Edible Oil Oily Prices, No Respite for Consumers
The trope of attempts in the social media memes put a comedic spin presenting oil as a priceless household commodity and household dependence on it. It demonstrates a classic case of humour in the face of adversity. The posts poke fun at the volatile market for cooking oil, oily in recent weeks. Through irony, young consumers seem to have found a way to cope with the rising cost of living. Older generations, however, are less enthused.
Wude Adane, a mother of three in her 40s, wore a sour expression as she talked to a shopkeeper in the Amist Kilo area last week. Her elder son, a university student, shared some of these memes with her online. If they amused her, it did not show on her face.
Wude works as a secretary at a private college. She heard stories about a sudden spike in the price of edible oil from acquaintances. She wanted to drop by a store on her way home to see for herself. The first two had no oil on their shelves. Wude found a three-litre bottle of sunflower oil imported from Turkey in the third store she had checked on. The price? 580 Br.
Wude prefers to buy a five-litre bottle of the Omaar sunflower oil brand, enough to last her family of six a couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, her preferred brand cost 590 Br. Today, she would need to shell out nearly 1,000 Br for the oil.
“Imagine spending 2,000 Br a month on oil," Wude bemused.
She takes home a monthly salary of 6,000 Br. Her husband earns more working as a technician for the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP). Worried that a few cooking oil bottles were left on the shelves would last no more than a day, Wude bought the three-litre bottle. She worries over what the future holds if the cost of living persists.
"We'll have to learn to use less while cooking,” Wude mumbled as she took out notes from her purse.
In an economy where wages are stagnant, and the army of the unemployed is going high, many are like Wude. They cut back on their consumption in the face of runaway prices galloping without offering respite for consumers, particularly in the fixed-income bracket. According to the Ethiopian Statistics Service, year-on-year headline inflation registered 33.6pc last month. Though it dropped by one percentage point from January 2022, it marks the seventh month in a row above the 30pc threshold.
Food inflation clocked in at a staggering 41.9pc, with cereals exhibiting the most worrisome rises. The doubling of prices for cooking oil seemingly overnight meant for consumers like Wude, prices are likely to go higher this month.
The edible oil market has been volatile, spiking on two occasions over the past year. Last May, the first price surge came around when a five-litre bottle suddenly jumped to 600 Br. Last week Wude and millions of consumers were surprised when prices jumped to around 1,000 Br.
The market remains heavily dependent on importing crude and processed oil to meet the kitchen demand estimated at 75 million litres a month. Over 410 million litres of refined and processed cooking oil was shipped in since last September at the cost of over 23 billion Br. Refined palm oil accounted for 35pc. Sunflower oil, like the Omaar brand Wude bought, comprises 43pc.