Discussion on farming systems and cold chain solutions in Ethiopia with Aster Berhane of Astunet

Interview with Aster Tesfamichael Berhane, Managing Director at Astunet Business Enterprises PLC

Could you give us an overview of your sector? What are the latest developments and investment opportunities?

Our sector is untapped. There are plenty of opportunities for new investors as our regulations are open to FDI. The agricultural sector is varied and ranges from horticulture, to floriculture, animal husbandry, poultry, slaughterhouses, etc. It is truly an untapped business, which will be more attractive if investors join Ethiopian investment opportunities. Banks and financial institutions are ready to work with the government. The environment and the market are very favorable to our industry. Thus, whoever enters will benefit.

There are also other opportunities related to new developments from our government as state-owned enterprises are open to markets such as telecommunications and our national airline (Ethiopian Airlines). In addition, the new banking system will also be open. It is therefore a very great opportunity for newcomers.

Could you give us an overview of Astunet Business Enterprises PLC and its competitive advantages?

Astunet started over 20 years ago trying to implement modern agricultural technologies like triple irrigation, sprinklers, etc. Then we expanded to provide crop management solutions, working with leading companies around the world to offer cutting-edge agricultural equipment, such as drip irrigation systems. For example, we worked with Netafim, the main Israeli company. For cultural management, we went with Geerlofs Refrigeration BV, a company from the Netherlands. As far as transport management solutions are concerned, we work with Carrier Transicold, which is one of the world leaders in cold chain transport. We learn a lot from these companies, from technology to the meaning of quality, sustainability, the training and knowledge of our staff, etc.

We started from scratch until we are now, and we are trying to excel for better opportunities, better benefits, for our country and beyond. People choose us because our business is locally oriented, internationally oriented, our partners have the knowledge, technology, better quality and quantity. All this makes us very competitive in our market.

Could you give us examples of successes that illustrate this?

Our success story begins with Monagasha Flowers in floriculture. They had lots of farms with modern irrigation technology and cold stores. We have also built airport warehouses, in the northern part of Ethiopia, in Amhara Tigray. We also built a facility for the airport industry, provided cold chain transport solutions to Nyala Motors Share Company, we built for the United Nations with the Ethiopian Federal Police, Ethio Agri-CEFT which is part of MIDROC Ethiopia, and much more. . We also provide services to our customers related to what we have installed or provided for them. We offer 24/7 preventive maintenance services and corrective maintenance services for customers who have problems with refrigerated trucks, cold rooms, refrigerated cabinets, etc. We are also supplying a very successful project at the moment with banana ripening storage for one of MIDROC’s companies. We also supply for the cold storage of eggs. So our successes range from cold chain to irrigation and refrigerated trucks.

Why should investors partner with you?

Partnering with us is creating a network. As our name suggests, we are at the center of the network. It is one of our strengths. The second strength is that we are local, we know the ins and outs. We know the challenges and we also invest in our local team by training and building a code of ethics. We could, however, benefit from know-how, finance and more technology.

What is your international reach?

Our international reach comes from our partners. They own the product and the technology, but they are here locally. Whatever we do, whatever we find, whatever we see, they can see. We have therefore built trust between us and our international partners. We have the Dutch company, we have the Swiss company Aqua 4D, we have Career Transcicold and we do business with Israeli companies. We are now truly cooperating and distributing our agreement with Climalife Galco for refrigerant gases, because we believe that our industries should also focus on the environment. Climalife Galco is a Belgian company, we try to do business with them. We are also discussing with a French company and a Canadian company. We hope to develop their products and services locally.

How do you see yourself in three years? What is your mission for the company and what do you want to accomplish?

We are developing a business plan to organize a workshop. It is in progress and we have already built the warehouse. The other plan is to invest in products and technologies, such as product assembly. Another is to open a one-stop shop. There is a shortage with regard to the accessibility of products in the market. Opening a one-stop shop for irrigation technology or crop management would be beneficial. People could come and find what they want, instead of looking in 20 or 30 stores or all over the world. So we want to focus on the supply chain.

What new technology are you looking for exactly?

There are many software on how to calculate, check what the customer wants and develop a design. This technology is important for our industry, so that we know what we can compete with, what exists around the world and what Ethiopia could also offer. So, instead of searching here and there, everything will be in one place.

The other objective concerns materials for the management of the cold chain. Again, we need to have a one stop shop for our customers so they can easily access spare parts like panels, compressors, evaporators, etc.

Another goal is what we call our expansion program. As of today, we provide services in Addis Ababa, and whenever we get a call or whenever there is a need for a project, we fly or drive. But what we need is to find partners, equip them with the knowledge that we have, and whenever a little service is needed, they can go somewhere else and get the service there, instead of make the customer wait 24 hours or 48 hours until we arrive.

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Lana T. Arthur