When you mix the taro flour with other grains it becomes plenty. We bake and eat as much as we need, and yet there is much more. I will establish a grain grinding business here in my kebele. I will also open a shop in the city and be a wholesaler of a variety of grains.
Tefera Lencha, Wolayita, Ethiopia

Taro is a tuber similar to coco yam grown abundantly in Wolayita zone in the Southern Nations region of Ethiopia. When it’s harvested, it provides families with a staple crop each year. But it is highly perishable and can only be stored for three months.

To deal with this challenge, Send a Cow Ethiopia piloted the innovative Taro Flour project. With a grant from ICCO, we trained 300 smallholder farmers to harvest their taro in a cooperative and to wash, peel, dry, chop and grind it into taro flour. The aim was to improve food and income security for the farmers and their families.

Taro flour baking, EthiopiaAbout the project

SAC project staff who live and work in the area started by testing and developing the processing of fresh taro into taro chips and then flour using cheap, local resources. They had flour samples analysed for nutritional content and began developing recipes so taro flour could be included in traditional cooking.

The ICCO grant enabled us to bring together 300 taro producing smallholder farmers into four cooperatives and to train them to harvest the taro and turn it into flour. The farmers learned to mix the taro flour with the traditional teff flour to make enjera, biscuits and cakes and were shown new ways of cooking with the flour.

We also trained them in storage practices, business skills, financial management and how to develop business networks.

The cooperative has plans in place to improve the production of the flour and to market their produce to local bakeries, universities and markets.

Why use taro?

Smallholder communities in southern Ethiopia are suffering from low rainfall, soil erosion, rapid population growth and a lack of skills and technology. Their level of vulnerability is constantly increasing, ending up in a vicious cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

Taro has a high yield and is resistant to disease and pests. It is widely grown and eaten in southern Ethiopia. We had learned from previous SAC projects that farmers were eating taro in the traditional way, harvesting between November and January and then peeling and boiling them for home consumption.

With fresh taro having a short shelf life of just 10 weeks, farmers and their families had little food from March to June.

Yoseph, Taro project, EthiopiaWhat was the outcome?

The project was devised entirely by SAC Ethiopia staff who work and often live alongside many of the farmers involved. It was their hard work, understanding and ability to gain the farmers’ trust and confidence that played a big part in the project’s success.

Within a year, each farmer was producing an average of 1,800kg of taro flour – of which 450kg was eaten and 1,350kg was sold. Farmers increased the shelf life of taro from two to 18 months, meaning they could consume taro throughout the year, even during the months when there is usually little food.

  • Farmers raised their income from taro from by 72% (£97 to £166) in one year. Income from taro is expected to rise up to £296 (208% increase from baseline) over the coming years as taro flour is widely accepted in the market.
  • Farmers also benefited from increased social support and savings from the cooperative, learning new techniques and diversifying income sources.
  • Their families benefited from this process, too, as household income increased. The average household size is six, so we can estimate that a further 1,500 people have been affected by the project.
  • The average income from taro increased from 3,000 ETB (£96) at baseline to 5,150 ETB (£166) in one year.
  • Taro flour provided farmers with a new income source, increasing their resilience to external shocks.
  • Farmers gained social support and increased confidence from working together in the cooperatives.

The end result was a project that used simple and affordable resources and which produced impressive outcomes.

Gemma Porter, the Ethiopia Programme Coordinator who oversaw the project says: 

I’m inspired by their bravery and proud of our Ethiopian staff who have clearly established a strong, trusted bond with the farming communities, giving them the confidence to invest in this new product which will go on helping them increase their income for the future.

We must continue to support and work with farmers in a way that allows them to decide their own visions for the future and enables them to be agents of their own change.

This Christmas, we're offering a Taro-inspired gift as part of our virtual gift catalogue, The African Bake Off. Take a look and see if it tempts you!

And if you'd like to know more about the project, watch our video: