Our Blossom’s concept of a community-service start-up is rooted in an idea that emerged from a conversation between Addis-born Dorina Asmanio and her daughters, Abiyan, Gioia, and Melah, while collecting seeds for their private garden in Silver Spring, Maryland (USA). The busy fingers picked out the best for the bank while soft voices spoke imaginatively about how soon the seeds would be planted and grow into blossoming vegetables, fruits, and flowers. So, it made sense when the girls extended the moment into a plan that positions their Mum as a seed and seedlings distributor for people who struggle with their livelihoods. She smiles as she recounts the story with a hint of emotion flashing through her eyes. Her business vision borders an existential quest as she goes through her schedule to train job seekers with employable skills and with a sense of business acumen.
“I have lots of business ideas that flow endlessly,” says Dorina, who has been researching and developing concepts for Shega, a pioneering private digital media and research company leading amongst others in the transition towards a digital economy. “The ideas help to forge friendships and to discover countless possibilities,” she adds.
Around 570 businesses, recorded by equity investor Cepheus in Ethiopia, offer wide-ranging services, including e-commerce and digital finance. The enabling impact of major sector reforms and policy conditions also expects to transform traditional business methods in all significant sectors disruptively. Unfortunately, such exciting developments do not yet appear to be within the full awareness of average citizens, meaning that the eventual disruption can contribute to personal and social anxieties. But, for now, financial transactions through mobile and online systems make a massive and welcome contrast to carrying and counting wads of cash that keep getting thicker with inflation.
Digital technology alone is not enough to pace the pulse of a self-made horticulturalist and app developer, Dorina. She has a holistic vision which she pieces together patiently and gradually. The farm she established early this year is bearing produce on the outskirts of the famous hot spring resort town, Sodere, south of Addis Ababa in Melkasa, Oromia region.
“I have collected 700 special seeds over the years, and most are planted in Sodere this year. The harvest looks promising, and we look forward to collecting more seeds,” she said. Dorina displays her produce but does not reveal her favorite zucchini recipe. Instead, she replies, “I love to eat homemade Shiro (chickpea stew), Gomen (indigenous kale) and a good tomato salad.” That is quite a feat for someone who has planted 40 tomato varieties and is keen to rediscover the flavors of her favorite special Sodere variety.
“We used to eat the Sodere tomatoes raw as children, but it’s been years since they disappeared from the farms and the market. So, I intend to find it and add the seed to my collection,” said Dorina, who shares her stock with the farming community in Sodere.
“Everyone benefits when the harvest is ready both nutritionally and financially,” she assured. “Mothers are encouraged to plant seedlings and asked to prioritize their children’s meals when their produce first arrives. They can then plan to sell any surplus on the local market. The process demands systematic training, including preparing and consuming herbs in food and as basic home remedies. Mothers can plant nutritious garden vegetables such as sweet potatoes and zucchini and prevent malnutrition, particularly in young children. That enables them to feed themselves independently and take care of their children without relying on anyone, including their impoverished farming husbands. This approach relieves many families from extreme pressures that are exasperated by single-crop farming methods. The ability of mothers to plant and grow a variety of vegetables free from pesticides contributes significantly to the well being of the entire family. The father, mother and children learn to enjoy tasty, filling, and nutritious meals this way.”
Dorina’s mind travels back to Addis Ababa as she rides on the back of a motorbike to deliver payments to her farmworkers. The property she has rented for Our Blossom is getting cleaned up, and she has just seen a photograph of her freshly painted new office. Hand-crafted pinewood desks have arrived for the training workshops where job seekers will adopt skills in urban gardening, quality hot spice – berbere – and shiro production, injera preparation and food processing. The idea is also to promote food processing and hygiene to a quality standard in a space that allows spice preparation free of dust and other pollutants.
Later in the day, Dorina climbs onto the back of a pickup truck. She gets off at the plot and supervises the growth and quality of farming produce. Her mind is focused as she methodically completes her chores. When she finishes, she hitches another ride back to her room at the old Sodere resort. She devours fresh papaya handed to her by the chef from his garden, then heads out for a brisk walk and plunges under the high pressure natural hot spring fountain that loosens up her tightening muscles.
On her way back to the accommodation, she stops to listen to the Awash River, five times the length of the Thames in England, a tributary to the Blue Nile. It is home to the Hippopotamus, who co-habituates peacefully with the Nile crocodile, a scaly reptile covering the span of seven meters at best. Water is abundant here, not quite like some neighborhoods in the centre of Addis Ababa, where rationed piped water is standard and rainwater misses harvesting. Dorina knows the ways of both worlds and is eager to transfer her lifestyle agility with equally enthusiastic job seekers. “We will all learn to grow and blossom,” she says, “Our dream is to find Our Blossom!”
Photos @Dorina Asmanio