Ethiopian Road Trip

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

Selam Chalk Board
A chalk board at Selam shows some machining theory

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.

(click link to read more about Awassa)

Enseno: Mustafah the Berbere Merchant

Mustafah shows us good quality peppers
Mustafah shows us good quality peppers

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.

(click to read more about Enseno)

Roggie Village: HOPE Enterprises

Megan poses with a new friend from Roggie
Megan poses with a friend from Roggie

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.

(click to read more about Roggie)

Ziway: The Burgeoning Woman’s Co-op

Megan asks questions of a woman's co-op in Ziway
Megan interviews of a woman’s co-op in Ziway

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.

(click to read about Ziway)

Alaba: A Special Ramadan Market

The leader of a woman's co-op discusses peppers
The leader of a woman’s co-op discusses peppers

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.

(click here to read about Alaba)

Awassa: The Berbere Processing Co-op

Two women process berbere with a mukacha
Two women process berbere with a mukacha

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.

(click to read more about Awassa)

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!

This entry was posted in Ethiopia, Pepper Eater, Prototypes, User Testing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ethiopian Road Trip

  1. alex says:

    Hi Team:

    I have been following your exploits with great interest. Before my team (MIT) went into Ethiopia two years ago, we did extensive surveys with Ethopians from stateside. You could have eliminated a lot of your “size” issues with a simple interview of some of the midrange processors. It is easy to say after the fact — but we produced a water purification system and the interviews we did from here helped us walk in with a device that Ethopian authorities and citizens embraced. It is just a bit of advice that future groups may employ before heading into a another country. Thank you. You tell a great story and the pictures ate wonderful.


    • samner says:

      Hi Alex.

      Thanks for your comments. Meeting with user’s in your own community is definitely a great idea, and this is something that we did during our initial prototyping before we returned to Ethiopia. We even visited a few Ethiopian restaurant to discuss how they prepared berbere!

      However, I think the “size” is less of an issue, and has more to do with the type of user. I think our testing has shown that the current prototypes are very useful at the household level (and this represents the type of user’s we talked with in the Bay Area). By household, I mean people who process peppers only for personal consumption. However, I think we have identified a need for increased capacity if we want our user’s to be able to use our device to generate income, even if it is a small woman’s cooperative. So, I see it as perhaps being two different markets: home users and small-scale commercial users.

  2. Siobhan Nolan says:

    This is amazing! Wow. What an incredible job you two have done. Great to hear that the women are so excited about the product. It looks like it really does “sell itself.” Thanks for keeping us updated with the blog. I look forward to hearing more stories back here!

  3. christina liebner says:

    WOOHOOO! great job, sam and megan!! congratulations for all the hard work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s