There are those who dread the idea of going into farming. For some, it will never be part of their career options in life. For others, they fear they can never make enough money from it to take care of their needs and their families’. But one lady has gone beyond that boundary. She quit a lucrative job with a multinational company and started Farminista Africa – a social enterprise aimed at helping women in agriculture. Today, she shares her story with the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups about how it all began and the impact she made with her enterprise. Read on…
Debbie Ajei-Godson is the founder and CEO of Farminista Africa. She is a product of St. Mary Senior High School in Accra and a graduate from Ashesi University with a degree in Computer Science. From there, she went to the African Leadership University in Rwanda for her MBA.
After her education, she got employment with an IT consulting firm. Later, she worked with Barclays Bank. Then she took a little break from work to nurse her first-born. Following that, she moved into the corporate world again – but this time with Vodafone, where she worked for more than five years in several departments. Even though her position was an enviable one, Debbie, surprisingly, didn’t have satisfaction with her work. So, she eventually resigned.
Her entrepreneurial journey
Debbie picked her entrepreneurial interest from her grandmothers. She grew up with both two grandmothers, who were traders in agriculture products. When she was in Ashesi University, she sold clothes to her colleagues in school. During summer vacations when her colleagues were travelling abroad with the intention of going for a holiday, she would buy African fabrics and clothes and sell them when she went on vacation. Before returning, she would again buy clothes from there and sell them to her colleagues.
Like her grandmothers, she also used to go to Niger to bring onions for sale on the Ghanaian market. She also went into rice farming, and currently owns a rice processing facility in the northern part of Ghana. It is through this that she realised women in agriculture face challenges that their male counterparts don’t. That was when she formed a social enterprise called Farminista Africa to address the three key challenges she identified with women in agriculture.
The main one, she says, is access to and control of arable land. She realised that most women didn’t own their personal farmlands, and that posed severe challenges to them. So, Debbie and her team went to the chiefs at a town in the Oti Region, talked to them and informed them about their business idea, and then educated them on the advantages it will have on their local economy when the women are given arable lands to work on. The chiefs bought into their idea and gave them about 10,000 acres of land. So what Farminista Africa does is either rent or sell land to these female smallholder farmers.
The other challenge she saw was with inputs. Farminista Africa offers farm inputs to these women on credit, so they are able to work with them and pay on flexible payment schedules. They do this by forming partnerships with input dealers who supply them with the inputs.
Then the third problem Debbie sought to address was access to market. Currently, Farminista Africa has initiated processes to sign onto the Commodities Exchange platform so as to provide ready markets for these female smallholder farmers.
At present 95 women are benefitting from the Farminista initiative, and she hopes to impact the lives of 2,000 women. Those women who are currently on the programme are now able to send their children to school and provide for their basic needs; something they couldn’t do initially.
Debbie says, in the near-future, Farminista Africa wants to explore a concept known as micro industrialization, whereby it will have smaller processing units near farm areas which will help add value to farm produce of the women farmers. Her big vision is to raise 250 successful women agribusiness entrepreneurs in the next five years.
One major challenge Debbie has faced is with funding. She has had to rely on her personal savings and monies from other stakeholders to run the business. There is still unwillingness on the part of financial institutions to increase financing for the sector.
Another challenge comes from the fact that she is a woman who has ventured into a male-dominated sector. The agricultural eco-system in the country, she said, is not very favourable for women. In fact, most people initially do not take her seriously when she proposes any idea to them.
“I remember walking into a financial institution and the person I spoke to asked if there was any man in my team, or if I was doing this on behalf of my husband.”
How important is the economic empowerment of women?
For Debbie, if the country is to develop faster, it is important to also look at the women human resource of the country, as that will have more impact to the society. So, she advocates that deliberate policies must be implemented to empower women economically.
How GCIC has helped
The Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC), she says, has been very helpful to her. The GCIC has provided her with the needed technical expertise that has helped her business institute measures which promote sustainable growth. With the support of GCIC, her company has learned to adopt best climate smart practices in growing food.
Also, the GCIC has promised to provide her with some funds to buy farm machinery and equipment that will help eliminate post-harvest losses.
How education has helped her
Debbie says her knowledge in computer science has made her technologically-inclined – and that has helped her to implement technological systems in her business operations. For example, she set up an e-commerce platform to crowdfund and raised money online when the business started.
She has also developed a website for the company where they are able to sell some of their products there. In future, she wants 90 percent of her deals to be done online. So her education, especially in IT, she says, has helped her employ technology in the things she does.
How government can support women entrepreneurs
For Debbie, to support women entrepreneurs there ought to be deliberate efforts tailored to their needs. It shouldn’t be a support that cuts across te board for everyone. There ought to be a deliberate policy for women in agriculture.
“I would like to encourage our leaders to give entrepreneurship a serious look. Entrepreneurship provides another leadership platform for us to solve the continent’s problems. And I also encourage the youth to look at entrepreneurship – but before you go into it, ask yourself whether you are a problem-solver, a risk-taker, assertive, and business-savvy.”
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