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By Mike Strathdee

As Printed in The Marketplace - September/October 2017

Southwestern Ethiopia reveals an entire value chain at work. First, there’s the cotton plants along the road, their bolls bursting like popcorn. Village women spin the fibres into yarn. In the next town people bleach the yarn pure white so it will better accept dye.010 Werkinesh 01

High in the hills, in places like Dorze and Chencha, weavers (mostly male) are busy at their looms, their output a feast of tribal color. But the next roadside market charges a scant $3 for a stunning scarf that took days to produce, suggesting something is out of whack. Many weavers, despite hard work, lose money.

From raw cotton in the fields to finely woven garments in trendy stores, MEDA saw the hand-woven textile value chain as ripe for improvement. EDGET was designed to improve the income of 2,000 weavers by 50 percent or more. It sought to create a bigger market by linking weavers with high-end markets, and to improve the supply of inputs and cut out trade inefficiencies.

Lead weavers were sent to classes on modern design, work discipline and market-oriented production. They devised better pricing mechanisms and more professional promotion.

The Besa Hyzo Cooperative in Dorze, which comprises 48 weavers, expanded its looms when designers said the market wanted a wider product. For generations weavers had produced fabrics that were 80 centimetres wide (about 32 inches) but that wasn’t big enough to make a dress. Consequently weavers enlarged their looms to produce fabric a metre wide (39 inches).

“Cluster leaders” (like lead farmers for rice) learned to keep in touch with the market and interpret the latest trends to the weavers in their group. When new orders came from the designers, weavers upgraded accordingly.

Connecting with designers also led to a growing “green” orientation. The high-end market had a lot of interest in natural, organic dyes, and moving in that direction was seen as a competitive advantage. b