Seated against the rammed-earth walls of Werkalemahu and Banchi’s home, we’re handed a plate of thick yellow honey with chunks of dabo bread straight from the fire.
“Enebela (Let’s eat)!” says Werkalemahu. “This is the purest, from the new hives.”
We’d just arrived in Fiche with the last truck load of modern beehives from Addis; part of our contribution to the Etse Fewus Association’s work to build an integrated herb and honey business with their medicinal garden.
In the corner, Banchi was making coffee from newly roasted beans as the rest of the group filled the small room with us to sample the first harvest of liquid gold; honey from the first modern hives we delivered earlier in the year.
It tasted like flowers and ran down our wrists!
“We want to be known for our honey too. It’s different to honey from the market because it has all the herbal properties,” says Gule, explaining how the new hives will be set among the many different medicinal plants at the communal garden site.
In Fiche, many women make tella beer or areke, a spirit similar to Italian grappa, to supplement the family income. While caring for young children, tending the home and family land, they will boil and ferment barley and teff grain, gesho (local hops), kosso and other herbs in huge clay pots to make the traditional drinks for the tella houses in town. As well as being popular beverages, tella and arake are often administered medicinally or in combination with certain herbs to treat upset stomachs, worms or fever.
When Etse-Fewus ‘Healing Herbs’ Association members were asked recently ‘Who makes the best tella in town?’ – the answer was unanimous: A woman named Beletech is famous for her brew.
76-year-old Ato Abe, one of the group leaders and a respected local herbalist, confirmed he had sampled all the tella in Fiche.
“Belatech’s is by far the best,” he said. “Before she offers you the tella, she gives you two handfuls of injera (flat bread made of teff). Then, whenever I am in need of two handfuls of injera in my mouth, I go to her place!”
The discussion was part of a five day basic business skills course we organised in January with Ethiopian micro-enterprise organisation Women in Self Employment (WISE).
Some time ago, the Etse Fewus cooperative put to us the idea of bringing bees to their medicinal herb garden in Fiche.
A healthy swarm could help pollinate the herbs, they said, and provide an important extra source of income for members and their families.
Ethiopia is a country with a long tradition of beekeeping and some of the group already owned a few traditional beehives or ‘kafo’: long, cylindrical baskets, usually made of eucalyptus twigs, mud, woven bamboo and false banana leaves.
Members said they would combine their old Kafos at the garden site if Botanica Ethiopia could help them obtain some modern beehives. The new, more expensive box hives would yield better quality honey – and much more of it.
We loved the idea and so were excited this week to be able to deliver the first batch of brightly-painted modern hives to Gule and Werkalemahu at the garden.
A snapshot of our visit to the beautiful Etse Fewus (healing herbs) garden earlier this year …
High above the Jemma River, three hours from Addis Ababa, we walk a rocky path between houses made of mud and young eucalypts. Gule, one of the founding members of the Etse Fewus ‘Healing Plants’ association is leading us off-road to the medicinal garden.
We pass resting donkeys and loops of white cotton, hung up to dry outside people’s homes. It feels closer to the sun in Fiche and at lunchtime, everything looks dusty and heat-struck.
Everything, except a group of women coming up the path behind us, who are laughing into white gabis flicked over their heads against the heat. We realise it’s the Etse Fewus women and their children, and it’s big greetings and more laughter on the road. The Sunday market was packing up for the day and they’d left to find us on the ridge above town.
We walk together until our little path opens up to yellowed farmland where a family and their cows are threshing newly cut teff. Below them, neatly fenced, is the garden we’d started three years before.
Thanks to all who supported the Botanica Ethiopia team at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival recently.
This time we joined 34,000 runners across beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge to raise money for the Living Pharmacy project in Fiche. And thanks to you, we raised more than $500!
Special gratitude to Kerrie Carroll, Will Birkett, Kathryn Lee, Andrew Key and Darrien Wise for your generous donations.
And a special mention of Cameron Wise for his stellar, somewhat surprising performance on race day, beating the rest of the team across the finish line. As he warned us: A natural athlete!
Money raised was used to provide the Etse-Fewus ‘Healing Plants’ Association members with permaculture training at the Fiche garden in October.
Botanica Ethiopia organised for Alex McCausland from the Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge in southern Ethiopia to conduct a five-day workshop on sustainable land management, which included techniques for soil improvement, bio-fertilizer production, natural pest control, water retention and seed-saving.
You can READ HERE how the group is now using permaculture to manage an organic medicinal herb garden that is truly flourishing!
She did it! With a little help from her friends, Granny Emmie made it across the finish line and came THIRD in her age group.
Being 89 was no deterrent to her determination or stamina. A little credit needs to go to her stalwart supporters Erin Semon and Kristin Gomes – the Granny Yankers who pushed Granny 9 km in the Bridge Run at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival at quite a respectable speed.
Granny was not convinced they were always going in the right direction but she maintained her equanimity and laughed most of the way. She is very proud of her medal, and the fact that she raised $600 to support the sustainability of traditional herbal medicine in Ethiopia.
Lizzie’s 89-year-old mother has registered in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival this weekend to raise money for Botanica Ethiopia.
But she isn’t actually running! Two crazy Americans, Kristin Gomes and Erin Semon, are going to wheel Granny Emmie across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and beyond: 9km of sweat and struggle, hopefully no tears, with Granny waving the Ethiopian flag.
Calling themselves the ‘Granny Yankers‘, Kristin and Erin came up with the novel idea so that we can continue to support the group in Fiche to build a model traditional medicine garden. They are so nearly there – funds will go towards buying beekeeping hives to keep at the garden site.
Help Emmie and the Granny Yankers cross the line on Sunday 22 Sept!
DONATE ONLINE at Go Fundraise here
Etse-Fewus (Healing Herbs) Association members are combining their resources to get the most out of land they were given by the Fiche local government last year.
During a recent visit, committee members told Botanica Ethiopia they plan to establish a small honey-production operation alongside their medicinal herb plantation, and that they hope to share their project as a working demonstration garden for the whole community.
“After they got this land, what’s really important that has happened is that they’re planning a new way of thinking for their business and their lives,” says Tessema Bekele, Director of Ethiopian NGO Emmanuel Development Association and Liason Officer with Botanica Ethiopia.
“They said: ‘Wait, some of us have our own beehives, why don’t we bring them here, work together and plant sweet flowers beside the herbs to help our income’.”
The fenced plot of land, almost the size of two Olympic pools, sits high above Fiche town on a sloped ridge of the Great Rift Valley. It’s flanked by thin young eucalypts and backs onto a rocky stream, which we’re told runs fast in the wet season.
Bekele says the government gave priority to Etse-Fewus because it was so impressed with the group’s commitment and vision.
“Many business owners asked for that plot but the government gave attention to this group because of their energy and motto to change their whole lives by themselves,” he says. “They were supposed to get only 1,200 sq metres, but the officials observed they had capacity to do much and gave them 2,000 sq metres.”
The group now have their own bank account and operating licence; officially registered as a herbal medicine and production cooperative to grow, harvest and sell herbs ‘to empower our families, livelihoods and community.’
“In this country, if a cooperative has a licence, they’re given attention,” says Bekele. “Since Etse-Fewus became organised and is now legally recognised, the members have become more exposed to communicating with local government and asking for services that they have a right for. I go with them regularly to talk to government about their ideas, water and such things, and they are so energised to make this land work.”
Scarce water is still a major problem in Fiche. For emergency supplies, the group are working on costings to run a line of pipes from a tap on the ridge to the garden plot below. But with the rainy season around the corner, they’ll first dig a small dam with plastic sheeting to capture and preserve water from the stream when it runs, what they call ‘water harvesting.’
“After September you will see a lot of change, you will see very productive land and all the herbs growing well,” says Etse-Fewus member Gule.
A model self-help group
In his role with the Emmanuel Development Association, Tessema Bekele travels throughout Ethiopia to help organisations like Etse Fewus develop community improvement and micro-enterprise initiatives – what he calls ‘Self-help Groups.’
“What surprises me is that we always underestimate the poor people. They lack chance but once you give them chance and some back-stopping support like Botanica Ethiopia has done, they are really very aggressive to think about their own affairs,” he says.
“When I’m in the community, I learn a lot that I couldn’t get from my masters or bachelor degree; when I talk with them I learn innovations.”
Bekele sees his role in Fiche as helping to bring people together, and to listen.
“We ask them: ‘what can we do here?’ and every issue and idea came from them, and we develop those ideas with the project,” he says. “Maybe they are technically not very equipped – we’re here to provide technical assistance – but the rest? We have to listen to them.”
“They have the knowledge and experiences. Development starts with their own thinking – not from ours – from their own society, culture, norms and values. And In the end, they are the ones to see success and say: ‘This is my project, I have done this, this is my own brand.’”
“Fiche is one of the model self-helps groups in my eyes. They have done it for themselves.”
Botanica Ethiopia will continue to support Etse-Fewus to improve their land by facilitating permaculture and herbal conservation training for Association members.