Landscape gardening is a thriving industry worldwide, used to beautify and maximise the potential of outdoor space. In Ethiopia, however, the sector is still very much in its infancy, with no official standards and no direct qualifications. As the economy in Addis Abeba continues to grow, however, so too does the demand for quality landscaping services, reports Samson Berhane, Fortune Staff Writer.
Many business entities, especially those in the hotel industry, besides the ads and coupons, try to draw customers in through well maintained, beautiful landscaping and trees.
Addis Abeba is currently growing both in population and economy, however, the competition among various retailers and wholesalers is fierce. All are trying to bring more foot traffic and customers, and boost their revenue as much as possible. One way of luring customers in is through the effective use of landscaping.
Landscape can be simply understood as the art of depicting natural scenery. According to a definition of the US Labour Department, landscape designers are those who design parks, and the outdoor and indoor space of campuses, recreational facilities, private homes and other open areas. The difference between gardening and landscaping is that the latter is more professional than the former.
A gardener in his 70’s, Shimelis Teklemariam, makes money by selling seedlings. He is an old members of a Medium and Small Enterprises (MSEs) located around Cherkos, in Kirkos District. He was selling 100 seedlings at a cost of 1,000 Br, during Fortune’s visit to his shop last week.
He founded the MSE association along with 14 other people, who are engaged in the same business as him, just over a decade ago.
”The demand of the people for seedlings is growing at an astonishing rate,” said Shimelis. ”Ten years ago, our daily sales didn’t exceed 50Br. Nowadays, on average, we sell seedlings worth 3,000Br a day.”
The price of seedlings around his shop ranges from between 10 and 10,000Br. The latter is usually preferred by hotels and embassies, while the former is usually bought by the government to beautify roads and squares.
‘’Despite some visible garbage problems in the city, the rise in demand of planting trees is changing Addis Abeba’s landscape,’’ said Shimelis.
Most of the seed supplied to the city comes from Bishoftu, located in Oromia’s East Shewa Zone – 47 km from Addis Abeba.
Bishoftu is known for its lakes and seedling production. The city has five crater lakes and the majority of the land is covered in green vegetation. Besides his regular job, selling seeds, Shiemelis has been working as a garden designer. He recently did a landscape for a roundabout, located in the Abuare area, Ethiopian Women’s Square, at a cost of 30,000Br, after being contracted by the city government.
Even though the designing of such gardens is no longer an exclusive domain of people like him, he thinks some still prefer lone operators over these organised companies.
Shimelis, and most of his co-workers under their MSE, do not have formal professional backgrounds and prefer the traditional ways of servicing the clients.
‘’Experience is more important than schooling, even if the latter is necessary to expand the business,’’ Shimelis argued.
Located on the road that runs from Chad street, from the Lideta High Court to the Torhailoch Hospital, Yemekonenoch Park is one of the attractions that grabs the attention of drivers and commuters who pass by.
The park covers more than 100 thousand hectares of land, with nearly 70pc of this covered by grasses and different plants.
The company behind the landscaping of the park, Miki Garden and Landscape Service, has been in the business for over six years. The company did the landscaping of Mekoninoch at a cost of one million Br for 30,000sqm.
“The green vegetation and the cooling breeze everywhere makes Yemekonenoch an ideal park for people who want to enjoy themselves,” said Tesfamichael Bayleyegn, owner and manager of Miki Garden.
“Currently, the park has an average of 100 visitors a day,” a staff at the park told Fortune, indicating a rise in foot traffic following the landscaping.
The new landscape has also improved the capacity of the park to hold more visitors and catalysed the interest of many companies to organise events there.
Tesfamichael Bayleyegn owns and runs Miki Garden. The 35-year-old has been working as a landscaper for the past seven years, after earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture in 2006. He developed his experience through working at the Ethiopian Airport Enterprise for two years and then established the company with a paid up capital of 80,000Br. His earning leapt up from no less than 10,000Br for a single project to close to a million birr for a single project.
Miki Garden has also designed the landscape for the Intercontinental Hotel, Capital Hotel & Spa, Ambassador Hotel, Ministry of Justice, Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan and other government institutions. The company has five permanent and 20 temporary employees.
Entities designed by professional designers, such as Tesfamichael, share the same feature. They usually prefer to use a small number of flowers and don’t use wood or bricks as many traditional yards around the country do.
”Traditional landscape design isn’t exactly the same thing as modern landscaping,” said Tesfaye Sibihatu, a 57-year-old landscaper with over four decades of experience. “While modern landscapes are defined by their clean, hard-edged minimalism and use of materials, such as concrete and metals, contemporary landscape design goes for a natural look with wood accents and sometimes brick.”
Tesfamichael discusses the complexities and expense of joining the now thriving sector.
“Today, a person who wants to engage in such kind of business should have at least 500,000Br of initial capital,” Tesfamichael argues. ”A dumper, a pick-up truck, a space nearby a sufficient water supply which can be used to grow seedlings and other variable costs, like labour, are major assets to have to start the business.”
Hotels and government organisations are not the only ones whose fingers go through the phone book to find a reputable lawn or landscape professional. Other potential customers include – embassies, which do not have the skill or tools to design their own landscaping, and builders of both residential and commercial properties who do not already have their own landscaper on staff.
The 114-room five-star Capital Hotel and Spa, located on Haile G/Slassie Avenue, has two pots of plants in each room, designed to remove toxic substance inside the room and catch the eyes of the guests.
”A good landscape design is one of our marketing strategies to attract more customers,” said Wegene Tadesse, marketing manager of the hotel. ”The hotel spent around 750 thousand Br on its landscape design.”
Outside the hotel, there are some garden features intended to create storage and aimed to relax the mood of clients and even employees.
Research indicates that viewing scenes of nature reduces anger, fear and stress, and increases pleasant feelings.
Despite the growth in demand of landscapers, there is no available training which has a direct connection to the profession. Most landscapers are graduates of horticulture and floriculture, which are indirectly related to the field.
‘’The unavailability of formal training or education specific to the sector is one of the major hurdles for growth of industry,” Tesfamichael said.
Tesfamichael grows the seedlings in his premises located in Bishoftu; though he claims that there is still a shortage of supply to do his work. At the time of shortage, he usually prefers to buy from MSEs like Shemelis’.
The Addis Abeba City Beautification & Parks Development Administration Agency, in its latest report, indicated that it has created 113 permanent and 32 temporary job opportunities for those engaged in such businesses during 2014/15.
‘’The government doesn’t give proper attention to the sector,’’ said TesfaMichael. “My effort to get land for the past seven years hasn’t bore any fruit.’’
Tesfaye shares the argument made by Tesfamichael. He has been in this job for more than three-quarters of his life. He started gardening without formal training, learning from his father, Sibihatu Gebreyesus, the founder of Bihere Tsige Park, established half a century ago and then nationalised by the military government. It is currently under the auspices of the government.
Following the advent of the mixed economy in the country in the early 1990s, Tesfaye opened his own company, known as S&S Plc, two decades ago, with a paid up capital of no less than half a million birr.
”There is no standard for landscape design in the country,” Tesfaye said. “All the job is done based on the willingness of the owner of the project”.
The unavailability of standards is another obstacle that deters the business from growing.
Landscape designers, including Tesfaye and Tesfamichael, ask their clients for between 30 and 50Br a square metre to design a landscape for a single project, based on the type of flower and plants, soil and fertiliser used.
Both describes the business as a full service from the initial stages of landscape design to irrigation implementation, garden creation and colourscape innovation. The work is not just a mow and blow; not only installing, but it also includes maintaining what they put in.
”The government should incentivise such kind of emerging industries,” Tesfaye underscored.
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