Silk Production by Rural Women in Dodota Woreda, Ethiopia

Silk Production by Rural Women in Dodota Woreda, Ethiopia

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

ASDA would like to see the communities it works with, in Dodota woreda, become self sufficient in all aspects of life. This includes improving the conditions of a degraded park to a healthy park that attracts visitors, improving agricultural practices from ones that degrade the land and do not provide enough food for the individual farmers’ families to practices that improve soil fertility and water conservation to the point that farmers are able to make a living from selling their yield, and equipping individuals with the skills necessary to make a living when unemployment is high. When our vision is fulfilled, organizations like ASDA will not need to exist in communities like Dodota woreda.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Dodota woreda (woreda is the second lowest government administrative unit in Ethiopia) is located along the northern border of Arsi Zone, Oromia, Ethiopia. The total population of the woreda, as of 2009, is 78,925, up from 72,319 in 2008. Dodota is one of 12 drought-affected districts in Oromia Region, with erratic rainfall, soil fertility exhaustion, population pressure, and backward farming. Within the woreda ASDA most actively works with 3 rural kebeles, Dire Kiltu, Awash Bishola, and Dilfekar, and Dera town which is comprised of 2 kebeles (kebele is the name given to the lowest administrative unit). Adjacent to these 5 kebeles is Dera Dilfekar Regional Park, which ASDA is working with to conserve and promote ecotourism. With such a large portion of the population being rural, it is expected that agriculture would be backbone of the economy. However, many households in the rural areas are landless, and many of those who do have land have trouble producing enough food to feed their families. Many people rely on aid to survive and look for alternative ways to make an income. One of the most harmful alternative income sources is selling firewood collected from the park. To counter this ASDA has worked with women in the 5 kebeles to set up income generating activities that also counter deforestation. There are 2 groups that build and sell the fuel efficient MIRT Stove, and there is 1 group that manages a tree seedling nursery. ASDA has also supported 145 women with other income generation projects by supplying loans for livestock fattening and opening small shops.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Silk production or sericulture is a growing industry in Ethiopia, and as the government looks to expand the textile industry in the country, it is poised to grow even more. Already in the town of Wolliso, located in the southwest Shewa zone, is a large scale silk production/sericulture factory. It is becoming more common for farmers to raise silk worms and sell the cocoon to a factory, like the one in Wolliso, or to one of many companies in Addis Ababa as a raw product. However, an alternative and more lucrative option would be to process the raw cocoons in a small local operation and, therefore, greatly increase the value of the final product. For this to happen the women would obviously need more supplies, such as a loom, and training on how to transform the raw silk cocoons into clothing. Another advantage of running a small scale operation, like this one, is that it would give the women flexibility to fulfill small orders from small scale vendors. Of course a clever and effective marketing strategy would need to be developed in order for this plan to succeed. The final product would need to be high quality and highlight the element of being hand made by the rural women of Dodota. Small scale vendors are currently being sought out in Addis Ababa as potential customers. The fabric and garments would likely be popular in souvenir shops targeting foreigners visiting Ethiopia. In addition, Dera Dilfekar Regional Park will soon be opening a visitor center, which will provide an ideal location to sell the products locally to tourists visiting the park.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The primary activity of this project is to enable impoverished, rural women living around Dera Dilfekar Regional Park to produce silk cocoons in their homes then process the cocoons into a final silk product i.e. clothing. The Castor Oil Plant, or Gulo as it is known locally, is a plant that is drought tolerant, prefers disturbed ground, and is prevalent in and around Dodota. Additionally, the Mulberry tree, or Injori (local name), is a plant that is not as well known in this area but would likely grow even better than Gulo in Dodota. The plan for this project is to equip women with the skills and equipment to 1. Cultivate the Gulo or Injori plant on their compound, 2. Raise silk worms, and 3. Process the raw silk into its final form. Initially the women will cultivate the plants and raise the silk worms on their individual compounds. This is light work however, the women must be present 4 times a day for feeding, therefore having the silk worms on the compound would be ideal. Once the cocoons are produced the women will take them to a central location equipped with a loom, spinning tools, dyes, etc. to be processed. The women would then market and sell their product locally and to vendors in nearby large cities (Addis Ababa, Nazret, etc.). Trainings from experienced professionals will be essential to the success of this project, and to our great benefit, conveniently located 5 km from Dera town is the Melkasa Research Center, which is currently doing research on silk production.
About You
Association for Sustainable Development Alternatives
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Association for Sustainable Development Alternatives

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

ASDA is established by a group of rural development professionals in areas of Agricultural Economist, resource economist, Agricultural Extension, Wetland management and education. ASDA has committed and qualified staff at the head office and in the project office levels to implement day to day activities. It also has technical committees to provide backstopping support to programme staff and experts of partner organizations.
In view of building local capacity and promoting inter agency collaboration and coordination for building complementarities and synergy, ASDA has established woreda Development Coordination Forum comprising of representatives from sectoral offices and ASDA and chaired by the Woreda Administrator. It has also established woreda advisory committee drawn from sectoral experts and technical working working groups drawn from development agents, teachers, health extension workers at kebele levels. ASDA hires experienced consultant and also uses its founding members to train the officials and sectoral experts to serve as trainers of trainers and provide follow up training on areas of gap so that the local capacity will be built to manage their own affairs. ASDA also mobilize resources (material, human and financial) to consolidate the development gains and scale up what worked. ASDA promotes experience sharing of experts and communities with other areas to cross fertilize best practices and replicate success stories.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

As this project is still in the idea phase, it is impossible to describe the success of it. However, the framework of the project follows a similar model to ones that ASDA has implemented in the past, such as, the production of the fuel efficient MIRT stove. The stoves are produces by 2 groups of 25 rural women in Awash Bishola and Dilfeqar kebeles. The women have consistently been able to meet their deadlines for producing stoves, and the final product has proven to be of higher quality than those of mass produced stoves. Since ASDA became active in 2006, the stove production groups have produced and sold 2,620 fuel efficient stoves.

In addition to MIRT Stove production, ASDA has been involved with other income generation schemes for impoverished women. Another women’s group produces tree seedlings to be planted in Dilfeqar Park. To date, 163,723 seedlings have been produced, sold, and planted in Dilfeqar Park. Also, 145 impoverished women, some living with HIV, have been supported through small loans that have been used to set up small shops and for small scale sheep fattening operations.

Ultimately the success of the silk production project will be measured by the amount of income that the women make from the sale of their final product. It will be important to find a buyer, especially for the first round of silk production, so that the women do not become discouraged with their project. The design of this project to continually add value to the silk product as the women learn more should increase the profits for the operation as the project progresses.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

As this is a new project, there will undoubtedly be room for improvement with the quality and quantity of the product produced and overall efficiency of the operation. During the first year learning the process will be more important than the income generated. Since it will take time to establish the Mulberry or Castor-oil plants, it may be necessary for the rural women to purchase raw silk from other producers, while they are establishing their own plants. This will be an excellent time to conduct trainings, in both silk production and business. Additionally, by focusing on producing a high quality product the women of Dodota will build a strong reputation. After three years of operating in this manner, the women of Dodota will be able to raise their own silk worms.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

The biggest problem that we will face with this problem will be the water shortage and its effects on the cultivation of the silk worm feed plants. There are basically two types of silk worms and two types of leaves that they primarily feed on: Castor-oil and Mulberry plants (gulo and injori in Amharic). Of these, the Castor-oil plant is better known in Dodota, although it is less drought resistant than Mulberry. Although, the Mulberry plant is not widely known in this woreda it is easy to grow and seemingly better suited for cultivation in this area. Hence, the challenge will be in the introduction of this relatively new species to the woreda. It is common in other areas of Ethiopia of the same climate zone and has not known to be noxious or invasive. However, before implementing the cultivation of this plant we must build knowledge of the plant and gain the trust of the community in order to proceed.

This raises another challenge that we will face with this project – increasing the knowledge of silk production in the rural areas. Currently, in Dodota woreda there is little or no silk production happening. Experiments in the nearby Melkassa Research Center have shown promising results in the area of Mulberry silk worm cultivation and production, and they have done extension work with some of the local farmers. It is our hope to partner with them, using their experts to aid in the training of the women in Dodota.

Tell us about your partnerships

One of the most important partnerships that ASDA has is with the local woreda government, particularly the Bureau of Agricultural and Natural Resources. They have played a major role in previous ASDA micro-finance projects like the improved stove production. The head of the Natural Resources Management office is the focal person for ASDA, and meets with us regularly to discuss and plan many of our ongoing projects. Additionally, ASDA has worked with many of the sectoral offices in the woreda including the Office of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, the Education Office, and the Health Office. The main role they will play in this project is through selection of participants, and they will play a role in the trainings as well.

A new partnership with the Melkassa Research Center will be formed if ASDA is able to carry out this project. In initial meetings they have been very willing in thoroughly answering all questions and have offered to provide us with seeds to begin the project. They will be a valuable partner to have in the future, especially for innovative/experimental projects.

Explain your selections

The most important supporters of this project will be the individuals, rural women in Dodota woreda, who will do the actual work of producing silk. Their desire to learn silk production techniques and ways to market their product are integral to the project’s success. Fortunately, prior success with women’s groups building and selling fuel saving stoves along with the success of the tree nursery indicates that the women in Dodota are fully capable of producing and selling a high quality product. ASDA, our organization and a local NGO, as well as the local government will work to facilitate the production and distribution of the silk product. Additionally, the nearby Melkassa Research Center will be needed to provide technical assistance in silk worm rearing and seeds for cultivation of plants. ASDA and the local government will also facilitate participant selection, trainings, purchasing of equipment, and finding potential buyers. It is hoped that the rural women of Dodota and small clothing or fabric businesses in Addis Ababa, Nazret, or other larger cities in Ethiopia could form some sort of a partnership. Currently, ASDA is gathering contacts for potential customers around the area. The customers, the final link on the value chain, for the silk products would likely be in these places where the demand for silk is high.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

It will be very important that during the first year of the silk production project that we start slowly. Since this will be a new endeavour for both ASDA and the women of Dodota, there are bound to be several road bumps along the way. Therefore, during the first few years it will be important to set low, achievable goals and build confidence among ourselves and the women. While the aim of the project is to link up with businesses in larger cities, during the first year it may be more realistic to sell the products to friends and family in the woreda town, Dera, and to people in the rural areas. Once confidence is raised from the first round of silk products that are produced, a logical second step would be to sell to tourists visiting Dera Dilfekar Regional Park or the nearby Sodere Resort in their respective visitor centers. In the second or even third year, once confidence is built and the quality of the silk product is raised, would be an appropriate time to begin supplying small businesses in the larger towns. However, now is the best time to start a relationship with those people by letting them know about the operation, building friendships, and soliciting technical advice. By the third year of the operation, it is hoped that the women will be operating at a very efficient level and will be fully capable of fulfilling small orders from businesses in the larger Ethiopian community. However, as this will be a learning process, it will be important to remain flexible, as it may take more or less time than expected for the women to master silk production.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of visibility and investment


Lack of skills/training



Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

The biggest challenge to overcome will be the lack of visibility and investment. Producing raw silk in an at home production set up requires only minor investment. However, to add value to the final silk product further processing will need to take place. These activities, especially the purchase of a loom for weaving, will require significant investment.
The next challenge, lack of skills/training is significant since this is a new endeavor for all parties involved and the silk processing will require advanced skills. However, it is hoped that utilizing the Melkassa Research Center will expedite the learning curve that will inevitably be faced. Lastly, underemployment is a problem that affects the entire country and this project will help women in the woreda fulfill their potential.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Leveraged technology


Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

The growth of this project is one of the aspects integral to its success. During the first year or two of the silk production project it would be wise to sell locally. Also this project aims to leverage the facilities used for other ASDA projects, such as using the stove production for silk cocoon processing and using the future visitor center in the park as a place to sell the final product. Also, the framework of this project is that women will not only produce the raw silk, but they will also immensely increase the value of their final product by turning the raw silk into fabric or a garment. This method of adding value could be used for potential future ASDA sponsored micro-finance activities, such as honey production.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Our partnership with the Dodota woreda Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources has enabled us to make better informed decisions about projects we have implemented. Whether it has been through the development agents operating in the rural kebeles or lists of aid recipients, working with this government office has allowed ASDA to be the most effective by reaching the most disadvantaged women in the woreda.

It is hoped that a partnership with the Melkassa Research Center and ASDA will be established. They will be essential for technical support during this project, and, from our initial meetings, seem to be very willing to help. In addition, it is possible that a partnership could lead to more innovative opportunities beyond silk production in the future.