The Worldfolio’s interview with Jemal Ahmed, CEO of Horizon Plantations

Jemal Ahmed

CEO of Horizon Plantations

Agricultural value addition is the best thing any entrepreneur should look at in Ethiopia, affirms Jemal Ahmed, CEO of Horizon Plantations, who lifts the lid on the vast potential of Ethiopia’s agriculture sector, where demand for its high quality products continues to far outstrip supply, and also explains why it makes not just commercial but also social good sense.

We have been witnessing a shift from West to East as investors are looking for new horizons where to place their investments, especially after the 2008 world economic crisis, and this made Africa even more attractive. Could you please discuss this relevance of Africa in the international arena, especially attracting investments?

In 2008 when the commodity prices went up, people were looking for places where they could produce more commodities, and Africa had the right resources and a huge gap; and because of that there is an attraction towards it. It has helped Africa as well to generate more jobs and the demand for African commodities has increased. In that aspect I think we benefited from it.

Agriculture is the biggest sector in terms of employment in Africa. By 2040, the World Bank expects that Africa is going to have the largest work force in the world: 1 billion workers, more than China and India combined. In your opinion, what are the challenges and how should they be addressed?

Our agricultural projects are all labor intensive. Growing coffee in Ethiopia could hardly be mechanized because we grow it in a very different way. We are not growing it like the Brazilian or Vietnamese. Our coffee grows on hills under shade. You cannot maneuver machines there. And the quality is different, the coffee type is different.

While Africa is developing, its people are having more access to education and high-standard living, and working in farms will not be as easy as it used to be. So I foresee that our biggest challenge will be labor. Although we will have more labor than China and India combined, Africans are also getting more and more skilled as a workforce. If you see our farms now, young men are not available for labor: they have access to schools and vocational training. Small towns are popping up everywhere, so other skilled work is also being available. Hence, getting labor in rural areas is going to be our major challenge.

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