Look
at
yourself

The temperature is still pleasant in greenhouse number 5. At 7am, the sun has not developed its full strength yet. The production halls are still empty but the harvesting has started in the flowerbeds. This is where Frank Ammerlaan’s daily inspection round starts. The wiry, young Dutchman is the Managing Director of AQ Roses, a company that started producing roses in Ethiopia in 2006. “We liked the whole environment and felt more welcome than in Kenya for example,” he says about the decision of expanding the family business outside of the Netherlands.  

The compound of SHER Ethiopia in the town of Ziway, 1670m above sea level, offered the perfect conditions. The climate allows all-year production and the initial two greenhouses could be extended to four as part of the 8-year hire-purchase agreement. Today, he is accompanied by one of the production managers. Having just come back from the Netherlands the previous day, he picks up where he left off, regularly checking his two mobile phones in his hand. Towards the end of the 900m-long greenhouse, new breeding varieties are tested. “Every year, we drop two or three varieties and exchange them with new ones,” he says. Popular colours like red or yellow are always on offer but vary according to seasonal demands. All of the 100 million roses produced each year will be exported and enjoyed by mainly European customers.

Good product

The outside path to the adjacent greenhouse offers unimpaired views of the rift valley and its mountains. Ethiopia has become an attractive location for companies in the horticulture sector. “It is important not to look at others but to look at yourself. We have to make sure that we deliver a good product – every day,“ he says about the growing competition. At the beginning of 2014, the company set new standards in the business becoming a Fairtrade certified flower farm. For Frank, Fairtrade or corporate social responsibility are not just labels but part of being sustainable. “If our staff feels respected, they will feel responsible and will do a better job,” he explains. Around four kilometres and 1.5 hours later, he arrives back at the office and gets his first coffee of the day.

During his business degree he started working in an accounting department, which helped him to adjust his focus. “I was checking other person’s figures and thought to myself: people should check my figures,” he says with a smile. He is supported by his brother who studied crop science and acts as the “growing part” of the company. Together with their father, who supervises all operations, the well-functioning team also explores new business opportunities beyond roses. Thus, Frank is not thinking of going back for the next 10 years. Having married an Ethiopian from Addis Ababa, his home is between Ziway and the capital. “I have better and worse days but I like the ambition of Ethiopians. In Europe, people take things for granted,” he says and gets back to business.