Ethamco: Bringing organic fruit and vegetables to market in Ethiopia

In September VC4Africa visited Ethiopia and there we met with Kebede Gashaw, a very inspiring entrepreneur who is moving back to Ethiopia from the US. We got a chance to interview him twice and the result can be found on this page.

Can you explain the different opportunities in the agricultural sector in Ethiopia?

“More than eighty percent of Ethiopians are engaged in subsistence agriculture – meaning they produce and survive in a hand to mouth farming and rain fed agricultural cycle.  The only commercial farms were nationalized by the former communist government and transitioned into state run farms. Now those state farms are being privatized and new large-scale private entities are coming to play the game of commercial farming. From food and fiber production to value added products in fresh fruit and vegetables, oil seeds, pulses, dairy products, meat production and aquaculture are all wide open opportunities for astute investors.”

Please describe your venture?

Ethamco, LLC was established in the US but for the sole purpose of establishing an agricultural operation in Ethiopia. We have the background and expertise in agriculture, & agricultural processing in California, and have a good management team in place.  Our core business will be centered in both conventional and organic fruit and vegetable production. While we realize there is a growing market for organics in the European and Middle East markets, we feel that we have an obligation to produce and make available organic products for local consumption as well. While on the conventional side there is ample demand both in the domestic market as well as the export markets. The trick is having a constant reliable supply of good quality produce year round.

We also have plans to be engaged in livestock production, dairy production and in aquaculture either by acquisition, by creating alliances or by direct investment as opportunities arise.  We hope to encourage and exploit opportunities in creating more Inter-African trade.

The Ethamco model is simple – executing on a tried and true method of agricultural production for success.  That is growing and producing crops that are of high quality, that meet or exceed the needs of our customers and to be a consistent and reliable year round supplier.”

What are your successes and challenges so far?

“The challenges have been getting the land lease from the government. It has taken about a year and we are finally receiving the land now and should be preparing the land and planting in a couple of months. That would allow us to have some vegetables to harvest in late April or May.

We have not sat idly for one year as we have done trials for several crops in two different locations and were successful with promising yields in open field trials.  We also have created alliances with an organic liquid fertilizer company by signing an LOI (letter of intent) to conduct trials both in Ethiopia and California.

If successful, Ethamco will have an exclusive sells agreement for worldwide marketing of the product. In addition, we have also signed an LOI with the largest coffee and tea producer in the country again to conduct vegetable trials on their farms, which we hope will lead for additional source for vegetables.  On the organic side, we have created an alliance for the formation of an association – Organic Producers & Exporters Association of Ethiopia (OPEAE).”

Tell us more about your background?

“I have been in California agriculture for over thirty-eight years. I have worked for a large diversified farming operation that was involved in crop production, cattle feeding, diary production and feed-mill operations. I have also been involved in the California Department of Food and Agriculture in the administration of commodity boards, commissions and councils. For the last nineteen years, I have been involved with the largest tomato processor in the world located in California.

Our team includes, Mr. Mark DeLaMater, our CFO who has also extensive experience in California agriculture and agro processing. He was involved as financial manager in a 22,000 acre farm as well as in a tomato products processing company. Our Ethiopian staff, Mr. Gebeyehu Tessema and Mr. Million Asfaw have over thirty years experience in Ethiopian agriculture at various levels including farm management and growing vegetables and agronomic practices.”

What are you looking for at VC4Africa?

“We are looking for investors, collaborators, individuals and companies that are interested in a long-term alliance or supplier arrangements. Joint venture opportunities, potential super market development in Ethiopia, and people with ideas that are not afraid to exchange information.  I am a believer in open communications between individuals, companies and organizations that deem to represent people.”

How can VC4A members contact you?

I can be contacted via e-mail kdgashaw [at], my VC4Africa profile and our venture profile and website”