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Mama Fresh: Baking Injera and Creating Impact in Ethiopia

By Lulit Negash | Thu Sep 24 2015
It was a cool and dewy morning in August when I made my way over to Mama Fresh Injera PLC’s new manufacturing and export facility to speak with members of the baking team. Clouds were off in the distance, threatening the rain that comes so often to Ethiopia during the summer months, but neither the early hour nor threatening weather dampened my spirits - I was getting an in-depth look at how Mama Fresh not only makes injera, but positive impact as well.
Mama Fresh is Ethiopia’s largest commercial manufacturer and exporter of fresh-baked injera. The Impact Angel Network’s investment in Mama Fresh in January 2014 helped finance the modern facility that I visited on this particular morning. The investment is also expected to enable Mama Fresh to increase its production capacity, create jobs in the local economy and explore new market opportunities for injera, including the growing gluten-free markets in the U.S. and Europe. While this investment’s expected social impact for the local community and greater Ethiopian economy is significant and important in this company’s story, my interest that day was actually on a smaller scale. I wanted to find out how Mama Fresh, through this investment, was achieving impact at the individual level, specifically for underprivileged women. Injera baking is considered “women’s work” in Ethiopia because most household baking is done by female family members or female hired help, so Mama Fresh has had the opportunity to provide work as injera bakers for many women in Addis Ababa.
Mama Fresh gave me the wonderful opportunity to speak with several of its diligent and hard-working injera bakers. When I arrived at Mama Fresh to meet with these bakers, the facility was buzzing with activity – the morning shift employees were completing preparations to start the injera baking for the day. Out of the many bakers that I was introduced to, one baker stood out amongst the rest for her reputation of being one of the most diligent and hard-working employees in the company - Belaynesh Millkiyas. Belaynesh kindly shared her personal story with me, which I believe shows how Mama Fresh is creating impact across the spectrum, from the country level all the way down to the individual.
Belaynesh was born in Hossana and moved to Addis Ababa in 2004. Like many people, she came to the capital looking for work, and after a series of events, found her way working for Mama Fresh.
When did you start working with Mama Fresh, and how did you hear about the company?

I started working at Mama Fresh in November 2010; it has been five year since I started working here. I have a relative who used to work at Mama Fresh as a supervisor in the dough room, and she recommended me to MF management. But she [has since] left MF and is currently working at another company.
How did you become an injera baker?

I have been baking injera since I was a little girl. We had a family business [local café] at Hossana, and I used to bake injera there. I wanted to go and work in the Middle East, and that is why I [initially] came to the city [Addis Ababa], but after realizing this is not a good choice for me, I stopped and began searching for work here. After changing several jobs I started working at Mama Fresh as injera baker.
How does Mama Fresh injera compare to the injera you make at home, or you grew up eating?

Mama Fresh injera compared to the injera I make at home is much healthier because it is made from pure teff. I usually mix other grains with teff to make injera at home and so do other households. The process here is also much cleaner because we are using clean utensils; the workers are very efficient and the process is much more modernized than baking injera at home. Overall, the production process is safe, clean and dough processing is different from what I do at home. Besides, the teff we use is quality teff and not mixed with other grains - I know because the teff is ground here at the facility - I prefer eating Mama Fresh injera than any other injera, even from what I make at home.
How has working for Mama Fresh changed your life?

Before joining Mama Fresh I used to work at a carpet-manufacturing factory as an operator. While I was working there, I had my first child and took a maternity leave, but this didn’t make my bosses happy so they had to let me go! I started looking for other job, but I was required to work on night shifts, which was impossible for me because I had to take care of my baby. That is when I heard about Mama Fresh from one of my relatives who was working here. Although I haven’t seen that much growth in my salary, working at Mama Fresh has made my life stable, so I can raise my kid. He is now seven years old and is in first grade. The management team is very understanding about my problem[s], they are good people, and I feel like they are my family. They help me out when I have money problems by lending me money to pay for my kid’s school.
What is your favorite part about working for Mama Fresh as an injera baker?

I like baking injera because it a quiet job, and I can focus on baking for a long time.
Your reputation at Mama Fresh is that you are one of the most productive / quickest injera bakers in the company – how did you come to be so skilled?

I have been baking injera since I was a child, so it came from experience. And the incentive given to us if we bake more injera we will [then] get paid more money. Currently the quota is to bake 350 injera per shift, but on a good day I usually bake from 450 to 600 injera per day, using four to five metads [ovens]. But it all depends on the power available and time I have. Once I get in the facility I am very focused, I just want to bake injera.
Has your job at Mama Fresh made you feel empowered as a woman?

Yes, I earn my own money and raise my child so it has made me feel empowered as a woman. Since I am a single mom, I am required to support my child and his needs. It has inspired me to be an entrepreneur – I want to start my own business.
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