On February 9, Ms. Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosa, Founder and Executive Director of Agrihouse Foundation
graciously sat down with the Trade Mission’s staff for a fascinating and enlightening discussion
about her and Agrihouse’s story, the future of Ghanaian agriculture, and what opportunities Israeli Agri-tech holds for Ghanaian Agribusinesses.
Tell us a bit about Agrihouse Foundation, what do you do, what are your goals?
To sum it up I would say we do Interventional agric projects. We research and identify gaps in the agric value chain, and how we can come up with initiatives that would highlight some of these challenges, bring stakeholders together, and create solutions. At the end of the day, we are impact driven and we want to see growth, empowerment, and scale up within the sector.
You are well known within the sector in Ghana for your many events and projects and for your incredible drive. Have you always been in this sector, what is your own background and how did it happen that you have become the “prophetess” of Ghanaian agric?
I have a communications background, my desire, my passion, my ambition, my focus, was to become a journalist. I went to journalism school, I had no personal or professional background in agriculture, rather came upon the industry by chance. I used to manage a communications firm. As part of my career ambitions to be a journalist I was doing PR with this firm. As part of our strategy, we were looking at different sectors and realized that in the agric sector there was a gap in events and fairs – that sort of thing. We decided to come up with an exhibition, and that was my first exposure to the sector, which really became love at first sight.
I became intrigued by the sector and wanted to know more. At the time I didn’t really know much about the sector, but I could see that we had had an impact. From the feedback we were getting, I could see that people were networking, that people were growing. But I could also see that when it came to youth in agriculture, or when it came to women in agriculture, there was very little life, there was nothing happening for them. I understood that from my own experience being invited to agric conferences. I would attend these conferences and leave without knowing what was said, they were very technical and staid, and nothing that would be on the level of the people we actually wanted to reach. I wanted to take the industry to a place where youth could fit in, where they could envision having a role, where they could see opportunities for themselves. I wanted to take the industry to a place where women farmers have a voice and an impact. I wanted to take the industry to a place where smallholder farmers’ potential is realized, where we do better in creating solutions for them. Solutions in reducing post-harvest losses, in packaging, branding. When it comes to the value chain I wanted to break it down and make it more accessible and more successful for all these marginalized and dis-empowered farmers. These are the things that we wanted to address when we started Agrihouse Foundation.
So something like an empowered and higher capacity agriculture for the masses? Fascinating.
So tell us how you have gone about achieving this vision so far.
Our first intervention was in training for youth.
Through my work I had the opportunity to visit some of the agric colleges, and I realized that the lands that they used to have had been taken up by building, leaving no place for them to have practical training. Additionally, there was no business training. These gaps led us to start the AG-STUD boot camp, which brings students from agric colleges from all over the country together for a week.
We bring them mentors and coaches to support the development of their business ideas, to help guide them in honing their ideas to be successful. In this program, we have been very successful in changing mindsets and the atmosphere. Without this program, there was an entrepreneurial lacking, a missing excitement and energy, even amongst these young adults who have chosen agricultural studies. With the Ag-STUD program, we have now managed to foster excitement, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit. They now have a better understanding of the business potential of the sector and a clearer idea of how they can go about leveraging on it after school. Through this boot camp and follow-up support services including seed capital, we have been able to facilitate the establishment of over 200 agribusinesses including vegetable farms, rice farms, pineapple farms, as well as processing and packaging businesses.
One of the greatest things is that we have been able to get them to deepen their understanding of the full value chain, and to leverage their training and education to either look for jobs all along the value chain or to create their own successful jobs through agric startups and businesses that are taking into account the full value chain – its full potential as well as the all the various pain points.
Another project of ours looked to help people diversify in agric to new areas of potential. When people thought about agric they thought only about crops, they weren’t thinking about animal farming or fisheries. We came up with the “Livestock, Poultry, and Fisheries Training and Tradeshow”. As part of this event, we have training for people that want to go into things like piggery, mushrooms, snails, etc. as well as showcasing the animal agricultural value chain. For example, someone can understand the need for fish feed and what is involved, the processing equipment, the value chain, etc.
Essentially this event impresses upon people the opportunities that lie in animal farming as well as provides the platform for networking, skills development, and trade needed for the development of these agric fields, also providing an advocacy platform.
Can you give us an example of a specific young farmer who came through your boot camp and what has become of his or her initiative?
Sure, there are so many to choose from. Let’s talk about James, he was a very young guy 16-17 years old, he came through the boot camp even though he was so young.
He went through the program and became very excited and motivated. He decided on an idea and worked on it with our mentors, we gave him some seed capital, really just a very small amount, for him to start pineapple farming. Today, three years later, he has a successful farm, he has 5 acres of pineapple. This might not sound like a lot to you, but for him it is a huge success. For a young kid to realize there is opportunity in agriculture, to be motivated to go into the sector, to have the confidence, the skills, and the initial capital to venture into it, and to succeed in expanding and turning a profit – these are not the norm and they are real accomplishments. The really interesting thing that sets him apart is that he not only grows, but he is also processing pineapple juice – adding value and jobs to his business, he now employs people in his community and sells pineapple shoots to others.
We didn’t give him so much, really just exposure to the opportunities, motivation, mentorship, and some seeds, fertilizer, and maybe 1000 GHS in seed money; not much but that is what makes a difference between a 20-year-old kid running a successful agribusiness employing people and creating value, or a 20-year-old kid just sitting around unemployed or migrating to the city to subsist on menial labor.
These are some great projects, and just some of your activities in the Agri sector development. You’re known for your energy and passion, you seem to work non-stop. What is the main driver for you, what is the primary motivator? Is it employment? Food security? Ghanaian economic development?
I think it is primarily to see Ghana build sustainable and economically lucrative farming. At the end of the day you can break it down to; making farmers happy. To see the smiles on farmers’ faces, to see their success and satisfaction as a result of one or two interventions that you have done, that as the result of some activity of yours he or she has been able to improve his or her practices, gain access to credit, gain access to equipment through cooperatives. You can see the agric sector transitioning from subsistence farming to sustainable, viable, lucrative agri-businesses, and you can see the collective impact as well as the individual impact on individual farmers’ lives. That is my satisfaction, to see a happy secure farmer.
You talk about changing the perception of agriculture from one that is old-fashioned, boring, rife with poverty and struggle, to one of agriculture being young, exciting, full of promise and future. What does this have to do with Israel?
To me, Israel has become synonymous with successful agriculture, with creating successful agric in the harshest conditions, to how agric has advanced, and how the impact is not only reflected within Israel itself but is global. So firstly, Israel is a model of success for Ghana.
Secondly, Israel with its many technologies, its know-how, its government, is a crucial partner for us at Agrihouse that can help us achieve our goals.
My personal encounter with Israel and the Economic Mission dates back to the Agritech Israel conference which was phenomenal, participating in trade delegations to Israel, and our ongoing relationship with the Israel Trade and Economic Mission and the Israeli Embassy.
You see, it is one thing to read, it is such another thing to experience and to see with your eyes what agricultural innovation, agricultural entrepreneurship, and technology are capable of, so it is inspiring and motivating. It is also very useful to foster these relationships, to get to know so many great players in the Israeli agric ecosystem, who can be, and many already are, great partners in the development of lucrative and sustainable Ghanaian agriculture.
Yes, Israel does have an amazing agric story. Coming from a point, 100 years ago when it was thought that agriculture in Israel is near impossible and not feasible, to a time where Israel often has the highest per-acre yields in the world, the most efficient methods, and is a source for many of the world’s most exciting agricultural developments, that is all very inspiring. Besides being an inspiration, where does that meet and benefit Ghanaian Agric, on the ground? Can you give me some examples?
Yes, of course. There is a large Ghanaian-Israeli collaborative training farm that is training Ghanaian youth on advanced Israeli agriculture methods and greenhouse farming. In terms of business, we are getting more and more links every day. The Israel Economic Mission has been instrumental in facilitating these connections, even from the pre-harvest event that we did together, there have been several success stories of Ghanaian-Israeli agribusiness partnerships to come out from that recent event.
These partnerships are impactful, and their impact is felt very quickly, because of their technology and expertise, they provide potential for quick, yet sustainable successes in agriculture, and have the potential to create great returns on investment for Ghanaian Agribusinesses. These are not things from a talk show, these are things we see happening on the ground.
On that note; you know the Ghanaian agriculture sector well, its challenges as well as its potential. You are also well versed in the Israeli Agricultural sector – its solutions and capabilities. Based on that, where do you think there is particularly strong business potential for implementation of Israeli solutions or Israeli-Ghanaian business partnerships?
Sure, one is training and demonstration centers. Sure, one is training and demonstration centers. There is already one great project like this, but there is so much potential to expand centers like this across other agric techniques and sub-sectors, as well as having centers like this across Ghana’s 16 regions.
Another is in irrigation solutions. The majority of farmers are just waiting for the rains before they start planting. That is a very sad and underperforming state of things. I think bringing irrigation solutions, training, finding ways to make these solutions accessible, hold huge potential.
Another is logistics and mechanization centers. I’ve been in areas where the farmers don’t even own wellington boots and are keen on renting them. I think if we created platforms, where simple, yet appropriate machinery, as well as training, is available it could be profitable and impactful.
Finally, I think there is a lot of potential in custom contract farming and finding solutions that create the platforms and make the technologies available to enable this. Many people from within and Ghana and abroad approach us and ask us to manage a farm for them or to help them set up farms. There is a gap in capacity that can be outsourced and contracted to agric entrepreneurs or investors. Investors who want to start a farm can have someone give their expertise and manage it for them. I myself have a cattle farm that someone is managing for me, and I just started a goat farm, but there is a real lacking in expertise or people with the capability to provide dependable management. This is another great business avenue with potential for Ghanaian-Israel partnerships.
At the end of the day, Israel is such a great partner, because they have proven that they are creative, resourceful, yet can improvise and know how to create success with little resources and under difficult conditions. They have clearly proven that over their history, and the solutions they offer reflect those strengths.
I know there is a lot of mutually beneficial potential, that together with our friends from Israel we can grow Ghanaian agriculture to great things, to a great future, and a great impact on the entire country.
For more information on Israel’s Agritech ecosystem, Israeli agricultural solutions, or future agriculture events and delegations please contact our lead on the agric sector, Mr. Kirk Amoah.
For more information on Agrihouse Foundation please visit their website.