Agrihouse Foundation, a few weeks ago, brought together about sixty students from sixteen agricultural colleges in the country to participate in a highly anticipated and impactful Agricultural Career Guidance Mentorship Dialogue Boot-camp (AG-STUD-AFRICA).
In its fourth year, the 5-day boot-camp annually brings together agricultural students, beginner agribusinesses and start-ups to help them appreciate the pivotal role they are expected to play in building resilience and preparedness toward sustaining the food security of the nation through creative and innovative agriculture.
This year, the Boot-camp was on theme ‘We have Enabled and Established the Agri-youth! Time to Scale-Up them-Up to Feed Ghana’ – a call on corporate institutions, development partners, government and stakeholders to join hands with Agrihouse Foundation to support in scaling-up Agri-businesses that have been established by young Ghanaians working in the agricultural sector, while supporting other promising youth to identify and build career paths within the value chain.
The boot-camp hosted students from Kwadaso Agric College, Ohawo Agric College, Fair River Farm Institute, Damango Agric College, Ejura Agric College, Methodist University, Northern Hub, KNUST, All Nations University, University of Ghana, Central University, UCC, Gh media, Christian College University and Adidome Farm Institute.
The 5-day boot-camp was supported by organizations including, OCP Africa, Agricultrural Development Bank, Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF-Canada), 4r Solution, Soya Beans Meal, Nanam, B-Diet, ADDFRA, Holland Akokor, New Okaff Industries, Kovi, My Barnes, Africa Business Bureau (abb) and IWAD. Representatives of the organizations showed up in their numbers; with many of them serving as mentors, coaches and trainers. They included:
Hon. Dr. Zanetor Agyeman Rawlings, Patron of AG-STUD and MP of Klottey Korle Constituency; Mr. Samuel Oduro-Asare, Country Manager of OCP Africa in Ghana; Madam Nana Pomaa, an industrious Rabbit & Piggery Farmer based in the Ashanti Region; Madam Regina Richardson, Ag. Country Manager of AGRA; Mr. Danquah-Addo-Yobo, West-Africa Regional Director of Yara International; Madam Shirley Tony Kum, Corporate Communications Manager of Vivo Energy Ghana; Mrs. Tucci Ivowi, CEO of Ghana Commodity Exchange; Mr. James Boateng, National 2018 Best Farmer; Ing. Busia Dawuni, Managing Director of IWAD Ghana; and Mr. Samuel Wangul of Agricultural & Advocacy Lead (4R-NSP, CDF Canada).
The rest were Mr. Theophilus Djorbuah of Yara Ghana; Mr. Nicholas Nikoi of ADB; Mr. Alex Attakora, Chief Operating Officer Technical and Logistics Group, Jospong Group of Companies; Mr. Haidar Malhas, Manager, Irrigation Service – Interplast; Mr. Desmond Bress-Biney, Business Consultant; Madam Carianne De Boer, Chief of Party GPP; Mr. Prosper Ahmed Amuquandoh, Energy Consultant – IWAD; Mr. Kenneth Barnes, CEO – My Barnes; Mr. Mark Segbefia, Supply Chain Manager at OCP Africa; Mr. Kojo Amissah; COO – Sokoni Limited; Mr. Chris Ibyisintabyo, World Food Programme; Mr. Andrews Ahiaku of Food, Agricultural Finance & SME Banking Professional; and Richard Nunekpebu, Founder & Chief Farmer of Anyako Farms Ltd.
Day 1— Opening Ceremony & Agri-Ted Mentorship Talk
At the opening ceremony, Ms. Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosa, Executive Director of Agrihouse Foundation, said, the 5- day boot-camp was a scale-up of the last 3 events – employing more practical, action-oriented, creative and innovative structures that will drive and engineer speed for growth among the campers. She noted that the growing list of schools is a clear indication of the positive socio-economic impacts the programme is having on participants.
Briefly highlighting impacts of the boot-camp over the years, Ms. Akosa said AG-STUD AFRICA has introduced participating students and groups to several opportunities within the agricultural value chain; and the platform continues to educate them with relevant knowledge and skills on how to harness such opportunities.
As a result, over 600 students from 30 different schools who have participated in previous editions of AG-STUD have been taught to be self-reliant, and supported with start-up capital to help them start their own agri-businesses. Indirectly, the boot-camp has benefitted over 1,000 agri-business students and beginner agribusinesses, enabling them to develop strong and bankable business plans. About 43 successful businesses are presently being run by students who have participated in AG-STUD.
“In this 4th year, our objective is to support start-up agribusinesses to survive and be sustainable – to help our young agripreneurs be more resilient to feed their households, community and the nation. We intend to assist our business clubs with opening bank accounts and seed capital to commence the Agribusiness idea/ initiative; a start-up input pack for farming; and a business plan to direct their business ideas. We will keep checking-up on them as a way of monitoring to help them establish themselves,” she added.
Several alumna of the boot-camp were present to share impact stories of AGSTUD. Obed, who participated in 2008, described his experience as life transforming— he left the boot-camp with a fully set-up bank account for his business, seed capital to commence his mushroom-growing Agribusiness, a start-up input pack for farming and a business plan to guide his activities. Four years down the line, Obed and his colleagues are running a thriving mushroom agribusiness in Accra. Mustapha from All Nations (and northern hub) has established over 5 acres of cowpea and watermelon farm. Khadija from Fair River is now into Dawada Processing, while Alex from Kwadaso is doing an amazing job with his Grass-cutter Farm.
Agri-Ted Mentorship Talk
Even as these young agripreneurs strive to achieve the best with their start-ups, there is no doubt they need encouragement to keep them going. The boot-camp therefore provides a motivational platform for the students through the agri-ted talk session. In this session, accomplished agribusiness men and women share their life-stories and journey to success with the students to enable them grasp a clear vision of what they can also become as they continue to work hard.
The agri-ted mentorship session hosted notable personalities like Nana Pomaa, a Rabbit and Piggery Farmer based in the Ashanti Region. She said even as National Ambulance Service Officer some years ago, she was passionate about animal farming. Thus, when she had an opportunity to get into the sector she took the chance. She revealed that in the middle of the pandemic she lost a number of pigs because of poisoning. However, through it all she has been confident and encouraged to work harder. She therefore encouraged the students, especially the young girls, to venture into the agric sector because it is possible to be successful as a womann farmer in Ghana.
For his part, the Country Director of OCP Africa in Ghana, Mr. Samuel Oduro-Asare, told the students the story of how he started farming at a young age. “I was raised in the village. My mother was a chop-bar operator. I started a farm under the Volta River Authority power transmission lines in my community. I used to plant maize, and made a lot of money out of it. I used some of the money to start rearing rabbits and goats, sheep and pigs. I was around 28 by then.
“When I went to the university I did not read agriculture, I read economics. But because of my love and passion for agriculture, I ended up working in the agric sector. I never spend my weekend in Accra. On weekends I am in the village, on my farm. Therefore, I am encouraging you to do same. Agriculture is one of the safest jobs. Don’t spend your money on expensive phones when it can buy you seeds, fertiliser and tools you need for farming,” he narrated.
“No Business is easy to build,” Regional Director of Yara International, Mr. Danquah Addo-Yobo, for his part reiterated to agric students and beginner agripreneurs. He said even as they strive to start their own farms and agribusinesses, they must know that it is not going to be an easy feat to achieve; but with hard work, planning and business strategies in place, they can make it happen. “Adapt and find solutions through the difficulties; your ability to overcome challenges takes you to the next level,” he stressed.
Mr. Addo-Yobo also urged the young agripreneurs to avoid repeating mistakes, but instead learn from others: “There are business principles that work across all industries, so it doesn’t matter which area of agric you are in; understand your market and you can learn from others,” he encouraged.
Highlighting the importance of a business strategy, Mr. Addo-Yobo encouraged the young agripreneurs to work on solid business strategies that will help them navigate the vision and missions they have for their agribusinesses: “Hope is not a strategy. So, you must have a conscious plan to build your business,” he stressed.
On his part, the 2018 Best Farmer, Mr. James Boateng, shared his journey and progress as a farmer with the students. He said his interest in farming developed in 2002. He started with 3 acres, but today he has more than a 1,000 acres for food crops, livestock and fisheries.
Touching on his professional life, he revealed he spent 32 years at British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola, and card berry. His time in the corporate world he described as glory days, “but more significantly, the power of my life comes from agriculture,” he stressed. He therefore urged the students to take agriculture seriously and work on their ideas and business plans.
In a short presentation, Country Manager for Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Madam Regina Richson, also inspired the young students and agripreneurs with her story of how she ventured into the agricultural sector. She said it wasn’t her first choice programme when she applied to go to university, but halfway into the programme she developed love and interest for the course. But unfortunately, throughout her four years of studying agriculture at KNUST, she never had practical lessons like Agrihouse is offering through the AG-STUD boot-camp. She therefore praised Agrihouse for such an innovative initiative, and urged more corporate organisations to lend their technical and financial support.
Touching on challenges in the agriculture sector, she said they abound – but so do opportunities, and therefore encouraged the students not to give up even when it seems tough. She used the opportunity to praise AG-STUD alumna who were at the boot-camp, to share their experiences and agri-initiatives they have been involved in.
She said AGRA is an alliance led by Africans with roots in farming communities across the continent, and which understand that African farmers need uniquely African solutions designed to meet their specific environmental and agricultural needs – so they can sustainably boost production and gain access to rapidly-growing agriculture markets.
She noted that since 2006, AGRA has been working with partners across Africa to deliver a set of proven solutions to smallholder farmers and thousands of indigenous African agriculture enterprises. The alliance has built the systems and tools for Africa’s agriculture; high quality seeds, better soil health, access to markets and credit, and coupled with stronger farmer organisations and agriculture policies.
The Legal and Corporate Affairs Lead of Accra Brewery Limited, Mr. Solomon Ayiah, on his part urged the Agri-students and beginner agripreneurs to make the most of the practical knowledge the boot-camp was offering.
He said unemployment is still a big challenge in the country, thus an opportunity to study agriculture and explore the opportunities it has to offer is the way out.
He said AG-STUD AFRICA is a laudable initiative for students to make the most of, and he is therefore looking forward to a time when students from the boot-camp will start supplying ABL with raw materials like the maize needed in production of beer and malt.
Touching on alcohol consumption, he urged the room of young people to be responsible consumers of alcohol. He stressed the need to stay away from drunk-driving, and encouraged them to become the responsible ones among their friends; and to ensure their colleagues are drinking responsibly at social functions and avoiding drunk-driving.
Day 2— AG-VOYAGE: An Agricultural Learning Trip
As part of the boot-camp, the agri-students had an opportunity to visit the Ghana Commodity Exchange (GCX) and CSIR— Food Research Institute, to learn about the functions and operations of both institutions; how their activities influence the agricultural sector; and opportunities they can start taking advantage of as beginner agripreneurs.
At GCX they were educated on the operations and activities of the Ghana Commodity Exchange. The Ghana Commodity Exchange is a private company limited by shares, structured as a Public Private Partnership, with the government of Ghana currently its sole shareholder. The aim of the exchange is to establish linkages between agricultural and commodity producers and buyers to secure competitive prices for their products, assuring the market quantity and quality as well as timely settlement of their trade. Ghana Commodity Exchange’s Management team is led by Mrs. Tucci Goka Ivowi, the CEO, with Mr. Robert Dowuono Owoo as COO.
At CSIR, the students learned that the institution is the foremost national science and technology institution in Ghana, mandated to carry out scientific and technological research for national development. The Council was established in its present form by NLC Decree 293 of 10 October 1968 and re-established by CSIR Act 521 of 26 November 1996. The Council, however, traces its ancestry to the erstwhile National Research Council (NRC), which was established by the Research Act 21 of August 1958. The students toured the various laboratories in the institution, being able to ask questions and interact with the scientists.
Day 3 & 4— Competence-based Training and Mentorship Sessions
Day 3 and 4 of the boot-camp saw the students participate in various training sessions, led by knowledgeable heads and departmental heads of various institutions in the country. They went to training sessions under various topics: including Farm management development skills; financial modelling, planning and securing financing; leadership and development training; market identification and development; how to develop an idea into a business plan; and tips on writing a business proposal.
The rest were: writing a business proposal from a development partners perspective; identifying opportunities within the agric value chain; competitive analysis into putting together a business plan; thinking outside the box in developing a sustainable and winning business plan. Others were: financial, market analysis and opportunities in developing a winning business plan; developing and securing infrastructure; understanding local food systems; quality food safety management principles; and accessing risk management.
Day 5— Business Ideas Presentation
On the last day of the boot-camp, the students were tasked with presenting their agribusiness ideas and plans in groups, according to their schools. Their efforts were judged by a panel of judges assembled by Agrihouse Foundation, who cut across the various areas within agric value chain. This year the boot-camp hosted students from Kwadaso Agric College, Ohawo Agric College, Fair River Farm Institute, Damango Agric College, Ejura Agric College, Methodist University, Northern Hub, KNUST, All Nations University, University of Ghana, Central University, UCC, Gh media, Christian College University and Adidome Farm Institute.
In her closing remarks, the patron of AG-STUD boot-camp and MP for Klottey Korle Constituency, Hon. Zanetor Agyeman Rawlings, urged the students to make the most of all the practical lessons and words of encouragement they had received, while praising Agrihouse Foundation for the noble initiative that AG-STUD is. She extended gratitude to all partners and sponsors who supported the idea this year, and encouraged more partners to come on board next year.