Ethiopian project goes by the book, despite pandemic

Two presses of a design evolved to print newspapers in India are at the heart of a project to improve literacy in Ethiopia.

Working with sales partner VIP Systems, manroland Goss has commissioned two Cromoman presses at TBO Printing and Publishing in the country’s first textbook printing plant.

Bookbinding equipment and a Rotoman heat set press are set to follow.

The ambitious project – delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic – achieves Ethiopia’s aim of using its own resources to meet the high demand for textbooks for a steadily growing number of young people and will see prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Abiy Ahmed attend the opening ceremony.

TBO will serve Ethiopia – the most populated country in East Africa with about 110 million people – and the Oromia region, to which textbooks are currently imported. The project is expected to create up to 400 jobs, with training of staff by the press maker underway since February at the Bavarian Africa Office in Addis Ababa.

The three web presses are the first of their kind to be installed in East Africa and can produce more than five million textbooks monthly in a variety of formats and signatures of 16, 24 or 32 pages. The German maker’s traditionally single-width newspaper press design was evolved to provide a more productive solution for Indian publishers.

Ethiopia has more than 80 ethnic groups, with Oromifa, Tigrigna, Somali, Sidama, Welayeta and Hadiyisa joining the official English and Amharic languages, all with corresponding textbooks.

The Ethiopian school system covers grades One to 12 and, in addition to the various languages, also teaches civics and ethics, information and communication technology, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, geography, economics, general business and technical drawing. As a result, demand for textbooks for all these subjects is high and amounts to around 70 million copies per year, with a high percentage of these to be covered by TBO.

Lack of infrastructure and the pandemic made implementing TBO’s ambitious goals significantly difficult from the beginning. Parallel progress of infrastructure construction – including the road network and completion of the GERD dam project – severely disrupted the project schedule and led to unavoidable interruptions.

With the support of German press technicians willing to travel, and the maker’s experienced team management on site, the plant in Gelan started production in the (northern) spring.

Manroland Goss project manager Ralf Schädlich says the circumstances made him “all the more pleased” to complete the Cromoman start-ups. “Installation of the Rotoman is also finalized, and production can also start on it shortly,” he said.

“The spirit of our internationally-assembled installation team on site is also unbroken, so that we are achieving our go-live targets step by step.”

Full production on the three presses is planned for this summer, pending structural and political development permits.