Featured Farm: Afriflora - Sher Farms
In 2004, Gerrit and Peter Barnhoorn were asked by the Ethiopian government to set up a farm in Ethiopia similar to their successful socially responsible flower farm in Kenya. Afriflora believed in this philosophy long before social trends such as Fairtrade, sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) gained prominence.
Ziway is located 160 km to the south of the capital Addis Ababa, at the edge of Lake Ziway. Ziway has developed into a hub for the production of flowers, vegetables and wine. The city is growing rapidly thanks to companies like Sher Ethiopia.
Construction on Sher Ethiopia PLC commenced in June 2005. Slightly over a year later, on 1 July 2006, the project was officially opened by the Ethiopian Minister of Trade and Industry Ato Girma Birru. By then, the first greenhouses were already in full operation.
From the very outset, the project contractors were building greenhouses at a rate of 1.5 hectares per week. The greenhouses are built in blocks of 9 hectares, with a width of 100 m and a length of 900 m. In the front of the greenhouse blocks is a processing area that goes across the full width. The area offers all the required facilities for manufacturing, such as cold storage, a packing area, offices and employee facilities, including a canteen. Nowadays, the entire project has a total of about 450 hectares of greenhouses. Approximately 150 ha are rented to other growers and Sher Ethiopia PLC retains the use of approximately 300 ha for their flower production.
The existing greenhouses currently employ approximately 10,000 people. Once remaining sites are completed, there will be work for about 15,000 employees.
Afriflora’s commitment to sustainable farming and social responsibility has been a key driver to the success of the Sher farms. Along with investments in flower production, we have also been able to make the investments needed to improve the living standards of the people of the Ziway region through education and healthcare.
One of the first projects was to set up the “Sher Ethiopia School”. The school is open to all people in the area, both employees and non-employees. Along with the school we set up childcare and created the nursery and primary schools. Currently, there are over 4,000 children attending school. We feel our best investments are made in our people and to provide education in reading, writing and calculation skills. We also provide advanced classes teaching computer skills. In the near future, our plans include the establishment of secondary schools, advanced technical education and vocational training.
Our educational efforts are ongoing and aim to stay ahead of the needs of the people in Ziway. To promote reading amongst both the children and the adults, Sher Ethiopia has provided a library and filled it books and other assets. We are extremely proud of our educational facilities and libraries and will continue to invest in and promote all levels of education and training.
In 2004, when Afriflora began their expansion into the Ziway region, there was a clear need for medical facilities. In collaboration with the local authorities, Sher Ethiopia researched the desires of the people in the area. We took the initiative to establish and maintain a full service hospital. The hospital provides all the usual medical facilities including ambulance service, x-ray, laboratory, pharmacy, operating theatres, maternity, a dental clinic, an eye clinic and family planning. The Sher Ethiopia Hospital is the only hospital within a 100 km radius of Ziway. It therefore provides an extremely important function in the Ziway region.
In addition to day-to-day healthcare, the Sher Ethiopia Hospital takes a proactive approach to providing services that focus on counseling and education in the prevention of infections including HIV. The VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) department offers professional help for testing, education and permanent care in the event of an infection.
Sher Ethiopia has taken the initiative to institute a collective labour agreement for its employees. The collective labour agreement offers such benefits as; free medical care, free education, employee disability insurance, a pension, travel cost reimbursement, a bicycle plan, bonus opportunities, overtime arrangements, annual salary indication, vacation days, sickness arrangements, and pregnancy, parental and compassionate leave, etc. The collective labour agreement was created through an amicable and close collaboration between employee representatives and the local management of Sher Ethiopia.
In 2008, Sher Ethiopia constructed a sports complex for the people of Ziway, the Stadium. The Stadium is used for football matches and other field sports. The complex is also used for other regional events. In order to make the complex readily accessible, improvements were made to the infrastructures in the vicinity of the complex. Sher Ethiopia also established a highly popular football competition in Ziway called the "Sher Champion Football League Ethiopia." Sher Ethiopia also donates financially to support the teams as well as materials for many other sports, such as judo, taekwondo and netball (a very popular local ball sport). Sher Ethiopia also supports singing and dance groups in the area. Once a year, Sher Ethiopia and Afrilfora organizes the Sher-day, a day full of sports and games for the staff.
Sher Ethiopia is very conscious about the use of water. During the cultivation of our flowers, we employ a water-saving spray and irrigation system. We also gather and store rainwater in collection systems for use during cultivation. Through these techniques, we are able to keep the impact on our environment to a minimum and to handle the consumption of water in a sustainable way. In addition, waste and rinsing water from our machines is collected in special tanks and treated in order to reduce the impact on the environment. We are continually working to optimize our water management processes by involving both internal and external experts.
Organic waste is collected, gathered and then processed into compost by a third-party company before being reused in our processes so that it can becomes beneficial again to both humans and animals. Our old paper is collected and processed separately.
Sher Ethiopia cultivates, produces and sells sustainably grown roses according to Fairtrade principles. This allows Afriflora to contribute actively to a better quality of life. Afriflora roses meet the criteria of Fair Flowers Fair Plant (FFP) and internationally recognised standards such as MPS-A, MPS-SQ, ETI and GAP. They are a guarantee of environmentally-friendly cultivation and good working conditions. And Afriflora goes further than simply obtaining certifications. The long-term improvement of living conditions and offering good working conditions are clear core values at Afriflora.
There is a great deal to be done over the next few years to further expand the Sher Ethiopia project and to ensure that everything runs the way it was envisioned a number of years ago. We believe our companies run smoothly and are able to make a profit when they are connected to social developments such as increased employment, education, medical care and income for the local population.
Thanks to Peter Barnhoorn, Director of Afriflora, for sharing the story of the Sher project. Check out more information about Afriflora at www.afriflora.nl. Or even better, come visit the farm for yourself. It is truly a unique and wonderful place to see.