Sounds of tapping keyboards fill the air of the small office in the heart of the Chamber of Commerce (CoC) in Addis Ababa. With its walls made from glass, the room feels like an aquarium within the chamber’s steel and concrete compound near Mexico Square. At 11am, the seven employees take a break from their screens and gather around the meeting table in the far left corner of this open office space. These days, meetings represent a common fixture in the daily activities of the Ethiopia Netherlands Trade Facility (ENTAG). “We are in a learning process, […] we are just starting up and need to learn from others, also from Dutch entrepreneurs,” says Dr Zerihun Desalegn, lead agribusiness advisor of ENTAG.  

One topic that dominates the agenda since the start of the project in early 2013 is the strengthening of Ethiopia’s emerging sub-sectors like soybean or sesame. The document in front of Dr Zerihun is a business plan proposal from an entrepreneur in the soybean sector. “Both supply and demand for this sector are not strong enough in this country. We expect to see a lot of dynamic developments and improvements in the near future,” he says. Supporting companies with sound business plans is however just one of the facility’s objectives. Dr Zerihun sees the role of his team in closing the gaps of the Chamber of Commerce to offer the “complete service package” and establish ENTAG as the main knowledge hub for agribusiness companies. “We focus on the entire value chain from farming, over processing to trading,” he explains.


The ringtone of a female singing voice stops all conversations; Dr Zerihun picks up his mobile phone, gives quick instructions before he continues with the meeting. The facility has ambitious plans for the upcoming months: share business acumen and establish business to business (B2B) networks to name but few. “There are many opportunities in the agribusiness sector in Ethiopia but because of various reasons entrepreneurs cannot utilise them. We help them to overcome these issues,” he says. Having studied agronomy and tropical agriculture as well as having worked in commodity exports, Dr Zerihun is confident that entrepreneurs will make use of the already existing “strong business opportunities”.

The meeting lasts for half an hour and while his colleagues are returning to their desks, Dr Zerihun stays behind to take some notes. He joined the ENTAG in mid-August 2013 and enjoys working on several projects at a time. This afternoon, he will talk to students from universities and encourage them to become young entrepreneurs. The country’s growing youth bulge – 46% of Ethiopians are under 14 – is leaving tens of thousands of graduates looking for employment. “Who is creating the jobs for them?” he asks. The question on how to assist these potential ENTAG members will however be the focus of another meeting.