Grain gains – teff flatbread business grows out of self-help groups in Ethiopia

CommunityFamilyLivelihoodsSelf-help groups

I peer into darkness. I’m trying to see who is in this hut and what is going on, but there’s lots of smoke obscuring my view. Gradually, I make out three women working hard in front of open fires. They are cooking injera, a local flatbread made from teff flour and water.

Injera is a staple food in Ethiopia. The fermented teff mixture is cooked for about ten minutes on huge, floor-standing hot plates or stoves and covered with a large hat-shaped lid. Photo: Will Boase/Tearfund
Injera is a staple food in Ethiopia. The fermented teff mixture is cooked for about ten minutes on huge, floor-standing hot plates or stoves and covered with a large hat-shaped lid. Photo: Will Boase/Tearfund

‘Now I can provide enough food for my family to eat and can clothe them well’

Siret
Siret’s injera business has helped her to care for her wider family. Photo: Richard Lister
Siret’s injera business has helped her to care for her wider family. Photo: Richard Lister

Out of the darkness 

One of the women, Siret*, steps outside into the sunlight. She has a broad, welcoming smile and offers us a taste of injera. My friends and I eat. The injera tastes fresh, warm and like newly baked bread. 

Siret now has a lot to smile about, but it wasn’t always this way. She was one of the poorest of the poor in this city in Ethiopia, struggling with her husband to provide enough food and clothing for her family. When Siret joined a self-help group of similarly poor women back in 2009, she could only afford to save 1 Ethiopian birr per week (3 British pence). She had no work but, as you’ll see, lots of potential. 

The self-help group, started by a national church, enabled the women to save regularly and eventually accumulate enough capital to provide small loans to group members. This money helped Siret to start a tiny business making and selling injera. 

Rising trade 

She’s clearly a lady with natural business gifts. She identifies and makes the most of key markets, such as local hotels and a nearby business park. Over time, and with periodic loans from the self-help group, this business has grown so that Siret now employs three more women. She has also broadened her ways of making a living by buying a shop, which her husband now runs, and a house where locals gather to play pool, which employs one more person. 

What difference does this make to her family? ‘Now my house is full: we have a cupboard, a bed, chairs and a fridge,’ says Siret. ‘I can provide enough food for my family to eat and can clothe them well.’ 

Standing next to her is her daughter, carrying another child on her hip. Siret and her husband are supporting their two children as well as two more children from poorer relatives in the countryside. The blessing overflows.

Mustard seed kingdom 

Siret is not alone. Back in 2002 there were only 100 women in Tearfund-supported self-help groups, all in the city of Nazareth. Now there are almost a staggering 20,000 self-help groups, helping deeply change the lives of roughly 1.5 million people across Ethiopia. Inspired by the work here, this type of self-help group has also spread into southern, eastern and western Africa and even as far as Haiti in the Caribbean. What amazing things can happen from such small beginnings! This sounds to me like the mustard seed kingdom (Matthew 13:31–32) that starts small and grows and grows and grows. 

*Name changed for privacy.

Richard Lister
Richard Lister is Global Church and Development Lead at Tearfund. He writes his own blog – Churches Changing Nations – about his adventures in church and community transformation. Email: richard.lister@tearfund.org