Innovation is what’s driving today’s world. That’s why businesses are told to innovate or die. One area where innovation is really needed on our continent is the agriculture sector – and a lot of startups are trying in this regard. This week, the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups caught up with a young man whose passion for innovation made him ignore his father’s will for him to become a medical doctor and move into agriculture – a sector many youths despise. He has moved on to introduce a system of planting without soil. Read on as he shares his story with us.
Cletus Bedi Gadri-Darrah grew up in Teshie-Nungua, a suburb of Accra. He is a product of Achimota School where he studied agriculture science. As a very brilliant student, his father wanted him to become the first medical doctor in the family. However, he could not secure a spot in medical school at the University of Ghana and was offered an opportunity to study agriculture science – an offer he took that made him fall out with his father.
In fact, his father even withdrew from sponsoring his education because Cletus didn’t heed his advice to rewrite the exam and get grades that would qualify him to study medicine the following year. However, a defiant Cletus would not give up. He used the money he had saved from an Internet café business he was running after school to start his university education. Later, his father agreed to support his education – although still being unhappy with him.
After his national service, he got employment with an NGO that was into agriculture. It was through this job that he became interested in farming, so he rented a land at Sogakope and planted pepper on it. However, certain challenges he faced with the land made him start to think outside the box. And that is what brought about the whole idea of ‘soilless’ farming.
The soil-less journey
Cletus said while he was in university, one of his professors was piloting a similar project wherein he started planting with water solution and other materials such as sawdust and manure. So, with that exposure Cletus researched more on how he could improve the system. He got it right and started experimenting with his ideas in a backyard farm. Any plant can grow in the medium; and the technology uses less water than soil needs. Again, this technology cuts down the cropping cycle of plants by about half. The materials used for making the growing-medium are not made of chemicals, hence, making it perfect and healthy for organic farming. All products that come from this soilless technology are 100 percent safe.
Currently, his enterprise offers to set up this system at homes, offices or anywhere convenient for clients. He also sets the system up for any farmer who wants to try this technology either on a small or large scale.
Cletus’ vision is that this will become a widely-accepted concept, so that it will be embraced by all who want to do some kind of farming – be it backyard garden or large-scale farming. In the era of government’s Planting for Food and Jobs, he thinks this is the best system to push that agenda.
As usual, funding is among the challenges he is facing. His innovation requires modern and sophisticated machines to process the soilless material.
Another challenge he is confronted with is getting people to accept the system as reliable and safe for planting. Some even have doubts as to whether the system functions properly.
How GCIC has helped
Cletus says the Ghana Climate and Innovation Centre (GCIC) has been of immense help to him in his entrepreneurial journey. He says it has provided him with the needed business training he needs to help him build his business sustainably. Again, the organisation has also assisted him financially to purchase some machines for processing materials for the soilless system. Had it not been the GCIC, Cletus says, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
How education has helped
For Cletus, his educational background couldn’t have helped him better. For someone who studied agriculture, both in senior high school and university, it has given him the needed knowledge to thrive in this field.
Cletus adds that he never regrets the choice he made, even though his father has never agreed with him on choice of profession for life.
How government can support
Cletus says if government extends more focus on agriculture and invests in it, many youths will be interested in joining the sector to turn around the country’s fortunes. He urges government to come out with policies that help agri-business startups. Again, he says there should be more investment for research in agriculture to help entrepreneurs make the right decision when investing in the sector.
“Business is not cut out for everyone. But if your instincts tell you that is what you are meant for, then you have to go for it. But there are lot of challenges along the line, and you must be very tough to overcome them. Learn to start small and don’t think about flying from the beginning. Start small and grow; show the needed commitment and you will succeed. Furthermore, some youths think agriculture is for the uneducated…which is a wrong perception.”