A project supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee helping Ethiopian farmers start a self-help group by encourage saving and discuss local issues

By Stefan Epp-koop (The Western Producer) |

Two years ago, Mulusew Kebede had never imagined owning a business.

On her small farm near Woldiya, Ethiopia, Mulusew, aged 43, and her family grew crops and raised a few livestock. But starting a new business was something she never thought was possible.

A project supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee changed things. As part of the project, Mulusew and 17 of her neighbors started a self-help group.

The group met weekly to encourage saving and discuss local issues. At every meeting, the group members each brought five Ethiopian birr (about 25 cents) to save. Across the region, 22 similar groups were started with 400 participants.

Saving a quarter a week doesn’t seem like a lot, but over time, the savings grew. Group members began talking about how they could put these savings to use.

This was a big change for Mulusew.

“Before being in a self-help group, I never thought of going into business,” she says. “The group served as an eye-opener to every one of us.”

As the group members discussed local issues, they also began to share and think about visions for business.

“When you discuss together,” says Mulusew, “ideas come in.”

This past year, an idea came. Eight women joined together to take out a loan from the self-help group to start a business making and selling fuel-efficient stoves.

After four months in business, the women have sold enough stoves to pay off their initial loans with some additional profit set aside to grow their business.

Each week, the women work together for one day to make six or seven stoves, which they then sell to members of the community.

Years ago, an outside non-governmental organization had tried to introduce similar stoves, but there was no promotion and the stoves were not widely adopted.

Now it is different. The women have become the best salespeople for the stoves, knowing the difference they can make.

Mulusew glows as she shares the impact of fuel-efficient stoves. The stoves retain heat and create less smoke. This makes cooking more comfortable and quicker. Smoke also no longer fills the house when she cooks, Mulusew says.

Not only that but “it previously took 35 or 40 minutes to make 20 pieces of injera, an Ethiopian flatbread. Now, the same amount takes 10 minutes,” she says.

Continue reading this story at The Western Producer
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