I was lucky enough to spend a whirlwind few days in Ethiopia and I wanted to take this opportunity to write a few words about my experience. As we have now launched our African Series of beers, what better time to do so.
The reason for the visit was to further understand the work that Send A Cow do on the ground in Africa so we can better convey the message over here to our customers and consumers. To re-cap, we have a charity partnership like no other - we donate £1 of every cask/keg and 50p of every case of bottles sold to help Send A Cow with their sustainable development projects across sub-Saharan Africa within some of the poorest communities in the world. We have done this from the start and it is something we will continue to do.
Why do we do this? In my past life I worked for the wonderful One Water, founded by the inspirational Duncan Goose. During my time there I was lucky enough to travel to Malawi on two occasions and witness first-hand the levels of poverty that exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only was I shocked and saddened by what I saw, I also fell in love with Africa and its people. So, once we decided to start our business, Dan and I wanted to do our bit to help others less fortunate than us and it was always going to be Africa. With that in mind, and the potential for legislation to come into play within the private business sector, we wanted to demonstrate that we are striving to help towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
This blog will hopefully better explain those, as well as why we do what we do.
On landing at Addis Ababa airport, we were soon greeted with the hustle and bustle of Ethiopia’s capital city; the roads are full of people making their way around the fastest growing city in Africa. I was immediately struck by the entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of the locals: as we were making our way out of the city in taxis (and stuck in traffic) I looked out of the car window to see a young girl, who cannot have been older than eight-years-old, sat under a small tree. Passers-by kept stopping to talk to her and what looked like handing her money. At first, I assumed she was begging but little did I know she had a set of scales on the floor in front of her and she was charging people to weigh themselves!
It took us over an hour and a half just to get to the outskirts of the city to begin the seven-hour journey south to Sodo in the Wolyaitia region.
On this journey, I was able to witness the sheer size of Ethiopia; it is twice the size of France and has a population of approximately 100 million. With these facts, you can start to understand how much work there is to do for Send A Cow. From leaving Addis, it is also very apparent how the levels of poverty contrast from the city to the more rural areas. However, with new roads being built and further investment in infrastructure, you also can sense why Ethiopia has the fastest growing economy throughout the continent.
The drive down to our hotel was long, colourful and interesting to see how the landscape changes whilst dodging goats, donkeys, cows and tuk tuk’s along the way!
The first projects we visited were part of the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Opportunities (SARO) project in Boditi town. This three-year-long project (2016 – 2019) is made up of six integrated projects. The initial target was to include 2400 farmers but it has now reached over 2600. The focus of this project is to train people in farming techniques and to change participant’s attitudes towards managing their land and equality within the community. Participants are selected through a screening process identified by community and village leaders and based on a scoring system to identify those who are most in need. There is no animal placement on this project; the focus was all about being seed based and how best to grow vegetables.
We first met Fekadu and his wife Zeritu with their 2 children Petros and Nehmiya.
Their small holding consists of .25ha. Prior to Send A Cow beginning this project, Fekadu was only farming Maize and he was unable to provide three meals a day for his family. But now, from taking on board all of the training and education the Send A Cow team has provided after the last two years, the family has managed to dig their way out of extreme poverty. By planting new crops such as carrots, beetroot and swiss chard the family now has a more nutritional diet as well as being able to generate an income by selling goods at the market.
The second SARO project was a visit to meet Hanna Chinasho and her husband Salfako.
The couple have three young children and it was clear to see the challenges facing them to provide for a young family in terms of workload and funds but after being on the project now for two years they have come on leaps and bounds. For example they have recently been able to buy a corrugated iron roof for the house. Hanna told me her self-belief and confidence has grown since being part of the project and she now felt she was able to dig the family out of extreme poverty and provide three nutritional meals a day. She also now has the ability to earn an income from the local market. Hanna was able to demonstrate the skills she had learnt from the Send A Cow team and had an array of carrots, beetroot and other vegetables all growing in their small plot of land. As an example, their last crop generated £100 with £75 of that from beetroot alone.
Another family we visited was Kuma and Durese who have seven children aged between from three to 25 years-old. Their land, which was very rural, was what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Set at the foot of a mountain and surrounded by green rolling fields, it genuinely felt like paradise against the bright blue sky and the shimmer from water running down the mountain side. This family were living proof of a successful project; they appeared healthier, had a brick house with corrugated roof and extremely well-kept fields. Kuma and Durese told us that before the project had started, they were not pro-active in their approach to farming; they had farmed the same way for years never trying anything different. They had previously lived in extreme poverty but, thanks to a change of approach and some tenacity, they now have a thriving farm from which they make enough money from the local markets to feed their large family well. They now help others in their community to farm their land better by teaching them the new techniques they have learned from Send A Cow.
That afternoon we visited our first Self-Help Group. A Self-Help Group is a community group which typically consists of approximately 20-25 members who each contribute and help each other with savings and resource sharing. For example, one member lending their ox to another to transport goods. They also act as a general committee for anything within the village – sort of the equivalent to a school committee! It is an approach which takes time to settle in. With many African countries there are traditional formalities which govern decision making and typically, these decisions are made by the elder men within the community. Send A Cow have encouraged the communities to include more women within these leadership groups and to run some of these Self-Help Groups in Ethiopia. With one of the Sustainable Development Goals being Gender Equality it was great to see this direct approach in action and to see the positive effect it was having across the wider community.
The benefits of the Self-Help Groups are incredibly rewarding particularly when it comes to problem solving and purchasing power. This group said they weren’t poor before because of a lack of resource, they were poor because of a lack of knowledge on how to make the most of the land. The group now farm all year round and are generating an income, sending their children back to school and have saved 15500 Burr in a community fund. The group owns two donkeys and a cart that allows them to transport their goods to the markets and they also generate additional income by renting it out to other communities. This income is then re-invested back into the group to help develop further business opportunities.
It was soon time to head back to the hotel. The evenings roll in pretty quickly and it’s pitch dark by 6pm which give time for reflection over a bite to eat. The national delicacy is Njera bread which was a must try: it is essentially a fermented sourdough, shaped like a huge tortilla wrap, typically served with tibs (small pieces of meat) and a spicy marinade. You place the tips onto the Njera bread and use it to wrap up the meat contents to consume. Of course, this is best washed down with the local Ethiopian lager, Habesha, with a tagline ‘Cold Gold’ and boy that was exactly what was required after a long day in the dry heat at 2000m above sea level!
The second projects we visited were located in Gunono: the Building Resilient Community (BuReCo) and Developing Farmers for Income and Livelihood Project (DeFar). These projects are based on 2250 household farmers with a mix of 70% female and 30% male.
Firstly, I’m going to start with the welcome we received, just incredible! As we drive 8km from the main road on dirt tracks and wind through the many obstacles, you can hear the anticipation of the locals through their singing. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this before in Malawi and it is just something to behold, so much so, it’s hard to put into words without getting emotional as I write this. The reason I find the singing so moving is because these villages and their communities are some of the poorest in the world, yet they are the happiest people I’ve ever met. The smiles, the singing and the dancing are absolutely mind-blowing and it’s not just a few people getting involved, everyone does! From the village Chief to the children, all with smiles as wide as you can imagine, yet they have hardly a penny to their name. Once the goosebumps have settled this is something which really brings you back down to earth; I am as guilty as anyone of sinking back into daily life and complaining about daily struggles, but I often try to take myself back to being in those communities in Ethiopia and just say to myself “imagine if they knew what we moaned about!”.
Out of all the communities we visited this one had a special feeling and you could see the camaraderie from the off. Each individual had their role and they all shared responsibilities. Many of the communities I have been to before typically have one spokesperson but, in this one, lots of people were having their say and what was even better was that the younger women were really taking charge. This was refreshing to see and is testament to what Send A Cow are promoting through their teams on the ground to help encourage social equality. While we were there, we met a few different beneficiaries and we were treated to an example of some of the practical work they are taught. They demonstrated team work to make their own fertilizer to use on the land. Yes, that is manure and yes, no gloves!
That afternoon we moved on to see a couple more families, the first being Burtukhan, her husband Ufayess and their children.
As you can see they are doing very well with their farming, check out the size of those beetroots! Prior to the project, the family were only doing some petty trading and really struggled for a consistent income but they now are in a much better position and are skilled at what they do.
Their next door neighbour, and fellow beneficiary, is Matuke. Matuke is in her 40’s, widowed with three children and has quite a considerable piece of land, around 1.5 hectare. Prior to the project she was completely dependent on others for support. She is now thriving and is able to provide for her children. As I was stood in the field with Matuke, with the sun beating down, I had complete and utter admiration for what she has achieved. Being widowed anywhere of course is terrible and challenging, but in Africa, and within rural communities it’s even harder. She didn’t give up hope and was motivated by her children to succeed, and she has! I think about Matuke every now and then, like I do with all of the people I met, but her story really stands out.
The final day saw us meet up with the Wolayta Development Association (WoDA) and their Sutainable Agriculture and Rural Opportunities (SARO) projects. Although Send A Cow do not directly fund these projects they work closely together. We met Mengiste and her husband Paulos, who through the support of these programmes have become serious entrepreneurs. Mengiste makes her own Njera bread and sells it to locals. She makes the bread in a mud hut to the side of her house with hardly any light and no electricity. Business has been great and more and more people are enjoying her baking skills. Despite all this, the thing that caught my eye was her footwear choice is for whilst she is baking… Air Jordans!
Being the last day, the Wolayta Development Association team though it was time for us to get stuck in and I was summoned to retrieve water out of the well. This may seem a challenge but actually to have a well in your own garden is a luxury and one certainly not taken for granted. The 10-metre-deep hole is such an important element, it is a life line. I’m not sure if my skills were up to scratch…
The challenges continued when we were taken to meet the next family.
We arrived at our next stop in the midday sun. Doesn’t the saying go only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun?! I was nervous for what else might be in store, and I was right to be. We parked up the cars in a field and made our way across some more fields to meet Takele and his wife Amarech who low and behold, happened to have two ox rigged up in the middle of a field ripe for ploughing. Yep, you guessed it, it was our turn next!
Let’s just say I don’t think Takele will be calling in an emergency field ploughing session! I gave it my absolute best and it blew my mind how manual farming is in Africa. Both the physical side of things as well as doing it in that heat day in day out is quite astonishing.
After making a total mess of Takele’s field, he felt obliged to invite us to sit down with the rest of the family. They were so welcoming; it was a real privilege to sit and chat to them in their home…
And Takele’s oldest son who wants to become a doctor….
We had quite the audience of children, with one in particular holding his football…..
A football match was next on the agenda and we were put to the sword! To bring it back to reality, this football is made of rolled up plastic bags tied together with string and the children are so happy and proud that that’s their ball. It’s amazing to think what we have for our children back in the UK. This is some members of the team we took on…
One thing which stood out for me was not just seeing the immediate impact that Send A Cow’s work has on it’s beneficiaries but how these projects also benefit the wider community; the project farmers are not simply learning new techniques for themselves, but they are sharing all of this new knowledge with their neighbours and wider communities. That is a massive positive because if more and more people can learn to manage their land better, generate an income, provide a more nutritional diet for their families and be more positive about life then the poor in Africa have a chance to dig themselves out of poverty and build a better future not just for themselves, but for generations to come.
Since working with Send A Cow our donation mechanic has raised over £1,300. This trip has reaffirmed the belief I had in these projects and the support required to help people in a constructive, educational and sustainable manner. This is just the start for us as a small business and I cannot wait to do more, not just by telling a story, but by engaging our customers, educating our consumers and encouraging our employees to get involved. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post, if you have any questions please feel free to get in touch.