Students Hope to Boost Ethiopian Economy with Wine

January 28th, 2011 | by addis portal |

Last summer, six MBA students from Emory’s Goizueta Business School concluded that Ethiopians could potentially stimulate their economy through the production of high-quality grapes and wines if given proper funding and manpower.

Interested in non-profit work, the team spent six months working to determine the feasibility of this project.

Their work was commissioned by the International Society of Africans in Wine Foundation (ISAW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building sustainable communities through viticulture,” according to its web site.

The project is headed by Professor of Organization and Management at Goizueta Peter Roberts, who is also head of the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative, which aims to utilize business skills to solve global issues.

“We didn’t go into this as idealists from another country who don’t understand the dynamics of a developing country. We thought ahead and prepared for it,” said MBA student Abdul Shaikh, one of the members of the team.

The group, tasked with designing an industry that would provide rural Ethiopians with economic opportunities, took notes on the climate, culture, history and economics of Ethiopia while meeting with government and industry leaders.

Making wine is not a new concept for Ethiopia, since the country has been doing so since the 17th century. According to the study, the country’s hillsides and optimal temperate climate show that a wine industry could flourish.

Shaikh said that at first the research project received mixed reviews.
Some, he said, such as the president of Ethiopia, remembered the country’s history of growing grapes and expressed excitement at the prospect of creating a wine industry.

But others, such as the largest distributor for The Castel Group, a French wine producer, urged the group to look at other possibilities of crop production, such as wheat.

“This will bring big changes to certain communities within the country. There’s a lot of advantages to folks that are living in rural Ethiopia to be both economically and culturally connected to the rest of the world,” Roberts said.

The plan calls for a co-operative system modeled after the Ethiopian coffee industry.

It states that after approximately six years, an Ethiopian farmer could earn roughly 12,000 Ethiopian birr — about $706 — per quarter-hectare plot, compared to 2,500 birr for other crops.

The initial investment will provide insight into the viability of different sites and match specific grapes to these areas.

The team members said they hope to gain support from foundations, investors and universities. Individuals at the University of California-Davis and Cornell University have been in contact for possible contributions to the project.

The Goizueta students all plan on remaining actively involved in the project by serving as advisors. MBA students Natalie Reese and Sandhya Deshetty, members of the research team, are now working on the next steps of the development.

Deshetty created SPARC Development, a non-profit organization committed to alleviating poverty through market-based solutions. SPARC Development is taking the lead on the next phase of the project and is hosting an event at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., later this month.

“A number of interested folks around the world have stood up and said this is a cool project and want to be a part of it. The idea for Sandhya and Natalie is to grab that interest and turn it into something tangible,” Roberts said.

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