Ending the stigma surrounding persons with disabilities in rural Ethiopian communities

Silenat V2

In the second phase of the immense AgroBIG project, steps are being taken to change perceptions about physical disabilities and viewing persons with them as valuable members of society.

The village of Derigedel Robit, which lies approximately 10 kilometres from the Amhara state capital Bahir Dar is many centuries old. This is evidenced by an old church that is said to have been built in the 14th century. Ancestors of 36-year-old Silenat Ameshe have occupied a plot of land in the village "for generations", says her father who lives in the neighbouring home.

“There are a lot of challenges related to persons with disabilities and their activities in rural Ethiopia. Basically, there is a mindset problem. Many communities look down on PwD, who hide, confine themselves to their homes and feel unable to perform any substantive activities to earn an income, thus remaining dependent on family or neighbours. PwD are socially excluded because of this attitude combined with physical and social barriers. If they are physically impaired, it isn't easy to travel long distances or to become an integrated part of their communities. In agriculture, we still have traditional means of production – PwD have no access to improved seeds or crop varieties and lack access to finance or credit because of a lack of collateral and market access.”

Ayichew Kebede, AgroBIG expert

Silenat has a physical disability that affects her ability to walk and makes it difficult for her to earn an income. She used to earn a paltry wage harvesting khat (a leafy stimulant) for a commercial khat grower, and doing embroidery, but often could not earn enough to make ends meet. The COVID-19 pandemic hit her especially hard, as khat harvesters were not hired anymore, and getting to town to sell her embroidery was restricted. Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in Ethiopia, where persons with disabilities (PwD) in rural communities are often marginalised and remain some of the most disadvantaged members of society. They are often denied access to proper education and healthcare, meaning they usually have less access and control over resources within their communities.

Since 2013 the Programme for Agro-Business Induced Growth (AgroBIG), a collaboration between the Ethiopian and Finnish Governments, has aimed to strengthen rural economic development in the Amhara National Regional State of Ethiopia. Having recently been extended to a second phase, AgroBIG II seeks to improve the livelihoods of the rural population by reducing poverty and inequalities and increasing food security through the development of value chains. A particular focus area of the project has been empowering women, youth and PwD with tailormade training programs carried out across a broad range of topics. An effort has thus been exerted to improve equality and economic empowerment for PwD through capacity building and inclusion in business activities.

Finding enjoyment in life as a poultry farmer

Aiming to enhance job creation and income generation for Amhara's rural PwD population, the AgroBIG team, which includes Capacity Building and Social Development Advisor Ayichew Kebede, has worked hard to improve inclusivity in agri-business by strengthening poultry and livestock production capabilities. Technical and fundamental business skills ‒ such as optimal animal feeding and health management practices, savings and credit, entrepreneurship, and record-keeping ‒ all serve the objective of changing the negative perception of PwD as burdensome to regarding them as resourceful members of their communities.

In the spring of 2020, Silenat got the chance to participate in poultry farming training organised by AgroBIG and the Livestock Office in Bahir Dar, after which she received 25 chickens and two months' worth of feed. After the chickens started to produce eggs, she was able to partner with a trader who buys from her on a regular basis. In addition, she travels by bajaj (a taxi rickshaw) and bus to the Bahir Dar market bi-weekly to sell the eggs herself. When asked whether her physical disability has hindered her ability to make an income as a poultry farmer, she smiles and shakes her head: "My disability has not made it difficult. I am so happy to do this."

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Silenat collects 20 eggs per day on average

Ayichew, who has engaged with PwD beneficiaries across the programme woredas, is delighted to observe the positive changes AgroBIG has brought. “It's impressive, really, the changes we have observed. PwD see that they have agency and can make economic gain from work, contribute to the local economy, and manage a family. Their self-confidence has improved, even socially. Before, they were a bit shy to join community associations. But after engaging in economic activities, they have started socialising more because now they have something to contribute. The community has changed its attitude towards PwD, who have realised that they too can generate economic gains through work,” he says.

300 thousand

beneficiaries targeted by the programme activities


PwD received support and training through AgroBIG activities during the last reporting period (June 2021-July 2022)

Access to credit remains an issue

Some hurdles in improving market access for PwD persist. As Ayichew observes, “Very few PwD have taken loans to grow their business as they are worried about repayments. There is a lack of appropriate financial products because the saving and credit cooperatives currently prefer to lend money to people without disabilities in order to safeguard repayments. We are advocating for them to design a specific PwD-friendly financial product to provide equal access for PwD alongside other farmers.”

Despite this, Silenat has managed to save up 500 birr per month (approximately $9,50) for more than a year through a local Savings and Credit Cooperative, and she is now looking into expanding her poultry business. She also wants to diversify her income sources and invest in a dairy cow; she has already joined a dairy cooperative to get training. However, to get a loan to buy a cow would require organising as a group and then accepting the collateral risk for the loan with other people. Now that Silenat can provide for herself, she feels more comfortable working and saving up independently.

AgroBIG has been pivotal in changing how the community views Silenat and, more importantly, how she views herself. Her accomplishments and newfound confidence have motivated her father, who now also wants to build a chicken coop on his plot of land, and serve as an inspiration for others with and without disabilities looking to improve their livelihoods.

Get in touch

Esa Haapasalo

Esa Haapasalo

Senior Consultant

Helsinki, Finland

+358 9 83624254

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