A slum restaurant in Akaki-Kality is not what you would normally consider pioneering.
However, one small eatery has proved revolutionary by becoming the first environmentally-friendly restaurant in Ethiopia.
Shitaye, Tigist and Friends restaurant was the first in the country to run completely on biogas – made by human waste.
It has been so successful that the charity behind the project is now advising big businesses and hotels in Addis Ababa how to follow their lead.
Berhanu Shanko, team leader at Emmanuel Development Association, which established the restaurant, said: “We are making cash out of trash.
“It took us some convincing because at first people thought we were crazy but now people think it’s a great idea.”
Akaki-Kality is the industrial center with around 300 factories. However, social problems such as a lack of education or early marriage created a high percentage of marginalized or “voiceless” women.
The EDA – an Ethiopian NGO – was determined to find a community-driven initiative that would empower them. They also wanted to help the environment and make a restaurant that was completely fuel-efficient.
Human waste is collected from the public bathrooms next to the restaurant. It goes to a biogas dome on site and breaks down over the course of a month in a process called anaerobic digestion.
This produces gas and slurry. The gas is used to fuel the lights and cooking at the café while the slurry is taken to nearby farms and used as crop fertilizer. Any spare gas can be stored.
As well as creating 15 jobs for women at the restaurant, the simple idea helps the environment. Trees are not cut down to burn wood while the waste extraction helps to try to keep the area in a sanitary condition.
Berhanu added: “The café doesn’t have to pay to get gas, which is very expensive. They would also have to pay for human waste to be removed. It is such a great idea; the women are employed and providing for their families plus the area is clean.”
Tigist Eshetu is the team leader at the restaurant, which produces 100 meals a day. A coffee is four birr and a meal 15 birr. She says because they do not have overheads, such as gas or even rent, they can afford to keep the prices very reasonable.
She said: “Our lives have completely changed for the better since the restaurant came.
“There are 15 women here and we have a lot of children and grandchildren between us. We are now making good money, so we can send our children to school and eat a balanced diet at home.”
The project began around five years ago after the Ethiopian government donated a patch of wasteland.
Two British charities – Water Aid and Comic Relief – then gave a 24 million birr grant to the EDA to build the restaurant, toilet and shower block and a biogas chamber.
However, the running of the project is very much done by the women of Akaki-Kality.
Tessema Bekele (PhD), Founder and Executive Director of Emmanuel Development Association said: “There has been a history of decades of free-handouts and relief. However that is not really very successful or sustainable.
“The EDA believes in a community-led and community-driven approach. At the end of the day, it means the community is empowered and they make the positive changes in their own community without the involvement of NGOs or stakeholders.
“They just needed a start. But after that, they now decide their own destiny instead of someone else deciding it for them.”
Tessema has given talks in Singapore about the project and advised several big hotels and businesses how they can become more environmentally friendly.
As well as the café, there is a second initiative to help the young people of Akaki-Kality. They were given a human waste extractor and a bajaj.
Around 90 of them now travel around Addis Ababa collecting human waste, which is turned into fuel and fertilizer.
The charity has already created another restaurant in the Amhara Regional State and hopes for several more run in this way.
In the West, environmentally-friendly businesses are the latest trend with many now trying to use biogas as fuel.
But who would have thought that a small eatery in an Ethiopian slum would have been the one to help start the green revolution.
Ed.’s Note: Jane Wharton is a volunteer at The Reporter.
Contributed by Jane Wharton