Ethiopia: A Product of Ethiopian Taste and a Foreign Skill - Melange Coffee

Melange Coffee Roasters Factory Owner, Solomon Kassa had recently a stay with The Ethiopian Herald. Solomon had been to overseas over 34 years of which for 26 years he lived in Holland and for 8 years in UK.

He worked in different industries and drawn a range of experiences in running industries like coffee related works during his stay in the aforesaid two countries. He had worked in UK in certain coffee industry,a giant company called star bucks. Staying for about 34 years outside his homeland, he came back home to invest and has opened new business recently.

He has now become the owner, with his wife of course, of Melange Coffee Roasters Factory.

Following government's invitation of the Diaspora to return home and invest in their homeland, he came back and started business with a small machinery. Later, he has developed the business into large scale machinery and named it Melange Coffee Roasters. This step grows into a better level and started to produce, process, pack coffee for local consumption, but predominantly produces value added coffee for exportation. It commenced the process a year before in Addis Ababa.

Excerpts:

Thank you for your willingness to conduct this interview with The Ethiopian Herald.

Thank you for deciding to stay with me.

HERALD: When did you start the business in relation with roasted coffee?

Solomon We have started Melange Coffee Roasters in 2013. We started the business with very small machine, which was capable of preparing 15 kgs. Five years ago, our plan was to establish a big machinery to facilitate the process of roasting. We indeed attained what we planned earlier last year. As far as its commencement is concerned, the first small scale one was launched in 2013 and the other with the biggest capacity a year beforeand the capacity is700 kg an hour in roasting of raw coffee. This facility was launched in August 2019.

Obviously, the current market condition around the world is entangled by the serious impact of the COVID-19. What do you think could be devised to resist such ups and downs in relation to the business arena?

The world has been affected by COVID-19, undeniable. So has our country; the domestic market has so far principally affected by the pandemic. Our main customers are hotels, restaurants and cafés. As these bodies are seriously susceptible to the epidemic, the business is getting down. However, we formulated a number of strategies for the export market last month. In so doing, we have managed to well act on the export

market especially to close to four or five countries namely Japan, UK, Netherlands and US. We have witnessed a very good result along this line and are cap[able of exporting value added coffee products. We are expected to work hard to find the lucrative way to improve our export market especially for value added ones. That is our cardinal goal.

HERALD Is your product accessible to the society, companies or customers abroad? Do you think this is so enough and enumerated, if possible?

Solomon With regarding to export to overseas, we have been trying to enjoyonline markets. That one is our goal. Besides, there is some kind of chance that can potentially expose us join foreign markets, which is organized by Ethiopian Tea and Coffee Authority in Addis Ababa. Using this opportunity, we have found some customers especially from Russia. Of course, as Russia is one of additional market and recently we have received order and pay for it, but the problem we have faced in connection with Russia is now due to COVID-19 and even the Ethiopian airlineshas cut its destination of cargo ship.

HERALD: How do process the raw coffee into final one and make ready for sale?

Solomon There are two ways to get green coffee: One, from Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) especially for the local market. The good thing is now the government has launched a new way of buying the green coffee from the source, which is a fair chain. Second, we can buy the green coffee directly from the cooperative unions, which is mainly used for export. Kata Muduga Multi-purpose farmers' cooperative union is a case in point in this regard, with whom we are working which is found in Jimma.

So we have two sources for getting coffee. Once we have garnered the green coffee, we will take it to be processed. Then we make it avail according to the customers' needs.Once we purchased raw coffee from the farmers, the process we have pursuedto make an agreement between us and farmers is conformed by Ethiopian Tea and Coffee Authority.

HERALD: Do you have additional destinations for products?

Solomon We are fundamentally targeting at local customers round the country. And gradually we have started exporting our products to US, Japan and Russia and now we are waiting to air cargo ship to Netherlands and UK, which is a very good start regarding the value added products.

HERALD: How do you get customers' reaction to your value added products?

Solomon The feedback we are getting from the countries we have been exporting our products is very promising one. And more orders are coming because our quality

products and unique facilities have attracted many. They also give us feedback that helps us to improve our products. The positive response and other important supports enable us to penetrate the market. We are trying to buy the organic coffee and sell the value added ones as we have secured an organic certification. We are also registered in a certain drug administration in the US which helps us to sell our coffee products and export them.

HERALD: How much did you invest to commence the company? Was it by you own capital or have you secured a loan from the government or other bodies?

Solomon The business was started with an outlay of 40 million Birr. Of which, we have borrowed some 16 million Birr from the Development Bank of Ethiopia and it has supported us well, and we have started paying the loan back.

Has the government created market connection for your company so far, with whom you have got market connection?

The market connection has so far mainly been created by ourselves. But luckily right now we are working with Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and they have fed us with a piece of information regarding the buyers. The connection is really expected to be established by ourselves, as a company. "If you are dependent on the government

or any other organization, so the results may not be the same. It is as the company, Mélange Coffee Roasters;we have really carried out our part very well."

HERALD: Can you enumerate the job opportunities the companyhas created?

Solomon The company has so far created job opportunity for over 38 fellow citizens. We have planned to double the number of employees, but due to COVID-19 we have determined to restrict the number as it is. We will double it when the COVID-19 comes to an end.

HERALD: Do you have a plan to expand the company to other parts of the country?

Solomon The production we do have right now is sufficient to quench the local demand.But in the long term we have planned to roast coffee products in different ways and we can probably double our capacity in two years time.

HERALD: How do you see the environment for Diaspora community to invest?

Solomon As to me, as a Diaspora, the community has to come to home and invest as the place and the many opportunities are opened by the government. As Diaspora, our participation is very big and essential. As it is difficult to come up with a change overnight, we have to develop patience and work in determination and dedication to attain the desired goals.

HERALD: How long have you stayed overseas?

Solomon First, I have lived in Holland for about26 years and then 8 years in UK totally I have been to overseas for about 34 years.

HERALD: Do you think that the government creates favorable circumstances for investors? Is the sole effort of the government enough without Diaspora efforts to well exploit the green pasture the atmosphere has granted them with?

Solomon In the first place, investors themselves have to come up with diligent to effectively use what they have had. The government is always trying to do its best, but as investors theyhave to come up with an idea and set goals. The potential investors have to identify their need, set ultimate goals and frame how to achieve the goals they put. Then the government will act up on their demand. In so doing, the government has to be more efficien in a less bureaucratic red tape to successfully serve the diaspora or investors. What is stipulated on the paper regarding investors should be translated into practice as much as possible.

HERALD: What type of challenges have you encountered in due course of running activities so far, and opportunities you have had, if any?

Solomon The biggest challenge at this moment is the COVID-19. Though there are ups and downs in doing business, the government has played its role in properly supporting the investors and the business community to encourage work more on the area as we are currently undertaking. Taking the problems into account, the government is devising possible solutions to the problems witnessed so far. Such

a promising move help investors and concerned bodies discharge their respective responsibilities accordingly.

HERALD: Have you contributed your share in tax paying, if so, how fair is it?

Solomon As we work, we have contributed our share to the development of nation. However, not only are we paying taxes but we are also creating a number of job opportunities for many fellow citizens. This would help us generate foreign currency for our country. An investor has to look into any activity from different directions, in terms of paying tax, creating job opportunities, improving products, and timely supplying them to the market. The higher the tax we pay, the greater the number of citizens to be engaged in various job opportunities. These are the things we have focus on.

HERALD: Would you explain what type of government support have you got right now and in future?

Solomon The very support we need is wider area to run great deal of business from the government or from the Ethiopian investment commission. The other support is the requirement of working capital as it is dwindled due to COVID-19. Facilities are also well needed as they are instrumental in coming up with improvement because we are doing our best to introduce Ethiopian roasted value added coffee for export market. We are really doing all our best and we have found the market we really need. We have to thank the government facilitating conditions along that line.

HERALD: Can you cite the processed and readied coffee a day?

Solomon We might not roast coffee day by

day. However, we can put it in a monthly approach. We have roasted five tonesfor local market and four tones for export market a month.

HERALD: Any message you would like to convey?

Solomon The message I would like to pass to, as an Ethiopian, all concerned is we have to move in unison in all aspects to make a difference. We have also to create a peaceful country. As peace is very essential for the country's overall progress, we have to value it and capitalize on it. Using the opportunity following the prevalence of peace, we can change everything into production with a fertile idea of business. We are expected to work in collaboration with the government.

Regarding the Diaspora community, I would like to advise them to be reasonable in anything whatever they come across. Yes, the Diasporas have known the inside out of the world. Recognizing this, we can contribute a lot to our country. Surprisingly when we live abroad, we may experience and develop both the positive, and the negative spectrums.

However, we have to sow and nurture the former as the latter does have a devastating repercussion on the society.

Let me exhort may case urging the diaspora to come home and invest here as no one can come and act accordingly for the prosperity and development of the nation. For sure, the combined effort of all of us from abroad and home helps the country seize the ladder of success in every aspect.

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