Senai Wolderufael is the founder and a Managing Partner at Feed Green Ethiopia, a company that exports Ethiopian spices. Before turning to entrepreneurship in 2012, he worked for nearly four years as a customer service agent at Ethiopian Airlines, earning $150 per month. It was at his duty post that the idea for his company occurred to him. He would see many of his countrymen returning overseas to their countries of residence with large bags of local dry food items and spices.
With a start-up capital of less than US$2,000, Wolderufael got an export business license and with his business partner, Eyob Weldegabriel, started Feed Green Ethiopia and began delivering these items to Ethiopian diasporas.
“I have always wanted to be dependent on my own, to be the decision maker of my fate, ever since I was a small kid, I had that wish,” Wolderufael said. “When the time came and the opportunity presented itself, I decided to seize the moment and go for it.”
Feed Green Ethiopia processes and exports Ethiopian spice blends and other staples. The company adds value to most of its products and packages them such that they are ready for consumption immediately. Its range of spices includes Berbere, Mitmita, Kundo Berbere, Mitten Shero, Tikur Azmud, Netch Azmude, Korerima, Netch Shinkurt, Tibs Kitel, among several others.
For its dry food items, the company carries out production at two of its production facilities in Addis Ababa. Meanwhile, it gets supplies of spices directly from farmers with whom it has established a relationship.
“We collect the spices and then process them further – we wash them, dry them, inspect them by hand, and then we pack them,” Wolderufael told How We Made It In Africa of the production process.
In a 2016 interview with My Africa Today, he revealed that his company employs only women due to their knowledge and skills in food processing and also to close the employment gap between men and women.
Within a year of opening shop, Feed Green Ethiopia raked in a revenue of over $100,000 and has continued to double its income annually. Though originally set up to serve Ethiopian diasporas and restaurants, the company has since found new market in other African countries, Nigeria and Ghana for instance, which imports similar spices as Feed Green has to offer from Asia. He supplies these countries at more competitive prices.
Feed Green Ethiopia has since begun diversifying its range of products to include roasted coffee beans. Even though there have been requests to export the green bean, Wolderufael, a 2009 graduate of Business Administration, Management and Operations from Addis Ababa University, said he has remained committed to exporting only value-added products. He noted that many African countries are in the disadvantageous position of exporting raw materials and importing finished products. He expressed hope that Africa would begin to produce and export final products.
One of the challenges of doing business in Ethiopia, Wolderufael said, is the lack of information.
“Since Ethiopia is a developing country, rules and regulations change frequently, and we will learn of the changes when we face them, or when the rules apply to us, and that causes us to delay on delivery of shipments,” he said.
Entrepreneurship was never going to be an easy undertaking anyway. Wolderufael believes that an entrepreneur should be open-minded, fearless, hardworking and patient.
“Work hard, don’t give up, and always know you can start from zero (negative) to make something out of your life. Live out of your comfort zone, think out of the box, be creative and be devoted/committed to your goal,” he further advised.
In the meantime, Wolderufael, who in 2014 made Forbes’ list of Top 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa, is positioning Feed Green Ethiopia to become one of the foremost food companies on the continent.