Making Hay

February 17, 2015

The proliferation of mobile phones in rural Ethiopia (and the rest of rural Africa for that matter) demonstrates that one of the primary obstacles to development is affordable access to the technologies that can hasten progress. In other words, when tools like phones are made available and reasonably priced, men and women are eager to take advantage of them. Mobile phones prove that too often, rural subsistence farmers, be they in West Arsi or elsewhere, are viewed as mostly incapable of developing themselves, doomed to living “on less than $2 day.” Instead, as it relates to these types of technologies, we believe Ethiopians should be treated as customers and be given as many reasonable options as possible that can be used to help them improve their lives.

One such option is the Post-harvest Threshers we made available to several groups of young men from Kalo village in 2012. These $3000 machines provide highly profitable business opportunity for their owners and a tremendously valuable resource for farming families. Most people who would be interested do not have the cash or access to financing options for a business like this. But in working with our partners and exploring how to help communities become more healthy and productive, and improve income generation, we have been asked to provide more opportunities for Threshing businesses. Despite what could be characterized as growing pains, two of the three threshing businesses we helped start have been very successful. One thresher group unfortunately did not work out and we decided it was best to part ways with the owners, relieving them of their remaining debt. We are taking the lessons learned over the last three years with this program, strengthening our approach, and looking at offering this opportunity to new candidates before the next harvest beginning around June of this year.

IMG_0202During my visit to Ethiopia last month, I (Champ Rhodes) had the opportunity to meet with 8 candidates, representing three potential ownership groups. Meeting the candidates in person with our partners before extending an offer is something we did not do in 2012. As we are only now looking at growing this program, taking this step allows us to confirm the quality of the candidates and also provide some coaching and leadership of our partners in the Development Office of the Full Gospel Believers Church, in Shashamene. I was very encouraged meeting these young men. They shared their background and each had prepared a ‘business plan’ for us to discuss. The men had a good understanding of the care and maintenance needed to extend the life of the threshers. We also proposed a loan payment plan and discussed how Haile, our project manager, will meet regularly with the owners to provide business coaching, share best practices, and address challenges they are facing.

These investments may not have the sweeping impact of our Savings Group and Church Planting efforts. But they do touch many lives – the thresher owners, their families, their employees (usually day laborers), and their customers, families in rural Southeast Ethiopia. And as these loans and others are repaid, the funds go into a revolving account that can be used for other candidates in various regionally appropriate business ventures. To be a part of this investment, join us here: Small Business Donation.