Expanding your business can be done in different ways, by building another greenhouse nearby or by adding new products to your collection. Another option is to step in to a completely new market. That is at least what Ecuadorian flower plantation, Bellaflor Group decided to do four years ago, when they started up a new farm in Ethiopia. “I needed another adventure”, said Mr. Hanspeter Hug, of Bellaflor Group. Currently, they grow more than forty different varieties of flowers in Ecuador and have begun with two different varieties in Ethiopia.
Mr. Sintayehu Kebede
Better access to new markets
“Having a farm in Ethiopia gives us the benefit to better access markets that are very far from Ecuador. As well as having excellent connections to the Arab Peninsula we have two daily direct flights to China and Japan, direct flights to Frankfurt, London, Dublin, Rome, Madrid, Moscow, Australia, Washington, Canada and many more. China, Asia, Europe, African Countries and Australia are our natural markets due to proximity. Our customers are mostly importers and wholesalers.”
Bellaflor Ethiopia grows a complete selection of roses, spray roses and gypsophila and they are constantly trialing new varieties. “I always believed in diversification and to dedicate my life to one crop only, seemed a little... boring”, Hanspeter says. At Bellaflor Ethiopia a 2 ha. modern greenhouse expansion is under construction, meant for different flower crops. “At this moment our Assistant Flower Designer is in Ethiopia training an initial team to make farm-fresh / farm-made bouquets. We will have a bouquet operation in Ethiopia based on our successful Ecuadorian model.”
Time to expand
But how did it all start? Hanspeter: “The economic and political environment in Ecuador was uncertain at the time and the future for investors was not very encouraging. Not having a trade agreement with the United States and the devaluation of the Russian Ruble made growing flowers in Ecuador even less certain. It seemed a perfect time to diversify - and last but not least - I needed another adventure.”
Obviously, growing flowers and operating a company in Ethiopia is a lot different than in Ecuador. Hanspeter: “Climate, to begin with, is more complicated, especially the highlands where our farm is located. In Ethiopia we all have to deal with a 3-month rainy season, best known as the monsoon. The rest of the year it is dry. Blazing summer months alternate with quite cold months and periods of low luminosity. To add it all up, hail may fall everywhere throughout the country - at any time of the year.” Also running the operation was quite different. “One of many challenges in Ethiopia were the cultural differences. It was difficult to get things done with a brand new team and with government structures that we didn’t quite understand.”
In spite of these start-up complications, the farm is now up-and-running, making Hanspeter proud. “It is said, that we are the most beautiful and socially conscious farm in Ethiopia. We provide the same benefits to our team in Ethiopia as we do in Ecuador such as, free canteen, free medical service in our own modern clinic, free transport etc. After a lot of initial setbacks we created a peaceful, harmonious workplace and have witnessed how our workers have become professional horticulturists - that produce amazing flowers.
Experience and staff to rely on
Despite all the differences Hanspeter says the experience of growing flowers in Ecuador for many years was an advantage for starting up a farm in Ethiopia. “On the technical side, I never had any doubts about how and what needed to be done next. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Besides, in Ecuador I have a very experienced team of professionals for every aspect of the flower industry, that I can completely rely on. Three of our Ecuadorian staff members became Farm Manager, Post-Harvest Manager and Pathogen-Control Manager in Ethiopia.
The overall horticultural direction is led by Guillermo Ochoa out of Ecuador, as is sales and administration. Rodrigo Carrillo is the CEO in charge of both Ecuador and Ethiopia. To make this possible, we invested heavily into technology and all of us travel regularly to Ethiopia. Who keeps the farm and its operation running smoothly on a daily basis is Sintayehu Kebede, the General Manager of Bellaflor-Ethiopia, locally known as Afriflower.