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.