Vegan to Carnivore [analysis]

Shibre Amsalu, a housewife and mother of three, is preparing for Easter, a Christian holiday celebrated with a huge feast mainly featuring beef and dairy products.

As she carefully allocates her holiday shopping budget the news on BBC World Service catches her eyes. “Eating seven portions of vegetables and fruits can reduce one’s chance of dying by 42 percent,” the news heralds quoting a recent research outcome. The findings of the research conveyed an important message to the millions of viewers worldwide. Indeed, she has sustained herself on grains, fruits and vegetables for the past two months because of the biggest lent season in Ethiopia, Hudade. As a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, she ruled out beef, milk, egg and butter from her dining table since the very day she started fasting. This time, she is pondering critically if shifting back to her regular meals consisting of beef and milk products is the right choice for her. “I think I need to get it right. I need to consider my family’s meat eating culture if I am to have a healthy bunch,” she murmurs. In a country where the majority of the population belongs to this ancient and authentic religion, food production, marketing and consumption are highly influenced by this culture. Vegetables and fruits become main items of the market during this lent season. Atikilt Tera, the major fruit and vegetable market in the capital sees its worst and busiest time during the fasting season as many flock to this vegetable center contributing to the commotion and chaos. Located near the largest open market in the continent, Mercato, Atikilt Tera stirs up the city’s food market. Trucks, lorries and various beat up vehicles drive through the wet and muddy market every day. Consumers usually find it difficult to get in and out because of the swollen crowd. Vegetable brokers, locally called delalas, appear to be in control as they shout and call for buyer monitoring everything in their surrounding.

In spite of all the chaos in the market, many keep coming since they enjoy the cheap prices, high quality and variety. “I am here three times a week. But I think I wouldn’t do that for a couple of weeks now,” Tenaye Gurumu, a consumer, says. This Saturday marks the 47th day of the start of the great lent season and eve of Easter holiday. And this surely means that the market will not be more saturated in the coming weeks. This has been a long-standing trend in Ethiopia. Poor nutrition in Africa is said to be the most significant factor for deteriorated health conditions. “Africa needs to transform its way of feeding its populations,” Shenggen Fan, General Director of the International Food Policy Research Institute says. The Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI) is a result of the merger in April 1995 between the former National Research Institute of Health (NRIH), the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute (ENI), and the Department of Traditional Medicine (DTM) of the Ministry of Health. Since its establishment as a government entity it has been engaged in issues related to health and nutrition on specific activities that can create awareness and change attitudes.

The NRIH is the oldest of the three units and began life as a Medical Research Institute in 1942. In the late 1950’s, it became the Pasteur Institute of Ethiopia, following an agreement with the Pasteur Institute of Paris taking its name from the French chemist, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), who is accredited for inventing the vaccine for rabies. Later on, the Ethiopian government took over the Institute and was renamed Central Laboratory and Research Institute. Aiming at tackling priority public health and nutrition issues, these two institutions are expected to reduce the magnitude of malnutrition in the country. They also play a supportive role in the National Nutrition Program through nutrition surveys, identifying causes of malnutrition and bringing about behavioral change through promoting nutritional diets, according to Cherinet Abuye (Ph.D.), Director, Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate. When the Ethiopian Fruits and vegetable Summit was held in July 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that exploiting the untapped resource of the sector would be a major target to boost agriculture. The sector is also said to be instrumental in driving the booming horticulture sector that the country regards as one of the five most acclaimed export items, although USD 246.5 million earned last year was nowhere near the expected amount. Teferra Deribew, Minister of Agriculture, on his part said though the country immense resources in fruit and vegetable it is time to convert the potential into tangible success. The consumption of vegetables and fruits is relatively limited though. Perhaps because of the high cost in the market and lack of wisdom in mixing them with major food items in the country has led to lower levels of consumption.

Onion and tomato have always been front-stocked items in the market, and the fluctuation of price is also commonplace. “Since they are the most important vegetables, their price shows a steady fluctuation every day,” Solomon Abebe, one of the delalas in Atikilt Tera explains. Ironically, most Ethiopians do grow those and various fruits and vegetables in their backyard. Because of the favorable climate and fertile land over 100 various types of fruits and vegetables are believed to be grown in the country. “I don’t know why I’m buying a kilo of onion for 21 birr” a consumer asks himself. Nevertheless, the bone of contention lies on the “illegal chain” that stretches from farms to the market. “There is no other reason except this insurmountable illegal trade and bargaining.” Etissa Deme, Director of the market analysis and distribution directorate of the Trade Practice and Consumers’ Protection Authority told The Reporter.

In fact, this seems to be a typical failure that the government has yet to overcome as the market suffers from such a disastrous act and groups conspiring to distort the market. “This will be solved as soon as we are on the verge of implementing cash-register services in each sale,” Gemechis Mebanu, deputy head of the Addis Ababa City Administration Trade and Industry Bureau said. Moreover, Nuredin Mohamed, aiser to the State Minister of Trade asserts that the matter is on the top agenda of the ministry that aims to launch a strict Producers–Unions–Consumers path nationwide to knock down “illegal brokers” in the market. This might seem to be a somewhat direct trade route that would relieve the sector, however, yet another concern prevails in the mind of commentators as the government calls upon foreign and local investors to hand over a vast land for agriculture. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 120 high-tech commercial agriculture farms in the country are engaged in the production and export of flowers, fruits and vegetables. This number is also expected to increase in the coming few years due to the promising prospect of investment flow. All in all, fruit and vegetable farms in this country can be considered as important as mining because of the global demand that insists on having a healthy, less-fried and organic food. And a country that struggles to realize its ambitious development should take care of its citizens who have to have a balanced diet every single day, commentators argue. This could be best realized through developing the nutrition database, carrying out micronutrient surveys and aocacy to change public attitudes toward a healthy diet.

Source : The Reporter

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