Currently, Ethiopia stands as one of the most drought-affected countries in Africa. The Somali region of Ethiopia is currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts in 50 years. The drought is believed to be the result of a recent El Niño, or bout of abnormally warm temperatures caused by ocean-atmospheric climate relations.
In wake of these circumstances, the region’s local women have banded together to start their own business to support themselves during such harsh conditions. There efforts have boosted the local community and enhanced economic independence.
In February 2017, the Iskaashatada Hila’a, a women’s association in Hart Sheik, Ethiopia, established a grinding mill business. The business has served the residents well and brought stability in the face of the region’s tumultuous situation. Even prior to purchasing the mill, with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, these local women constructed a grinding house and tool shed for their business.
One senior member of the Hila’a association, Fatuma Kahin commented that the mill grinding entrepreneurship formed close-knit bonds amongst the locals, and brought about a “spirit of togetherness.” As the business’s operations and accounts manager, Kahin was a firsthand witness to the many positive effects the business has had on her community.
The feeling that others are committed and supportive gives us motivation and the inspiration to make the project succeed,” Kahin explained in an interview with Norwegian Refugee Council News (NRC). “Our aim is to be able to generate income, expand our business and uplift the living standards of the wider community.”
However, a series of unsuccessful harvests have resulted in food shortages throughout the Somali region, causing the business’s clientele to plummet. The aftermath of El Niño has also threatened people’s livestock, and in turn their livelihoods.
“When the drought ends, we hope to increase our profit as more people will be able to afford and access grains such as maize, wheat and sorghum,” Kahin commented.
The Harta Sheik’s grain mill is solely used to produce ultra-fine flour, and this also reduces the mill’s grinding businesses client base. “Not all clients prefer the ultra-fine flour product, depending on how the flour is to be used, some prefer the moderate or the coarse flour. This means that we lose some clients who do not prefer our flour quality and therefore choose to go to our competitors,” explained Kahin.
However, the association’s decision to specialize in ultra-fine flour production is not without strategy. Ultra-fine flour serves as the main ingredient used to make Ethiopia’s staple flatbread, injera, and is therefore the most profitable, sustainable option. Although, Kahin has revealed to NRC that the community hopes to purchase a second milling machine in order to branch out their business and produce coarser flour as well.
WIth the success of Harta Sheik’s grinding mill project, the Norwegian Refugee Council continues to fund like-minded programs throughout Ethiopia, including programs focused on education, child protection, and water sanitation.
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