We’ve just returned to Addis Ababa for Ethiopian New Year after some very successful user testing in the southern region of Ethiopia. In just a few days, we’ve distributed eight Pepper Eaters to a variety of users, from a woman’s cooperative to a berbere (pepper) merchant. Our feedback has been positive and consistent. We were pleased to learn that people like the Pepper Eater and believe it to be easier and faster to use than the traditional large mortar and pestle, called a mukacha. One consistent suggestion has been to increase the size of the Pepper Eater to be “at least twice as large.” We’ve learned that women are used to processing at least 2-3 kilograms of peppers at a time with a mukacha!
Enseno: Our First Users
On our first day in Ziway, we met up with Bruk, an extremely energetic, intelligent, and well connected employee IDE Ethiopia. Being a former truck driver, Bruk has extensive knowledge of each region of Ethiopia. We traveled in his pickup to a village called Enseno, near the town of Tora, where we saw a bustling market. We made our way along rows of men at sewing machines to an area where women tearing piles of dried berbere peppers into small flakes. After demonstrating our product in the market, a local pepper merchant, named Mustafa invited us to his home. Surrounded by curious children, some men and women of the village took turns processing peppers with the Pepper Eater. We left two Pepper Eaters there with Mustafa, who will give it to the women he employs and give us feedback when we return next week.
Alaba: The Pepper Capital of Ethiopia
According to Bruk, “If anybody’s going to take you seriously about peppers, you have to go to Alaba.” Alaba, near the city of Awassa, is the heart of Ethiopia’s pepper trade. So that same day, we hopped into Bruk’s truck and drove south to Alaba. When we arrived at the open market at Alaba (the 2nd largest in Ethiopia), we could tell that Bruk was right! There were more peppers than I had even seen in my entire life – mountains of it! The merchant we spoke to there told us he brokers about 1000 kg of berbere per day. We showed him our product and he promised to pass it around to the pepper processors who work for him. As usual, our presence caused quite a stir, so we told the merchant when we would return and left. As we arrived at our hotel that evening, the streets got steadily busier as the sky darkened, with children’s voices and chanting drifting through the cool evening air. Primarily Muslim, people in Alaba were headed toward evening prayer for Ramadan.
The next day, Bruk brought us to the Government’s Rural Development Office in the woreda of Alaba. We met the office staff and they took us to a local women’s cooperative. These 15 women make efficient stoves out of cement and red ash to demonstrate and sell at the local market, and process peppers on an individual household basis. They also grow their own peppers, planting them in May and harvesting them after the end of the rainy season in November. The women took us to their pepper plots, where the plants stood small, green, and healthy; their white flowers in various stages of bloom. When we showed them our Pepper Eater, they laughed and smiled. They found the device easy to use, and thought that the sifter would be especially useful for keeping seeds for planting season. Again, their main concern was size. They observed that something bigger would allow them to complete the task at an even faster rate. They told us they would probably share one Pepper Eater between several households rather than keep one per family.
Roggie: A Village on a Hill
The next day, we went with our driver Gaetu to Roggie village. The road off the highway was rough, so we parked and made the 5 km trek up to our next destination on foot: a primary school built by HOPE Enterprises. Berhanu, the school director, accompanied us there, where a cluster of plain buildings overlooked an amazing view of Shala Lake. When we arrived, about 15 women were patiently waiting for us, seated on the ground talking softly. They immediately stood up and greeted us warmly, hugging us and shaking our hands, saying “Akeemjerta”, a greeting in Orominya. On a table they provided us, we demonstrated two Pepper Eaters. The group of women were eager to try it! After a bit, they gave us a few comments. Like everyone else, they thought the Pepper Eater should be twice as large! They also liked the sifter, and thought that it was “simple to understand.” When I asked if they liked our logo, one women told us that she thought it was a flower! Upon closer inspection, I can see that it doesn’t actually look much like the local berbere pepper.
Back in Ziway
The same day, we drove back to the IDE office in Ziway where we met Danny, an IDE Field Officer. He took us to a women’s co-op just north of Ziway. There we met with about eight women sitting under the shade of a tree. When we arrived, we realized we had left our peppers with the women at Roggie Village, and the peppers they had at this cooperative were already processed; no good for demonstrating. Luckily, Danny knew of a place just down the road that sells berbere, so we went along with him to buy a few kilos. We pulled over to the side of the road and walked past a couple of houses, where we found a field of tarps covered with drying berbere pulp! Three women were working at individual mukachas, the first I had seen since arriving in Ethiopia. Their hands and arms were covered halfway up to their elbows in red spiciness. They told us they process about 100 kg per day as a group. By chance, Sam and I had encountered a great opportunity. Sam ran back to the car to retrieve a Pepper Eater to give to them. One women liked it so much that she just kept grinding peppers for about five minutes straight, smiling the whole time. Again, and this time it was very obvious, the Pepper Eater needed to be bigger.
Over the next week, women all around the Ziway and Awassa areas will be using our Pepper Eaters, and forming opinions about them that will enable us to significantly improve our design. We’re excited to gather feedback when we return next week!