A youth forum convened at the University of Ghana on March 30, 2017 to deliberate on the government of Ghana’s “Planting for Food and Jobs” program. The forum was a sequel to the recently ended University of Ghana’s 68th Annual New Year School and Conference. The forum organized by the School of Continuing and Distant Education of University of Ghana, brought together, experts, Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) 2016 businesses, practitioners, students and other key stakeholders to explore the role of technology in modernizing agriculture and fueling Ghana’s development.
The focus on technology was not by chance. For Kosmos, technology plays an important role in not only improving the scope of agriculture in Ghana, but also in encouraging youth to explore and capitalize on opportunities in the sector through agribusiness and agro processing. In this vein, a panel session was dedicated to exploring both the opportunities and challenges for youth in agriculture, alongside lessons from contestants and winners of the inaugural KIC Agri-Tech Challenge.
Drawing on seasoned experts and practitioners, the panel was graced by 2009 National Best Farmer, Davies Narh Korboe, and Kwabena Opagya Amoateng, CEO of Agro Africa Limited. Female entrepreneurs who had participated in the Kosmos Innovation Center 2016 Challenge also offered insights into startup lessons and new frontiers in agriculture. They included Tabby Nanzala, CEO of Ghalani Limited – one of the KIC winning teams – Elsie Mpere, CEO of another competing team, Farm Hub Global; and Ama Agyemang, a KIC 2016 Challenge contestant who helped develop techniques to combat counterfeit agro-chemicals on the market.
Commenting on their own beginnings in the sector, the panelists agreed that complacency and get-rich-quick schemes had no place in the tough industry. Ama Agyemang noted that this is especially true for women; being one of six female students in a class of 40 heightened her doubts about pursuing an agribusiness career. The panel encouraged youth to look beyond the high capital typically required to start agribusinesses and to start out small. They argued that data-based market research and developing a niche within the budding industry are just as key to starting an agribusiness as capital. The absence of Internet connectivity and ICT support were identified as major deterrents to pursuing agribusinesses and modernizing agriculture in rural areas.
During the question and answer session, many noted how encouraged they were by the fact that young women no longer relegated to farming; they are increasingly taking advantage of new roles within the sector. Minister of Agriculture Extension Representative, Paul Siameh also received numerous questions on the extent of research for implementing the “Planting for Food and Jobs” program. The Government’s program intends to increase local food production and reduce the high importation of food products into the country. It is expected to provide some 750,000 jobs for the youth who will in turn have a major role in the sector’s modernization. Following the program’s January 2017 launch, a committee was set up to manage its implementation.
Some of the issues noted during the panel discussions included the non-availability of storage and preservation units for incoming produce; weak land tenure systems and incentives; as well as poor time management and over-dependence on seasonal changes – all of which affect production. Also noted are the lack of realistic data to support research, high interest rate on farm loans and the need to provide support for other indispensable sectors such as livestock and poultry. Interestingly, KIC as a programme drills down the value chain with the hope of supporting to modernize and solve some of these problems in the agricultural sector.
With the challenges and opportunities clearly outlined, participants and panelists alike took to breakout sessions to brainstorm solutions. A key recommendation from participants was that agriculture should be taught on a more enterprising level from the basic to senior school levels. Another suggestion was to offer land and courses in agriculture to students with a genuine interest in the field in order to reduce the number of unemployed graduates in the sector. Effective mentorship programs were also suggested to provide practical advice and support to students.
After fruitful exchanges and insights, participants made a passionate appeal for more opportunities to discuss and examine issues relevant to the sector. For many participants and stakeholders, the forum gave them the chance to network, facilitate their business relations, enable more coordination between farm groups, and provide useful mentorships for students.
Speaking to Circumspecte after the event, KIC Corporate Affairs Director George Sarpong highlighted agriculture as a focus area in line with the KIC’s mission to help provide development solutions in Ghana. KIC began operations in 2016 under the auspices of Kosmos Energy which discovered Ghana’s first oil field in 2007. The center operates on a three-pronged approach namely, collaboration, incubation and acceleration and aims to nurture market solutions to development challenges. In 2016, young entrepreneurs had the chance to pitch business plans for innovative agri-tech solutions to a panel of judges after a 13-day market research tour which formed part of the Agri-Tech Challenge. Ghalani, represented by young entrepreneur Tabby Nanzala emerged as one of the winners and is currently undergoing an incubation period with KIC support.
Written by Germaine Bombande with contributions from Jemila Abdulai.