Meron Dagnew with cocoa farmers in Ghana
Meron Dagnew with cocoa farmers in Ghana

Your Ghana, My Ghana: A Ghanaian coffee dream with an Ethiopian cocoa twist

Coffee and cocoa are two of the most traded and consumed commodities in the world. Ethiopia alone produces 13 per cent of world coffee output while Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana together produce 60 per cent of world cocoa output. 


When other African cocoa producers such as Nigeria and Cameroon are factored in, this reaches close to 75 per cent of world cocoa output, yet these African countries account for barely 2 per cent of world profit from the cocoa industry.

This disparity has caught the attention of African entrepreneurs eager to take advantage of opportunities under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to shift the value chain and change the current skewed development paradigm.

One such person is Ethiopian-Ghanaian coffee and cocoa producer, Meron Dagnew. She moved to Ghana in 2018, set up her company, BE Kollective, a year later and began developing a niche importing Ethiopian Arabica coffee to Ghana and exporting Ghanaian cocoa to Ethiopia.

But that was not the end of Dagnew’s dream. She began working with Robusta coffee producers in Ghana to improve the quality of their coffee and with new cocoa growers in Ethiopia interested in learning from Ghana’s experience as a leader in the global cocoa industry. 

How it started

Born in Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital and seat of the African Union (AU), Meron Dagnew moved to the USA to finish her schooling but ran out of college funds in New York and joined the US Air Force.

After serving four years, she felt the urge to return home to Africa, arriving in Addis Abeba in 2011, armed with a communications degree and a can-do spirit.

That was the year that the first AfCFTA negotiations began between African heads of state and Dagnew started working as a conference interpreter and communication expert.

“I believe this development was not driven by policymakers sitting at their desks but by the private sector,” says Dagnew, an outspoken advocate for private sector development in Africa.

Dagnew began dabbling in coffee production in 2016. Her family had long been engaged as coffee producers in Ethiopia but only in raw production and never in the value-adding portions of the production chain.

Addicted to coffee

Dagnew describes herself as “an Ethiopian addicted to coffee.” While working as a UN and AU interpreter travelling to conferences across the continent, Dagnew became frustrated that she often couldn’t find coffee to drink.

She could buy expensive Made in Africa products in New York, where she had lived for several years, yet could not find them in Africa. Frustrated, she started carrying Ethiopian coffee and Ghanaian chocolate on her week-long trips.  

“It started to bug me that the messages I was interpreting at meetings about African goals and objectives were so different from the reality on the ground”, Dagnew told Your Ghana, My Ghana. So she decided to find her own market. 

While working as a senior liaison officer for UN Mine Action Services in Abyei, Sudan, Dagnew met her partner, a Ghanaian, and moved to Accra to set up her business.

Why Ghana?

“Deciding where to invest your money needs foresight,” says Dagnew. West Africa offered a very developed marketing structure. As she saw it, the east-west connection was a “saving grace for sub-Saharan Africa, following ancient trade routes and history.”

Though Nigeria had the advantage of industriousness and the only population in Africa larger than Ethiopia’s after New York, Dagnew wanted a break from large cities. “Ghana was the next location. I was with a Ghanaian and, as a pan-Africanist inspired by Nkrumah, I decided to come here and establish my business,” Dagnew explains.

She started bringing Ethiopian coffee to Ghana, where she found a niche market of mainly diasporans, returnees and expatriates.

She subsequently developed an interest in cocoa, which she recognised as facing the same value chain limitations as raw coffee in Ethiopia. “Why not go into chocolate and create a value chain?”, Dagnew reasoned.

It was during her visits to cocoa farms that Dagnew discovered many of the farmers also grew coffee. But unlike in Ethiopia, where people regularly consume three or four cups of coffee a day, in Ghana she found that many cocoa growers had never tasted or even seen chocolate.

This low consumer demand meant that few local investors would be interested in developing the industry, Dagnew felt. 


Products fly

After moving to Ghana in 2018 and establishing her company in 2019, Dagnew made her first shipment from Ethiopia to Ghana at the end of the year. She brought in 200 kg of coffee, which met favour with individuals and clients at festivals, the Green Butterfly Market and other markets at Aburi, GIZ and the Goethe Institute.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down borders in 2020. At this time Dagnew’s company, BE Kollective, was one of very few doing work on trade. The UN Chronicle contacted the company, by now present in Ghana, Ethiopia and the USA, to participate in a project to track their progress over five years.

Ghanaian borders reopened in September 2020 and in January 2021, the AfCFTA was launched. The same month, Dagnew visited the new AfCFTA building in Addis Ababa and was shocked to discover that alongside all the African flags and blurb about African products, Italian coffee was being served.  

 “I created havoc,” says Dagnew. “I’m entering as an African entrepreneur with African products and there’s Italy sponsoring the entire production. I took pictures of everything and threatened to put it out. Only then did they agree to buy my coffee.”


In 2022, Dagnew started a pop-up tour of several African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, alongside other female African brands such as Afropian, a Cameroonian-Ethiopian fashion and jewellery line, and other women entrepreneurs. The same year, she also introduced her products to Nigeria.

Boosting demand

Ghana imports Ethiopian coffee to complement its own Robusta coffee. High altitudes in Ethiopia, universally recognised as the home of coffee, favour Arabica production. Whereas Ethiopian Arabica in many ways defines the international standard, there is less demand for Robusta coffee, which is grown in Ghana. 

On the other hand, Ghana has more than a century of experience in cocoa, which Ethiopia is interested in developing. Dagnew believes that supporting the two countries to develop these new interests would create new demand in both countries, boosting trade and development through intra-African investment.

One outcome of this new demand is the development of Arabusta, a new grade coffee resulting from the crossing of arabica and robusta. Dagnew was involved in developing the first coffee cooperatives in Ghana and supporting their access to fertiliser and other technical support from the state.


“Ghana coffee is at an artisanal level right now. And we can do the same for cocoa in Ethiopia,” Dagnew impresses. Dagnew works with three medium-sized private landowners in Gambella, an Ethiopia region with a climate similar to Ghana’s. Cocoa seedlings from Ghana were planted there in 2023.

At the same time, the growing presence of new coffee growers in Africa such as Rwanda, can be matched by development of other crops such as soya, while stimulating the African development of value chain inputs such as milk for chocolate manufacturing, Dagnew points out.

Dagnew’s activist entrepreneurship is driven by a clear philosophy. “Africa’s resources made the empires of the past and this will continue to be the case until Africans say we can be the grass on which the elephants are fighting or we can become the elephant!”

Ultimately though, as Meron Dagnew is quick to point out, this can only happen when Africans learn that Africa’s resources are the only collateral it has. “We must begin to use those resources wisely as a continent rather than to give them all away, only to go begging for aid and loans,” the activist entrepreneur urges. 

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