Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Making Agriculture “Cool”

“Agriculture is the backbone of our Nation”. I believe that almost every Ghanaian writing a Social Studies or Agriculture test might have used this as an opening statement. However, many people continue to downplay the impact agriculture has on the economy. Agriculture ensures the production of food and the sustainability of ecosystems. Simply stated, agriculture benefits all of mankind, animals and the environment. In the Ghanaian economy, agriculture contributes 19 per cent of the GDP with additional export earnings and provision of food needs of the country.

Over 60% of Ghana’s population is involved in agriculture. Most of them practice smallholder, traditional and rain-fed agriculture without the benefit of technology and equipment. In addition to this, there is the issue of the agriculture sector being dominated by an aging farmer population. The average age of a farmer is 55 years, which is a challenge considering that the life expectancy in Ghana is between 55 and 60 years. Pumping younger blood into the farming sector and its auxiliary businesses is necessary to ensure sustainable food security in Ghana.

Agriculture needs to attract more young people. The first step to achieve this is solving its image problem. In other words, the majority of the youth do not see Agriculture as being “cool” or attractive. Young people have an idea of what they admire and aspire to. They do not find agriculture in that category.

A valid question to ask is ‘what or who defines cool?’ ‘Cool’ refers to something that is in vogue or fashionable. In fashion, anybody wearing a jacket will go unnoticed but once a superstar such as Kanye West wear the same jacket, many people will storm malls trying to get a similar version or a jacket worn during winter would be cool to wear same during summer. Trends come and go based on popular opinion and popular people. This means that cool is defined by time and context.

When we place agriculture in this kind of context, we have to find out what engages the youth so that we can tailor agriculture to their preferences. Basically, this will mean reducing the backbreaking labour, debunking the myth that farming is a business for illiterates and ensuring that it is lucrative. Agriculture has to be remunerative to the youth to be cool. In a recent chat with a pineapple farmer, it was obvious he was ready to quit pineapple farming and opt for vegetables. His reason was that he could not wait 14 months till he harvested the pineapples before selling them to make money. He needed his money pronto. For him agriculture is money since he had invested so much.

Delivering a speech on the topic: ‘Agriculture is cool: engaging Africa’s Youth’ at the 52nd Annual meeting of the African Development Bank on Monday 22nd May, 2017, Ghana’s former president Mr John Dramani Mahama stated clearly the need to make agriculture attractive for the African youth to increase involvement in the sector. He pointed out several interventions that will help make agriculture cool to the youth: the establishment of farmer service centres to provide equipment for farm operations; provision of easily accessible financial support and the establishment of the Youth in Agriculture Programme, a platform for young people graduating from colleges to work on state farms and learn modern techniques such as use of green houses, the production of local or exotic crops and other modern techniques.

Mr. David Asiamah of AgroMindset Farms
Most of these interventions complement the ‘Planting for Foods and Jobs’ Campaign. This programme seeks to make agriculture cool for every Ghanaian irrespective of age through the provision of various planting inputs, technical support and financing.

Making agriculture cool for Ghanaian youth must not solely be about production. There is the need for various ‘cool’ services along the value chain. These include large data management in terms of commodity pricing, weather forecasts and the provision of innovative mobile technology and information services such as the work being done by Farmerline. Additionally, there are services such as logistics and transport for haulage of produce as provided by AgroMindset an agribusiness that transforming poultry production and additionally handles a major logistics and transport business. For these businesses, providing a solution that will be beneficial to farmers is cool hence their indulgence. There are also other cool solutions along the agriculture value chain such as the processing work offered by RealVine and Kubenut. There are also mechanical services for ploughing, weeding and land clearing for new farms.

People like Mr Dramani Payida, who has a 200acre mango farm, believe that agriculture is the future of Ghana when it comes to revenue generation.  However, their beliefs are often constrained by severe challenges in the sector. Be it start-up capital, education, human resource challenges dealing with third parties or even farm workers or the huge cost of land due to the land tenure system of Ghana, the youth are often dwarfed by the challenges of entering into this field of business.

The key to overcoming all these challenges is rebranding. Agriculture should be rebranded as cool and economically viable business. Once people’s perception about the sector changes, access to education, capital, land, and the right resources would become easier. Agriculture needs to be treated as a major business in a way that will attract the youth. Success stories about agriculture ventures and businesses should be shared and promoted by all people everywhere. Making agriculture cool will involve all stakeholders working to make agriculture profitable through promotion of agriculture as an intellectually stimulating and economically sustainable career.

In addition to all this, agriculture as a business should be incorporated in the school curricula. Students should be taught about production as well as all other rudiments of the business of agriculture. This includes how to develop a business model, partnering, raising capital, branding, marketing and general management.

Government’s policy objectives, which is consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2&12), for the development of the agricultural industry as the key to sustainable growth and development of the Ghanaian economy clearly highlights the importance of the private sector. The role of the financial institutions in providing funding to the youth involved in agriculture, and the organisation of education and incubation programmes for start-ups cannot be downplayed. Increased access to education and agribusiness enterprises would mean that young people would be a vital force for innovation focusing on technology. Ghana needs an educated youth that understands the need for increased agricultural productivity.

Agriculture means more than subsistence farming; it’s a science and a business that is cool and remunerative. Wooing the interest of young people into agriculture is imperative for the development of the agricultural and economic sectors. The spotlight on young farmers should be wider and brighter in order to support this ‘AGRICOOLTURE’ trend.

“The Best Culture is Agriculture”

Akwasi A. Tagoe. (MSc. Agricultural and Environmental Science)
Agricultural Services Manager – GreenCoastFoods

Friday, 28 April 2017

Food Waste and Agribusiness in Ghana

To commemorate World Intellectual Property Day, I was hosted to address issues on Food Waste and Agribusiness in Ghana hosted by Naa Oyoo Quartey of See My Chow. This post is just a summary of the interactions that ensued on Wednesday 26th May, 2017.

Naa Oyoo (NO) : Hey tell us what you do etc. talk about your company Green Coast food

Akwasi Tagoe (AT): I’m Akwasi, Agricultural Services Manager for GreenCoastFoods (GCF) Ghana. GCF is into agribusiness consultancy for start-ups, we’ve had farms in the past and run the first e-commerce grocery delivery service in Accra (Fresh233). What made the service unique besides the convenience we offered our clients was the additional technical support we offered to farmers from whom we sourced our produce. Currently we are scaling to farms in the urban and peri-urban areas.

NO:  What exactly is food waste and why should we care?

AT: Food loss is an umbrella term used to describe all of the postharvest food that never gets consumed. Some of the loss is unavoidable due to spoilage or processing losses that occur before the food reaches the market.
Food waste is a component of food loss. Where edible food that is lost discarded by growers, retailers and consumers that is avoidable. We should care because of the environmental consequences - food thrown at landfills - producing methane gas which is more dangerous than CO2 and causing climate change

In 2050 it’s estimated that over 9 Billion people will be on the planet with Ghana’s population estimates 50 Million. So in effect we have to produce more to feed a growing population, mind you the size of arable land in Ghana will not increase and it’s likely to decrease as a result of other economic competition for land (real estate, urbanisation, galamsey) so we should care. Researchers are looking for ways to produce enough food to feed the growing population but there is the need for a culture that reduces food waste.

           Food waste has a triple negative effect:
           It impacts on food security 

           Resources used in food production and distribution are wasted 

           Environmental impacts throughout the supply chain 

We should care because of economic, environment and social consequences.
1.         We lose money
2.         Food waste that end up in landfills produce large amounts of metal gas which contributes to the to green house gas emissions caused by this human activity
3.         In perspective food waste = waste of water, energy (human + sunlight), waste of money, waste of land 

NO:  How are supermarkets contributing to food waste in Ghana

AT: supermarkets reject food produce on basis of its aesthetic concern i.e not the right shape, shape or colour. ‘Imperfect’ veggies and fruits due to shop requirements for packaging and display. doesn’t mean the food is not good to eat
confusion of labels on produce (sell by and best by dates) are suggestions for peak quality. Displaying very large colourful quantities of food for its attractiveness and perceived increase in sales also lead to food waste.

NO: In what ways are we as consumers contributing to the increase in food waste?

AT: BUYING MORE THAN WE NEED! Its like air-conditioning empty buildings or leaving your iron on all day (energy waste)

NO: How can we as individuals reduce food waste in our homes & offices to reduce the amount of gas in the climate?

AT: Increasing awareness of the problem and how to solve it is important, like we’re doing now
1.         be innovative at home. don’t throw last weeks stew away, remix it into jollof.
2.         plan out weekly meals and shop for groceries based on household size and feeding needs. Don’t buy large quantities of fresh food and consume them first
3.         make a list, buy only what you need. don’t say because its cheap you’re buying excess.
4.         freeze your leftovers
5.         pack lunch to work. don’t let that kanzo go to waste
6.         store food at the right places
7.         start backyard gardens and compost food to be applied Composting (Lettuce, cabbage) converts food waste into an asset for food production, whether in your own backyard —if you can’t eat it yourself, let the worms enjoy it.
8.         for fruits bag and freeze to make a smoothies, juices and jam
9.         make kaklo with that soft overripe  plantain

10.     Clean out your fridge often and note food you rarely use

NO:  What measures can be put in place for farmers in Ghana for the reduction of food waste?

AT: solutions shouldn’t be complicated, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard this before from our junior high Agriculture class
1.         Planning crops to be planted based on demand or season
2.         Techniques and equipment for harvesting based on farmers indigenous knowledge innovative ways (storage) improved storage bags
2.         Helping farmers to form cooperatives or farmer based organizations, this increases their understanding of the market, ensures efficient planning and ability to market what they produce together as a group

3.building infrastructure, road networks fixed and processing plants
4. Available market at a good price (commodities market)

During my time in Bechem I learnt of a farmer who committed suicide because the price middlemen offered for his tomatoes was way below his cost of production. He had gone for a loan to farm and there was no way he was going to cover the cost so, sad solution but its real out there.

1.         The UK has a programme where they set up kitchens next to farmers markets to process unsold fruits into gourmet chutney (jam) this can be adopted in Ghana and will provide employment for people involved besides the farmer. Just think of the resources that would be saved if food wasn’t wasted

In summary developing better food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes. Match demand and supply. Farmers finding a market for their produce and not leaving them to rot. Individuals cooking adequately for the family size, supermarkets not reducing product orders last minute to leave producers with extra products.

NO: As an expert in the agri-business, what opportunities are available for today’s youth in Ghana?

AT: Agriculture or food production is a large industry that employs over 60% of the work force. Often said to be the backbone of Ghana. Due to its nature there are various opportunities along the value chain from service provision to production itself.
Agribusiness includes farming and contract farming, distribution, farm machinery, processing, seed supply, marketing and retail sales. To engage youth, ‪agriculture has to be remunerative.
1.         not everyone should be engaged in production. We have a lot of small holder farmers
2.         Provision of tractor services for ploughing, weeding etc
3.         Processing
4.         marketing and sales
5.         Logistics such as provision of transport services for haulage of produce
6.         Consultancy

You don’t have to be an expert in agriculture or food production to benefit from some of these opportunities

NO: What challenges will one face in trying to break into the agri-business industry
AT: Capital: Cost of set up
2.         Human resource: challenge is human resource, relying on third parties to get things done on time. Employees don’t understand the business bit of farming and take you for granted.
3.         Lack of Knowledge of production or business
4.         Land Tenure in Ghana
5.         Time for break even or even profitability

6.         Education and training for new entrants - improved methods of farming