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The Inspiring Life Journey of Selome: Multi-business owner and mentor

Selome Mekonnin, 42, lives in Ethiopia’s Oromia region in a rural area known as Babugaya. Selome is a mother of two girls and lives with her husband. While working at a private dairy processing company for six years she dreamed of starting her own dairy farm. In 2016, she decided it was time to realize her dreams, so she left her job and started her own business, buying a cow with 30,000 ETB (approximately 685 USD) in startup capital. That same year, a highway was constructed near her rural village and, with the increased traffic she could sell yogurt and fast food to daily laborers involved in the construction. Her business began to grow.

Selome at her dairy farm.
 Photo Credit: Solomon Girma, Oromia Regional Youth Specialist

In 2019, Selome began to engage with the Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity (VCA) that provided additional opportunities for her business. She received various trainings and materials such as milking cans, containers, and milk quality testing kits, which allowed her to modernize her dairy farm business. The technical assistance she received from VCA resulted in increases in product quality, sales volumes, and visibility in the market. Selome now has five milking cows that produce 60 liters of milk/day and this increase allowed her to open a yogurt shop in a nearby town.

In March 2020, with VCA support, Selome was also able to enter into a new value chain and expand her dairy business to include poultry. Starting with several thousand young chickens, her prospects were high. However, COVID-19 negatively affected her business and prices for her roosters fell to an all-time low, selling for only 120 ETB each (2.75 USD). As the global health situation has started to improve, Selome has seen high demand for dairy and poultry products in the towns surrounding hers, which also motivated her to increase her supply and marketing techniques. For example, Selome found that since she conducts her own slaughter and packing, customers, including supermarkets and hotels, prefer to buy from her. She can now sell her roosters for 440 ETB each (10 USD), increasing her profits nearly four times over.

Selome taking care of chickens at her poultry farm.
Photo Credit: Solomon Girma, Oromia Regional Youth Specialist

Recognizing her success, Selome was approached by VCA’s Gender and Youth team in 2020 to participate in the project’s mentorship program, which brings together thriving business owners with women and youth in similar industries. Selome now mentors seven mentees engaged in the poultry and dairy sectors; providing guidance and sharing her experiences. Selome’s impact is visible; she visits the mentees’ businesses and provides practical poultry and dairy business management advice, conducts follow-up meetings with them, and notes the impact over time of her support on the lives and livelihoods of her mentees.

Currently, three mentees under Selome’s mentorship have begun to slaughter, pack, and sell their chickens to their customers; a new approach for them. Thanks to Selome’s technical support and advice, all mentees under her stewardship have been able to expand their businesses and increase their profits. Similar to experiences noted across VCA implementing regions, the mentorship program has had a positive multiplying effect on rural farmers and businesses owners.

“Being a mentor developed my confidence to lead various discussions and experience-sharing events,” Selome reflected. “The VCA project paved the way not only for my business, but also in my personal and family life in many ways. The gender equality and positive youth development training that I took shaped my thoughts and perceptions. I shared the concepts of positive youth development and gender practices with my children and husband, which we enjoyed as a family.’’

Through her engagement with VCA, Selome reports she has earned an estimated 1.5 million ETB (more than 34,000 USD). Pleased with her achievements so far, she has never stopped dreaming and now hopes to continue growing her milk processing company, poultry farm, and an egg hatchery plant. She and her husband are working to realize their goals.