Our journey through Ethiopia over the past week has been a long and fruitful one. We left Addis Ababa on Sunday and returned Friday night. We traveled over 1500km finding users all over the southern part of Ethiopia, mainly in the region known as Oromiya. We dropped off 8 prototypes the week before, so we returned to all of those locations, plus we met with two potential manufacturing partners, and one potential distribution partner.
The feedback on the concept of the Pepper Eater has been really positive (better than I expected when I was working long days in the machine shop before we left) Everyone we talked with really liked the idea, but at the same time gave us very specific feedback on how they’d like to see it improved. Most of the comments were very consistent between users. And to top it all off, we legitimately sold 5 prototypes to women users. They saw enough value in our prototypes to actually pay us (though 3 were bought on credit)! However, selling our prototypes kind of made me feel like a Tupperware salesman. The women who bought the current prototypes said that it was more effective than their traditional methods (by hand and a mortar & pestle), but it was only really big enough for personal use in the home; not as an income generating device.
Awassa: Selam Awassa Business Group, Dama Funiture, & The Electric Miller
After driving for six hours, while dodging suicidal donkeys, carts stacked high with corn, and small Izuzu shipping trucks, we arrived in Awasa. Within 10 minutes, Atkelt, a manager of Selam Awassa, met us at our hotel. He took us down to Awassa Lake just as the sun was setting. I was a beautiful way to start the trip.
Enseno: Mustafah the Berbere Merchant
Our next stop was Enseno, a town in the region of Maraco, which has a large berbere market. The week before, we had left two of our prototypes with Mustafah, a sucessful pepper merchant. When we arrive, Mustafah greeted us with a hand shake and brought out our two prototypes.
Roggie Village: HOPE Enterprises
The next morning we again hit the road for Roggie, a very small village near Arsi Neggelle, where we had also left 2 prototypes the week before. Roggie was not accessible with our small car, so we parked it at the main road and started the 5-km walk. HOPE Enterprises and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church have helped build a school in Roggie, which is nestled above Shala Lake (the deepest lake in Ethiopia). As we made our way to Roggie we had gorgeous views of the Ethiopian countryside.
Ziway: The Burgeoning Woman’s Co-op
Our next stop was in Ziway, and so far no one had been interested in actually purchasing our Pepper Eaters. Our goal was to actually sell our prototypes to see how much people would pay for such a device, and if they actually found value in it (instead of just telling us what we wanted to hear). When we arrived at the woman’s cooperative in Ziway, they came out to great us carrying 2 kilos of processed pepper flakes, with all of the seeds separated.
Alaba: A Special Ramadan Market
In Alaba we had to retrieve 2 more Pepper Eaters. One was with a woman’s cooperative, and the other was with a berbere merchant. Alaba was especially challenging because our friend Bruk, who helped us make contacts and translated for us during our first visit, was unable to come with us. So we ventured to the Ethiopian Government Rural Development Office to ask around for a few names that Bruk had given us.
Awassa: The Berbere Processing Co-op
Our final stop was in Awassa, where we were meeting with SOS, a project that helps women cooperatives start projects for income generations. Three of the co-ops SOS has helped start process berbere to add-value and sell back into the market. When we arrived, there were three women in brown uniforms sorting peppers based on their color.
After it was all said and done, our two potential manufacturing partners seemed interested, but the biggest remaining challenge in Ethiopia is marketing and distribution. After driving all around Ethiopia this week (and we only scratched the surface), I really understand why. The roads are REALLY rough and hazardous, and sometimes it can take hours to go 40km. Yet at the same time, I believe we are really received validation for the concept of our design. It appears that there is a real need here, and hopefully we will be able to implement it fully!