This week marks the launch of the new, World-Bank supported Ethiopia Climate Innovation Center (CIC). The center joins a global network of CICs and is designed to support local Ethiopian businesses that are responding to the challenges of climate change by providing mentorship, financing, access to markets, and policy support.
“Climate tech in Ethiopia?” A puzzled look with raised eyebrows is what I often receive from friends and colleagues who think more of Silicon Valley than the Great Rift Valley when they hear the terms ‘climate tech’ and ‘clean tech.’ I get a bit more understanding when I mention Ethiopia’s 90 million plus consumers and tick off some of the country’s abundant natural resources, such as fertile land, rivers that supply the Nile delta, and abundant sunshine. Double digit growth rates and an active diaspora community returning to Ethiopia to invest complete the picture. Usually, this is enough to elicit some interested head nods.
Finally, I get to talk about the emerging Ethiopian climate tech firms, such as African Bamboo that is planning to export sustainable wood flooring to the EU and elsewhere. Or dVentus Technologies that has developed smart meters and wind turbines across Ethiopia and is currently working on locally appropriate (i.e. inexpensive and dirt road friendly) electric vehicles. Or the holy grail of the fuel-efficient cookstoves - seemingly in development by every other entrepreneur in Ethiopia - that can make the perfect ‘Injera’ (a local sourdough-risen flatbread) without using wood or coal.
I also mention the 190 entrepreneurs that applied to the Ethiopia CIC’s “proof of concept” competition. Twenty of these entrepreneurs have been accepted as clients of the Ethiopia CIC and will showcase their products and pitch their businesses to investors at the CIC launch on March 27. Then, finally, I get some enthusiasm from my skeptical audience.
The government of Ethiopia has reaffirmed its commitment to green growth through its Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy. The CIC supports the government’s efforts to use green investments to grow the local economy.
In short, there is clearly a market for these businesses. And these businesses are critical as climate change forecasts call for major impacts on Ethiopia’s agriculture production and overall economy. Solar-powered drip irrigation can go a long way towards helping farmers adapt when rainfall slows or temperature patterns change. Small hydro and water filtration technologies can help alleviate the vast energy access and clean water needs of the country.
Don’t get me wrong. Ethiopia is still a very nascent ecosystem for entrepreneurs. The legacy of central planning is evident in the mindset of many business people. Investment laws are still being modernized; in fact, the Ethiopian Commercial Code is being revised as we speak. Financing for risky technology ventures is nearly non-existent.
These are some of the challenges that the Ethiopia CIC, a USD 15.9 Million project under infoDev’s Climate Technology Program, will face as it gets established and undertakes its work with local entrepreneurs. Its business plan provides a more in-depth look at the market and highlights the services that the center will provide to the growing network of sustainable climate tech ventures. The business plan projects that the CIC will generate 12,000 jobs, mitigate almost 1 million tons of CO2, increase agricultural efficiency for 120,000 farmers, and provide access to energy to 265,000 people.
It is early days for the climate technology market in Ethiopia and for these innovative entrepreneurs. But supporting local climate technology solutions offers Ethiopia the opportunity to increase its climate resilience and boost its sustainable economy – the true aim of green growth. So don’t overlook Ethiopian climate technology businesses. And give me a knowing head nod instead of a raised eyebrow if you ever hear me talking up Ethiopia climate tech in the hallways.