the shortage of teff, Ethiopia’s favorite cereal, has worried/frustrated Addis Abeba residents, including the troubled administration.

An agricultural economist with decades of experience in the language of his profession berates policy-makers for inability “to rethink [.] policy towards the teff production… more incentives to teff producers [and] raising productivity.” His prognosis seems to hint policy failures across the spectrum, despite the former TPLF guerrillas over a quarter century stay in power.

Once again, such realization had me crystal-gaze into the possibilities. Thus, if on the back of frozen incomes, inflation speeding possibly faster than the impressive Almaz Ayana for her gold in the London Games in 10,000m, the repression, deepening differentiations between the haves and have nots with all their ethnic overtones and the consequent inequalities, and everything else that has gone wrong for Ethiopia and Ethiopians — in its own ways for Addis Abebans too — the question is whether this tiny grain could rise to possibly become cause for eruptions of the nation’s pent-up anger.

Credit: IFPRI/Nazret/Wardheernews

Quoting a housewife from a reasonably well to do family with first hand information and experience with the teff market, the paper writes:

“Purchasing teff in the summer season has never been easy for Meskerem Beyene, a housewife and mother of four living around Lideta Church. Nevertheless, this summer was especially trying, as the price of white teff reached close to 3,000 Br a quintal. “Within three decades of raising four children, I have never experienced such increase in the price of teff,” she said.”

Concern about the escalating price of teff is serious unlike any time in recent memory. There is the added arrival of the Ethiopian New Year, city officials are taking some measures to unusually ease up the building frustrations of Addis Abeba residents. One official told the media Tuesday of the purchase by his office, among others, of10,000 quintals of teff to put to the market to dampen its inordinate price hike.

On their part, the writers of the Fortune article Hawi Abdissa and Samson Berhane have appreciably weaved the problems not only families are facing but also the dilemmas of urban middlemen/teff sellers and consumers/labour. Therein one can see that officials are convinced of the need to do everything possible, aware as they have become of the building pressure within the ranks of city workers and at the level of their unions, including those behind them — mothers, wives, children, etc.

The view on unions, above, is not in contradiction with the much-told and re-told reality that the TPLF-run Ethiopia has become a nation where Meles Zenawi had made his Nazi-esque killing of civil society activism and their organisations, before his expiry in mid-2012.

Food as a human right

As a country run by former guerrilla fighters, the TPLF could not bring up themselves to the task of acting and behaving as national leaders; in the process decades have fleeted while political legitimacy has shunned them. If Ethiopians have absorbed past lessons, a turnaround is unlikely for them to be anything different.

That is why the TPLF has made repression techniques its specialty, which in recent years it has turned into exportable commodity.

Of late, this has received a boost from it becoming in Ethiopia’s name a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and also the Security Council. Interestingly, it is even already the president-in-waiting to assume the responsibilities for the month of September 2017 in the Security Council. And thus TPLF-run Ethiopia, I must underline this, is unwisely using such an important international responsibility to politically thrive exporting its repressive practices from the dictator’s manual, who five years ago this week went six-feet under.

TPLF’s tools of repression customers are repressive African nations. I know this political profiteering would sadden many that respect the purposes for which the United Nations has been established over 70 years ago. Suffice it to suggest to all nations to ask themselves why Ethiopia, as a Security Council member is opposed to Secretary-General António Guterres’ proposal of April 18, 2017 on the linkage between human rights and conflicts. This should not be allowed to be swept off under the rug at all!

That is also the case in Kenya during its recent election — the threats and limits Nairobi applied against the media, including the killings of officials and employees of the ‘independent election board’ and harassment of supporters of the opposition, etc.

For the record I would mention here that in justifying his proposal to the Council, Mr. Guterres at the time stated:

“Article 24 of the UN Charter is clear: the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security rests with this Council ‘in order to ensure prompt and effective action…While peace, security and sustainable development were mutually dependent, the United Nations sometimes dealt with those three pillars separately, [resulting in ] the consequent fragmentation as a major weakness. It was, therefore, critical to ensure better and less politicized action on human rights, which in turn would complement progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If we are truly to address today’s challenges, we must make prevention our priority, tackle the root causes of conflict, help build and strengthen institutions, and react earlier and more effectively to address human rights concerns…”

Since the secretary-general’s proposal is dealing with human rights, one must see the linkage between this and the TPLF’s anti-human rights, anti-democracy positions; it’s contrary to TPLF’s interests of power and riches at any cost.

It is not also without reason that the TPLF-run regime has landed into outstanding investigation demand by the United Nations for its massacre of several tens of thousands of Ethiopians following their persistent demand for respect of their rights as human rights.

Equally important is to realise that food, whether teff, kitfo, or hambasha, etc. is a human right. There have been a great deal of anomalies in this area, because of its inadequacy. We know that, in a country of double-digit growths as per the regime’s propaganda, since early 2000s no less than ten million people in non-drought years have been living with the generosity of donors and World Bank in a project known by its glorified name: Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP).

I have constantly pointed out that this has enabled the regime to hide behind its dupery of growth in Ethiopia, while many citizens have been living in constant undernourishment. In other words, agriculture has never been successful in the sense of making contributions to the nation’s real development.

Recall also that the Gates Foundation in 2012 had vowed to make Ethiopia food secure by 2015. We do not know what real expertise it has pumped into transforming Ethiopian agriculture, if at all.

We have not seen that materialising, despite the genetic modifications pumped into many parts of our nation’s agriculture. It’s only Hailemariam Desalegn who falsely claims on one hand Ethiopia would become in a few months Africa’s wheat exporter in 2014, and on the other Ethiopia’s decision to stop food aid, since it had achieved food security status in 2015.

Under such circumstances, it is not the fault of citizens when they are forced to develop distrust of the regime and hate it altogether!

On the part of the Gates Foundation, we hear from time to time it has been dabbling between health and food production, with little impact, other than by the assessment of Mr. Gates. For all we know, this has been likened by many to no differently from former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin’s yarn, by which he claimed Badme had been awarded to Ethiopia.

Addis Abeba anti-TPLF hotbed of tension?

Internally, the TPLF regime seems to remind itself it cannot take for granted Addis Abeba, although it had remained tame during the 2015/2016 popular protests. The Front realises that there no longer is insurance against that, especially after Addis Abeba businesspersons defiantly challenged the regime in late July and early August, joining the uncoordinated strikes in the spirit of the tax revolt that continue to hound the nation.

We have been hearing monster stories about corruption of high officials since the arrival of the TPLF. After the 2016 protests, the regime wanted to do some confessionals about its sins ድንብርብር ያለ ጥልቅ ተሃድሶ ሙስናን ለማጥፋት (profound renewal). Speculations were rife and a few innocuous officials were sent to jail, while the top monsters remain untouchables, both civilian and military, who have destroyed the industrial bases built since the imperial period and under the Dergue. This has rendered the nation tense, the TPLF knows it but it could not put its hands on its own “El Chapos” (the Abay Tsehayes and Gen Kinfe Dagnews), Ethiopia’s equivalents of the Mexican drug kingpins.

Surprisingly, Hailemariam Desalegn has not failed to get the implications of the critical question by Solomon Afework, president of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Association (ECCSA) on August 19, 2017, when the latter remarked that measures against corruption “should not just come once every few years and disappear”.

See well how the TPLF solves its political, economic and security problems! Hailemariam reacted to the ECCSA chairman petulantly, out of which Addis Fortune plucked its headline for that story PM Scolds Businesses Over Tax, Corruption, wherein it quotes:

“You know them better than any part of the community, but you did not even point them out. The business community should be aware that no one is untouchable,” Hailemariam replied. “The next focus of attention will be the business community.”


Sanitising inflation data to hide food shortages

Readers unfortunately do not get to see in the article by Addis Fortune the farmers’ side of the teff shortage story in Ethiopia. owing to that readers and citizens are strongly advised to scrutinise the inflation data, to see what is happening in the country — whether the data is straightforward, or it is doctored.

Even if the TPLF constantly sanitises inflation data, it hardly has managed to make it gazers-proof, of individuals who easily see and predict the data’s unreal movements. For instance, in April food inflation was 12.2%, until it crawled i May to 12.3%, Then in June it went down to 12.2%, anything is possible with the TPLF — including Ethiopia importing teff — and thus, as seen from the data, affecting the laws of demand and supply!

GIEWS reports show the impact on prices of teff in different regions, taking into account the persistent drought in rich agricultural region such as Oromia, followed by SNNPR, as follows:

    “Prices of teff followed similar patterns but increased at slower rates compared to maize (up to 18 percent over the same period) and, in July, they were up to 20 percent higher than in the same month of the previous year. Similarly, prices of wheat, partly imported, increased by 22 percent in the capital, Addis Ababa, between January and July but remained around their year-earlier levels reflecting adequate imports and a good 2016 output.”

Interestingly, Addis Abeba has shown during the Ethiopian winter months terrible unavailability of bread wheat, because of which despite imports of wheat there is shortage of the cereal because of the mix of unsuitable wheat to make bread for the city — the degree of Addis Abeba corruption.

Teff grows in Ethiopia twice a year: Meher (June, July and August) and Belg (September, October and November), but the amount produced has not been adequate to stave off shortages.

Then comes the heavy hand of statisticians-turned political in July. They massage the food inflation data to have it settle down to 12.5%. What the numbers say is different from what Ethiopians experience, as they quietly continue to bottle up their frustrations.

The anomaly is that, at the same time, according to the August 7, 2017 FAO’s GIEWS data, the price of maize in Ethiopia had jumped 70%. Like maize, armyworm has also hit sorghum hard and prices have gone up! The laws of substitution to tame the impact of food demand and supply market has been extremely disturbed.

In the circumstances, while unable to address the deteriorating quality of life privileged Ethiopians that have it all, or that of those hoping things would get better, the TPLF ‘government’ once again has chosen to either return to its dupery, example a million metric tons export of maize to Eastern and Southern Africa, or by trying the usual empty promises of the Developmental State’s promised land. When that has worked, TPLF has improved its the speed in the morrow of its lifting of the oppressive state of emergency (SOE) with which it has started to lock Ethiopia’s youths and fathers.

As to the price of teff rising in Addis Abeba and its only flabbergasting unbeliever, swearing ዐይኔን ግንባር ያድርገው — denial (literally, may God make my eyes as flat as my forehead) — is Daniel Dintamo. He happens to be the head of Communications at Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR). It is sad he should behave simply as a hired hand to give priority to his politics arguing, “such a hike is baseless rumour”.

If the TPLF had said that, Ethiopians are used to it they would understand it; but when a civil servant — supposedly serving the nation — makes such a statement, it would not even catch the ears of his bosses since they are used to it, much less bringing him promotion or favor.

Sadly for Daniel Dintamo, the TPLF may have thought the information officer has not not defended it forcefully!

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