Inside GreenPath’s journey on acquiring on-farm cold chain technology in Ethiopia

Interview with Bobbie Garbutt- Sales Associate, GreenPath Food

GreenPath Food is an Ethiopian agribusiness that supplies premium quality organic certified produce to the European and Middle Eastern markets. As one of the few agribusinesses in East Africa, GreenPath Food grows organic produce using the latest thinking in agro-ecology and regenerative agriculture, with production led by smallholder growers.

It primarily exports legumes, avocados, perennial fresh-cut herbs, and chilli peppers. Depending on the season fluctuations, GreenPath Food can export more than  20 tons per week of organic produce. The company partners with more than 241 smallholder farmers, most with plot extensions of just under a hectare. When partnering with GreenPath Food and dedicating their plots to organic production, farmers receive credit for inputs and technical assistance on the field in order to comply with European Union Organic certification. GreenPath Food also takes care of the quality control and manages the process of sorting and grading in order to reach required standards, and deals with the entire export process.

What was the main idea behind GreenPath Food? 

GreenPath Food was started in 2015 by a group of 5 friends who were working in Agriculture in Ethiopia. They had all worked in Ethiopia in shaping policy and business to better serve small-holder farmers, who make up 80% of the country’s population. Now, they wanted to do something directly themselves.

They found a site in Butajira, that was less than three hours from the capital, Addis Ababa, and had over 10,000 smallholder farmers within reach. Butajira, also has favourable climatic conditions, rich volcanic soil, and the benefit of a  long growing season. The farmers at the time were growing crops like teff, enset and coffee and they were managing their land organically. GreenPath worked with a pilot sample of farmers first, helping them change their crop rotation towards a regenerative growing model that included avocados, green beans and perennial herbs such as rosemary and lavender.

The first export outside of Ethiopia was made in 2017. GreenPath’s main objective was to partner with smallholder growers in order to grow export quality produce regeneratively and organically and bring it to world-wide customers in higher value markets.

In order to bring this special produce to high value markets, GreenPath Food manages the whole supply chain. From growing, to harvesting to the very final reception of the customer. Over time, we’ve leveled up to exporting to more countries and on-boarded more clusters of farmers. Today, we have 241 smallholder farmers that we work with in Butajira who are all going through the process of organic certification, with full transparency in our supply chain.

What were the needs and requirements to invest in a packhouse and what are the improvements you have seen in your operations after the investment on the InspiraFarms packhouse?

The main need was maintaining the quality of the products. From my experience, Ethiopia’s pain point was post-harvest processing and poor on-farm infrastructure for quality to be maintained, this being the main bottleneck for reaching export markets.

The InspiraFarms packhouse and cold storage has definitely been a game changer. It has allowed us to move forward quickly with certifications. Our packhouse with an integrated cold room was built HACCP mid-care compliant, so it has efficiently upgraded our processes regarding quality control, packing and temperature management.

GreenPath Food is growing fast and sustainably. By mid-2019, we had unveiled our 240sqm packhouse. Then by mid-2020, we added another packhouse of the same size, with cold storage, reaching 480sqm total. Now we are able to process and work with more sourcing partners and keep quality right until the customers receive their produce.

As another efficiency gained in our operation, we are planning to integrate sea-freight with one of the partners we will be working with soon in Tanzania. This will mainly be for the export of avocados due to the fact that avocados don’t have as immediate turn-around time as green beans do. However, because we are based in Ethiopia, which is a land locked country, it’s not possible to maintain high quality via sea-freight. It’s something that has been looked into and we’ve had to gauge both how the cost and quality effects it all. Our exports to Qatar, Dubai and Europe however, are still currently via air-freight as this is the best option to maintain quality.

We’ve also managed to grow quite a lot–in terms of export volume, we have nearly doubled year-on- year. From our sales relationships, buyers have essentially doubled their aggregate spend with us which has meant that the packhouse has also doubled in volume hence why we’ve needed more cold rooms. The modularity of InspiraFarms is a great thing for an ambitious business growing fast, as you can add more space and adjust the infrastructure according to the growth and needs of your business.

What are your current markets? 

Our export markets have been the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and the UAE. Since March 2020, we have been exploring other markets. Recently, we have been looking into Singapore. There is a promise with a buyer there however, but we haven’t officially started exporting there yet.

What are the plans for the future? 

We want to grow our small holder farmers in Butajira and expand to 500+ farmers . We also want our expansion plans to go beyond Butajira and open a similar site within  East Africa. We want to find a community of smallholder farmers that are willing to work with us and are working with naturally organic land and good transport links to Addis.

In terms of the supply chain, we’ve started working with sourcing partners in Africa to expand our presence and volume. This season we’ve started working with sourcing partners in Ethiopia and Egypt to export green beans, snow peas and spring onions.

Final  recommendations for other agribusinesses aiming to do the same?

What we have managed to achieve in these short five years of really expanding our international  presence has been incredible. Currently, we’re exporting high volumes 3-4 times a week as it’s our peak green bean season. I would say the team definitely has the rigour to really continue on which they have shown anything can be possible despite the obvious limitations. Seeing our growth whilst maintaining quality, I think that a lot of people will be inspired. It’s more difficult when you’re navigating a new path in a country that hasn’t seen this before, but it works and we’re growing. I definitely see that there is scope for this type of model to be replicated throughout Africa.