Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I met Mitslal Kifleyesus-Matschie for the first time last year in the café at the Hilton. At the time, she was moving back permanently to Ethiopia after many years living in Germany. At that meeting, she very openly talked to me about her personal life, her separation from her husband, a prominent German politician and father of her two children. She also told me about ECOPIA, the company she had set up five years before to make organic preserved food and cosmetics, and which she was planning to develop. Now, a year and a half later, I see her products on sale in all the supermarkets in Addis, and ECOPIA has become a name in the local market.
Mitslal belongs to the same generation as Hiruth Gougsa and the Alene sisters, and like them she was educated in Ethiopia, however, her initial job in the defense sector took her abroad. After a number of years, she decided it was time to come back to Ethiopia and work differently for her country and her people. She initially set up ECOPIA in Germany with a view of working more with Ethiopia, but now the company is fully based in Addis. Her business’s core principle is to work with communities of farmers in rural Ethiopia. Among its most popular products, ECOPIA sells organic fruit jam, soap bars and cosmetics using natural ingredients available locally thanks to Ethiopia’s amazingly rich biodiversity.
Her company provides extensive training to the farming communities they work with, emphasizing a lot on the quality of the products. She helps farmers with everything, such as when is the best time of the day to pick fruit to get the maximum amount of sugar in the fruit, how to best preserve and package them. “The farmers understand very fast, because for them having sweeter fruit means buying less sugar to add and hence saving money. By the end of the process they are happy and the customers are happy too with a better tasting jam free of chemicals,” Mistlal said. In her view, the time invested in training is paying off with the quality of the products and the improved livelihoods. Up to now, ECOPIA has trained about 3000 farmers and extension workers all over the country. According to a government’s assessment, it is the company who gives the most knowledge to farmers outside Addis, bringing knowledge and techniques into the villages. All their products can be traced back to their origin. Mitslal also feels it is time to take the company to the next stage and diversify into other areas such as ecotourism. Her plan is to develop good-quality accommodation in rural areas to make sure local communities can also benefit from the on-going development in tourism. “There’s a need for more accommodation in Ethiopia, so we would like to see rural communities truly benefit from it too,” she said.