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Circular Economy in a Cup: Kib Ethiopian Herbal Tea

Kib, the Amharic word for circle, is a nod to the circular way in which our growing practices benefit the environment and the community.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

The Perennial Foods Group (also known as GreenPath Food)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large company (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Addis Ababa

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?


What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

GreenPath Food was founded by a diverse group of experts with vested interest in Ethiopia and in East Africa. The founding team is comprised of a skilled group with backgrounds in smallholder agriculture, value chain development, East African agribusiness, and consumer branding and certification, with deep expertise in Ethiopian agriculture, in particular. Our accomplished team enables us to take an interdisciplinary approach that we believe to be the key to success.

GreenPath Food’s board and advisor team is based in Ethiopia and overseas, and consists of leading professionals and experts with deep experience in high-yield farming, technology, building and scaling companies in Ethiopia, and working with the Ethiopian government. We are committed to leveraging and enhancing the potential of smallholder farmers, who are the backbone of Ethiopia’s economy.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Butajira is situated in southern Ethiopia, in the Gurage Zone. The Gurage Zone sits within an area called Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). Located three hours south of the capital city of Addis Ababa, Butajira is distinctly a farming community, bordered by mountains.

At 2,131 meters above sea level, Butajira has two distinct climates: rainy season and dry season. Farmers currently rely primarily on rain-fed agriculture, enabling them to harvest only three-to-five times per year, at most. Farmers grow commodity crops, such as maize or potatoes or teff, which they sell at local markets, or feed to their families. Monoculture is common. Floppy-leaved enset, or “false banana” trees, are grown and processed to make a dense fermented bread called kocho. Kocho is served with kitfo, the Ethiopian version of steak tartare. Khat is increasingly being grown across Ethiopia, because of the high price that it commands.

A single main road runs through the center of town. The Amharic language flys around, mixing with Guragigna, a Semitic language spoken by the Gurage people of the region. A steady beep of honking horns lays soundtrack to zipping bajaj cars, local buses, horse- or donkey-drawn gari carts, motorcycles, goats, wild dogs, and pedestrians. Many people walk home for lunch, including brightly-uniformed schoolchildren. On sidewalks, women sun-dry chilli peppers that will later be ground into traditional Ethiopian spice mixes such as berbere and mitmita.

Early-morning calls for prayer from the local mosque mix with those from the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church. Devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast twice per week, eating only cooked vegan dishes that are the staples of traditional Ethiopian food. Raw or fresh food is rarely eaten, outside of fresh fruits. Heavily-spiced vegetable and legume stews are spooned over spongy injera, the delicate flatbread that serves as both plate and utensil. Meals are eaten with the hands, and communally. Meals are typically followed by one-to-three cups of freshly-roasted black coffee. Only women perform this ritual of roasting, grinding, and brewing the coffee in an hourglass-shaped jebena pot, which they pour from a dramatic height into espresso-sized cups. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Global demand for food is growing rapidly, and is also being affected by climate-related concerns. Dietary shifts, population growth, and food losses are all contributing to fast-increasing food demand. Agricultural production needs to increase by 60% to meet demand in 2050, and large-scale, commercial, "industrial" agriculture is striving to meet it. Unfortunately, these methods tax the environment, limit global nutrition, are linked to human health issues, and displace smallholder farmers.

More than 70% of Ethiopia’s population works in the agriculture sector, with about 85% of the country’s inhabitants living in rural areas. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), smallholder farmers are responsible for 90 to 95% of the country’s agricultural output. But, the paradoxical impact of intensive agriculture is this: “Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, with a population growth rate of 2.6 percent annually. This is putting great pressure on land resources, worsening environmental degradation and raising the risk of food shortages.”

Smallholder farms are a high-potential production base that are (relatively) disconnected from the global market. 500 million smallholders depend on agriculture for a living, but the vast majority are under-productive, due to a number of factors. Plots of land are small, tended to by family, and smallholder farmers are not suited for large-scale commercial agriculture, which requires intensive capital and inputs. This translates to massively underutilized land and labor and an untapped production opportunity. An integrated support offering is needed to unlock the potential of small farms, to help them increase production, reduce waste, and ensure sustainable longevity. 

The country sits at the intersection of three advantageous factors: 1) temperate year-round climate with a diverse landscape, 2) central geographical position to serve global markets, and 3) an administration that promotes international trade. But Ethiopia is a net-importer of fresh produce and one of the world’s poorest countries, with many people surviving on less than $2 per day. 

The potential to transition Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers from subsistence to prosperity is huge. The average Ethiopian farmer manages less than one hectare of land, experiences low profitability per hectare paid out seasonally, does not have access to technology or information, and follows practices that degrade soil quality and deplete water resources. They also risk land displacement due to migration and incoming foreign agricultural investment.

A critical approach will integrate regenerative growing practices, and processing that preserves the quality and integrity of the products, honors farmers’ hard work, and nourishes the end consumer.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Preserves and improves the Environment: Promoting a regenerative, biodynamic approach to agriculture, GreenPath is Ethiopia’s first and only EU Organic-certified producer of fresh produce, and today supplies a range of specialty products to customers in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and the UAE. Expanding our vision to include Kib herbal teas will create a zero-waste circular system in which the best of the organic herbs are preserved and promoted at margins that greatly benefit the growers. 

Adds variety to Diets: Alongside avocado fruit trees, which farmers and their families also eat, our crop portfolio is focused on perennial herbs. These will form the heart of production feeding into Kib, our herbal tea infusion line. Perennial cropping does not have to be reseeded or replanted each year, as a result they do not require annual ploughing which brings with it carbon release from the soil. In addition, they are robust; they protect soil from erosion and loss, and improve soil structure. They increase ecosystem nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and water infiltration, and can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Economics that benefit smallholder farmers: GreenPath Food is a specialty food producer, aggregator and exporter, supplying Western European and Middle Eastern markets with high-quality products grown by smallholder farmers. Targeting the fast-growing markets for organic, ethical, specialty and health & wellness, GreenPath supplies retailers and wholesalers with the products that consumer trends are demanding - high quality, certified, fully traceable, organic, natural, clean-ingredient, ethical, sustainably-grown, and with a positive social impact. 

Encourages an inclusive Culture: A portion of the farmers with whom we work are part of women-led households. When working with spouses who run a farm together, we make a concerted effort to ensure that both partners are part of the decision-making process, from financing to planting.

Introduces new Technology to benefit smallholder farmers: We use software and rely heavily on data to predict harvests, track changes in climate, set prices for products, and provide as much information to farmers as possible. The technology behind our solar-powered processing facilities enables us to maintain optimal temperatures for preserving fresh items as well as drying and storing herbal teas.

Works in harmony with existing agricultural Policy and raises the "bar": We also want to be a model for companies in other regions who want to partner with smallholder farmers, develop rural economies, and produce natural and sustainable products. We aim to demonstrate to the world that the global population’s food demands can be met by leveraging sustainable practices and by bringing smallholder farmers into the global food supply chains.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Viability: The cold supply chain is one of the most easily quantified value additions of the GreenPath model because it is estimated that 40-50% of smallholder production is lost during processing and transportation due to the lack of access to professional cold storage facilities. Also, without a professional cold chain, 0% of smallholder products can be sold to premium retailers where organic products receive 45% price premiums on average because the quality of the products when stored and shipped using standard methods will not meet the minimum quality standards of premium retailers due to product degradation during processing and transport. 

Feasib-ility: GreenPath Food has been partnering with a network of smallholder ‘partner farm’ growers since 2015. The majority of the farmers produce the company’s products under a contract-farming system. This network aggregation approach allows the company to rapidly scale supply of products, as it penetrates deeper into existing buyers and adds new buyers, differentiating it from typical commercial farms that develop greenfield land to scale production. Due to typical smallholder farms also maintaining virgin organic land, GreenPath is able to scale supply of organic products rapidly.


Desireability: GreenPath Food Partner Farmers receive inputs, input credit, financing, production and harvest support, technical support, meet GreenPath Food’s production standards, and are certified under GreenPath Food’s umbrella. This enables the company to transition hundreds of hectares of land from extractive agricultural practices to sustainable, regenerative agriculture, while creating a vast network of small farming businesses that supply the company. For farmers, this sits in great contrast to the existing systems, in which farmers rely on expensive inputs, and primarily have the opportunity to sell their products at local open-air markets, with no guaranteed buyers. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2020, GreenPath Food will launch a line of herbal tea infusions to  further leverage the agronomic value and exceptional  production performance of our perennial herbs, while capturing more value for the company and our Partner Farms and reducing waste, where herbs can double as fresh and dried product. 

These infusions will be sold under the brand Kib, the Amharic word for circle, a nod to circular way in which our growing practices benefit the environment and the surrounding community.  

Kib will primarily feature GreenPath’s dried herbs, plus herbs sourced from other smallholder farmer groups, and where necessary, wholesalers.  

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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