Tewodros Zewdie gets out of a taxi and enters the NB Business Center in Addis Ababa. The elevator takes him up to the sixth floor. Up is the general direction of Tewodros‘s life. As Executive Director of the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA), he experienced and contributed to the rise of the sector. In only a decade, horticulture products including flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables have achieved 50% of the export revenue of coffee on less than a fraction of the size of land. Dressed in a suit and tie, Tewodros likes challenges, the bigger the better: “I like it when there are problems that are not solved.”

On the sixth floor, he greets his secretary, asks for any missed calls before his mobile goes off. Word fragments like ‘target group’, ‘potential stakeholder’, ‘market penetration’ dominate the conversation. Talking business is an important part of his job. “As a business membership association you need to water your public and private relationships,” he says. Since the beginning of EHPEA in 2002, around 100 companies have signed up as members enjoying access to trainings, networking events and the HortiFair Expo, held every two years. According to him, the association’s role is to improve the business climate in the country for its members, which “represent 98-99% of all of the companies that are active in the sector”. His smartphone goes off again, this time a minister is on the other end. “They have realised the importance of the sector,” he says with pride.

Right story

Besides advocacy, communication and media relations are at the heart of the former PR/Communications Manager at the Chamber of Commerce. “As an association, we have the responsibility to protect the industry and tell the right story to the public,” he says. The storyline is a positive one; the protagonist is always Ethiopia being able to feed the world and being ready for investments from both local and international businessmen. His own motivation to work in the sector has grown out of “tapping into the potential of the country” to make Ethiopia one of the leading countries in horticulture. Who else could tell this story better than him?

The phone rings again, this time his wife is calling him. The father of three is quick to draw parallels between international aid and a child’s upbringing, which comes to an end at a certain point. “You need aid and capacity building until a certain level, above that you need trade,” he says convinced. EHPEA covers both aspects by providing trainings on the use of new technologies and strengthening the local business environment. He noticed for example that many Ethiopian farm managers have taken over from their foreign counterparts mainly from India and Kenya. But it is not just all about business. “When investors want to invest in horticulture, they also have to invest in local communities,” he breaks out of his common business jargon and adds with a smile “otherwise it will be a monkey business”.