German tech giant Siemens invests in Ethiopia

Who would have thought that Fruitbox Africa, which was founded by a German business lawyer in 2014 in Ethiopia, would once attract the attention of twelve African heads of state and government plus Chancellor Angela Merkel? At the “Compact with Africa” ​​conference, Lutz Hartmann was able to present his farm project in Berlin this month as an example of investments in Ethiopia – together with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser. With the support of the technology group, the 48-year-old Frankfurter wants to ensure a further development boost in the southern Ethiopian region of Wolayita.

Five years ago, Hartmann bought 300 hectares not far from the city of Sodo, including water rights for use for 45 years. Fruitbox Africa, the company Hartmann founded with three German partners, has since invested around 1.8 million euros in building up the farm that grows tomatoes, broccoli, aubergines, cucumbers, okra, peppers, zucchini, onions and papaya for the regional market. He delivers around 20 tons of fruit and vegetables weekly 300 miles away in Addis Ababa.

Hartmann wanted to prove that you can successfully invest in Africa “with social responsibility.” Fruitbox now employs 150 men and women — 70 of them permanently, about 80 as seasonal workers. He pays the employees better than other employers in the region, pays his people into a pension fund and offers them free meals, says Hartmann. All the executives are Ethiopians.

Creating jobs, training young people, giving them prospects, and opening up regional markets — Hartmann believes that this is the only sustainable development model for a country like Ethiopia whose agriculture needs to become more productive to feed its growing population. “You have to build a network of economic activities to move things forward.”

In cooperation with Siemens, Hartmann plans to take his project to the next level as part of the “Compact with Africa” ​​project: the farm and the neighboring community are to be electrified. Siemens, which is already operating in the region to set up a high-voltage electricity transmission facility between Ethiopia and Kenya, is planning a 500-kilowatt-hour solar power plant near Hartmann’s Farm. One half is to be given to Fruitbox Africa, the other half to the neighboring village, explains Sabine Dall’Omo, Siemens head for southern Africa.

Solar power plant also has direct employment effects, explains Dall’Omo. Because the solar system is to pass into the hands of the municipality, which then sells the electricity to Hartmann. In cooperation with Wolayta Sodo University, Siemens intends to train Ethiopians to become specialists who can maintain the power plant.

Siemens will invest 500,000 euros, says Dall’Omo. The amount of funds from the investment fund under the “Compact with Africa” ​​initiative is still open. The project in Sodo could become the blueprint for supplying rural regions of Ethiopia with clean energy. Fifty-six percent of the people in Ethiopia have no access to electricity.

Written by Tobias Schwab