Aman Adinew: Helping change the narrative of Ethiopian coffee
Muluemebet Emiru, who was the first African woman pilot almost a century ago, in her golden years became a coffee farmer in Harar, courtesy of a land donated to her by Emperor Haile-Selassie. Her grandson, Aman Adinew, is determined to continue that family legacy that was paused during the Derg when the land was nationalized by the regime as it was the norm of the time.
For Aman, it is not the quantity of Ethiopian coffee that has consumed his time and resources, but the quality of Ethiopian coffee that are rarely available in the world market. It is surprising that Vietnam – a country that produced minimal coffee and exported almost none just three decades ago – is now one of the most successful exporters of coffee in the world.
Like a newly-minted Rhodes Scholar who is idealist enough to think he would change the world in his lifetime, Aman is certain he will change the narrative of Ethiopian coffee, increase its exportation, reputation and make it a source for more of the much needed foreign exchange to the nation. And that is what the company he founded, METAD Agricultural Development PLC, has been doing for four years now, he told The Reporter. And to reflect the family legacy, the name METAD was coined from a combination of the initials of his mother’s and father’s names, Metasebia and Adinew, respectively.
Aman, who had a rewarding stint with DHL before joining the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), where he was its Chief Operations Officer (COO), decided to join an industry that has been on the losing ground in the coffee exportation business.
In Hambella, only 400km away from the Kenyan border and an almost 13-hour ride from the Ethiopian capital, with dotted African mud huts and people that are embracing what the coffee farm has brought to the neighborhood, Aman reflected earlier this month with The Reporter on a slew of issues, including his own journey in Ethiopian music, as an executive of some of the brand name companies of the world, coffee and the role of the diaspora.
At his farm in Hambella the fragrant aroma of Ethiopian coffee was harboring the surrounding. The sweet aroma was complimented with the perfect music of the late blues legend BB King playing no-stop from an imperfect speaker. And it seems that Aman felt right at home as he reflected that his return to Ethiopia was as unplanned as his departure.
He appears to be comfortable when talking to what has brought him to this village from the comfort of his home in San Francisco, California where he met his wife, renowned singer Aster Aweke, or his native land in the capital, which has transitioned him to the helm of a new institution that have almost revolutionized on how the Ethiopian farmer sells his or her product to the market.
When he left Addis Ababa as a young man to escape mandatory military conscription of the Derg regime, inside his pocket was just USD 250. He did not want to leave. He had plenty of ambition to stay in Ethiopia, including being part of a thriving young career as a North Korean competitive taekwondo athlete. But, like most of his generation youth, his choice within Ethiopia became bleaker as he moved forward.
In the United States, after acquiring his MBA from Minnesota, in addition to climbing the corporate ladder, he founded a record company – AIT – that revolutionized the careers of the often neglected careers of Ethiopian artists. He toured with many, including the likes of Tewodros Tadesse, Muluken Melesse and Aster Aweke. He became a mentor, manager and friend to these leading artistes of his time. He also participated in and organized fundraising events to help worthy causes in Ethiopia.
He loved his American life, but Ethiopia became the destination. He was surprised to have received a call from the UNDP office with a job offer that was hard to refuse. At the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, he was in charge of business operations, quality certification and inventory management. It was fulfilling but he also wanted to find his own way in an ever changing Ethiopian economy that was gaining the attention of foreign investors.
His foray to coffee did not come by accident but something he wanted to emulate a family legacy.
“I am determined to be a player in the marketing of Ethiopian coffee,” he told The Reporter. “The world still values Ethiopian coffee and no one values it more than an Ethiopian.”
Three years after starting METAD in 2013, he inaugurated a Quality Control Laboratory as an in-country partner to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). “When you walk into METAD’s lab, you feel you are in the known coffee quality laboratories in the United States or (South) Korea,” an executive of SCAA said during the inauguration of the lab. “I wanted to help improve Ethiopia’s coffee industry,” Aman said. “Not just my own products.”
The highlight for the Ethiopian American entrepreneur has been that METAD has been able to raise the premium price for farmers and raising the profile of the coffee from the areas little known before in the international market as standalone brands. And he is certain of the fact that METAD now has the full control in the quality of coffee it exports owning to its involvement in the entire values chain in line with its motto – “Coffee: Seed to Cup”.
Now involved in the coffee value chain, including the farming, processing and exporting quality Arabica specialty coffee, Aman is said to be considering interests from foreign investors, which till now, only five percent is owned while the balance is owned by himself and his brothers. His brands are being imported to North America by some of the high-end specialty coffee roasters and stores, Europe and Asia, but he told The Reporter, what has fulfilled him is the impact he has had to many people since he returned to the country almost a decade ago.
“From our earnings, we were able to pay the tuition of hundreds of young people, we have constructed their schools and given their parents jobs,” he said. “That was the ultimate goal, a mutual benefit to all the players and that is what has kept the dream alive for me even when the challenge became greater than anticipated.”