AfricaLive: Please tell our readers how you would describe the DNA of Farmerline, and the vision going forward.
Alloysius Attah: We are a company that sees the urgency in helping our people all over the continent create wealth through agriculture. Great wealth has been created in this sector over the decades, but that has not gone to young people and african farmers. Small scale farmers have largely been left out, and our mission is to rectify that. We are a firm made up of young Africans, and we are dedicated to helping our demographic create wealth.
Wealth creation was not so much in our minds when we began, though. Our simple aim at the start was to connect farmers to the services they needed most. We used mobile technology to help farmers get access to information at a time when mobile phone penetration in the region had peaked. Mobile technology was never going to replace human interactions, therefore, we looked to improve what farmers were working with to increase efficiency. We are dedicated to offering farmers all they need, from mechanisation to information and fertilisers.
A big part of our service to farmers is opening up access to markets. Every service we provide is enabled by the partnerships we have formed as well as technology. Our technology platform has grown and works across twenty-five countries, fifteen of those being African countries. We are now firmly focused on ensuring that young Africans in the sector capture more of the wealth they create for the world. Our cocoa sector alone makes over a hundred billion dollars annually in the world market, but our young farmers get less than two per cent of that. We have to change the current state of affairs soon, and that’s why we are in existence.
AfricaLive: What strategic goals have you identified that you wish to accomplish in the short and medium-term?
Alloysius Attah: In the coming years, we want to align ourselves wholly with African agribusinesses and governments towards creating lasting profit for farmers everywhere. Food security is a government function, and we want to lend our support. People talk about the challenges that exist when dealing with the public sector, but this year has been very revealing to me. When the pandemic struck, many development programs and private sector partners scaled back their programs for farmers. The government was the main entity that stepped up and stood with farmers in time of need.
The government also introduced a fertiliser subsidy programme that helped cut the cost by half. The subsidy programme has had its challenges, but that gives room for the private sector to chip in and solve some of the problems that exist. We are one of those firms that want to ensure that farmers have access to the programme while introducing supportive initiatives ourselves. Technology must also be leveraged as we seek to make massive improvements in the sector.
AfricaLive: The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be going ahead in early 2021. How are you planning for this and what markets do you have on your radar?
Alloysius Attah: We have made forays into eight West African nations where we work through partnerships to help farmers. Going forward, we want to have boots on the ground in more marginalised jurisdictions. Countries like Benin, Sierra Leone and Liberia are usually left behind as countries such as ours and others in East Africa advance technologically. Our hope is to find local entrepreneurs in those countries that are driven to create change and partner with them.
We will offer all the toolkits, technology and the framework to use to expand their operations. The reason we want to use our toolkit and framework, is so that they can avoid making some of the mistakes we have made over the last seven years. Our involvement in countries like Benin is to create opportunities for the youth while also reaping from the demand that will come from local farmers.
AfricaLive: Our interactions with other leaders in your space made us aware of a social conditioning problem that has kept Ghanaian youth away from agriculture. What is your opinion on this and how do you intend to help make the sector attractive to young people?
Alloysius Attah: We are all taught from childhood to go to school, work hard, get a job, support ourselves and family then go on to create wealth. If you show a young African a path to wealth creation, they will stay the course until the objective is accomplished. We are dedicated to helping young farmers create wealth through agriculture and digital technology and a lot more can be done.
We must make our youth aware of statistics that scream opportunity. One such stat is that the global demand for chocolate is on the rise for organic chocolate, as well as ultra-fine chocolate. Demand is going up, but the productivity for Ghana and Ivory Coast has been going down. There are obvious opportunities to make money here, and our youth must be taught this. We are constantly exploring clear paths for youth to gain from this industry. Our youth can gain from offering beneficial services to farmers, as well as by offering training on efficient farming practises.
The information on how youth can get this done is available, but scattered and difficult to consume. We are packaging and presenting this information for easy consumption and action. It’s easy to urge our youth to get involved in farming, but they need to see real life examples first before they can replicate it. Africans are good at replicating whatever idea they see working. For many decades our people have been setting up small shops that sell everyday household consumables. The sale of basic consumables got replicated, because someone figured out long ago that there was a huge demand for it. We need this to evolve into the agricultural sector.
AfricaLive: Within Ghana and West Africa, what do you consider to be the primary opportunities and threats facing your sector?
Alloysius Attah: One of the most pronounced challenges is access to capital. The capital issue can be approached from a policy perspective as well as implementation. We also have challenges when it comes to accessing opportunities in the global market. African businesses have faced many hurdles while trying to connect to the global food system because of obvious biases. Things are changing slowly though, and I believe we can look forward to a brighter future.
AfricaLive: As you work towards improving farmer welfare, what message would you like to pass through to the investment community and other partners you want to engage with in the future?
Alloysius Attah: One of the biggest resources we have on this continent is our young people. Our youth are driven and ambitious and have vibrancy and energy that can be tapped into. The existing systems and structures globally, do not provide for the equitable distribution of resources, especially to Africans. We are not asking for handouts, just fairness in the way deals are allocated. On the global scene, people who get opportunities are those who speak English very fluently. That kind of system marginalises our Francophone brothers and sisters as well as those of us who speak indigenous languages. Firms that claim to be Africa focussed must look into how deals are being handed and how they are being accessed.
AfricaLive: The “Ghana Beyond Aid” campaign introduced by the current administration has got many people talking and sharing opinions. What does this initiative mean to you?
Alloysius Attah: A drive for self-reliance is a wonderful thing for any country. We have to provide for ourselves especially when it comes to the basic necessities. Our country imports a lot of rice and tomato products while, ironically, we produce a lot of these products ourselves. The global pandemic is exposing this well since borders are now shut and people are forced to consume local products. When politicians get sick, they cannot be flown anywhere for treatment; they have to stay and depend on the local medical facilities. The pandemic has had a silver lining that has forced Africans to confront our local systems so that we can make the required changes. The beyond aid agenda ties into this well because self-reliance has to be a big part of our vision as a continent.
AfricaLive: If you were to bring together Ghana’s leaders from government, higher education, and business to a roundtable meeting held at your H.Q, what main issue would you urge them to unite around?
Alloysius Attah: I would bring attention to the need for investing in local products and promoting them. If the government decides to work with local agricultural companies, then we could move things along very swiftly. We pay a lot of taxes to the government, and I believe they should use those resources to help us produce more. We have to think about growing our small firms so that they can develop the capacity to compete internationally. If we develop a strong public-private sector, we will see a lot of jobs being created and basic needs will be taken care of.
AfricaLive: What does the future of your organisation look like in the next ten years?
Alloysius Attah: Farmerline is quickly becoming an ecosystem and system change player and we want to be known as an institution that firmly supports the agriculture agendas of governments across Africa. Governments should be supported so that we can move this sector to the next level. We want to help by introducing biometric technology as well as Artificial Information (A.I) to help eliminate fraud, bias and other exclusionary evils that plague the sector. Our vision is to scale our impact through the governments and local agribusinesses by improving processes and services rendered to farmers. It’s not so much about growing into a big company with branches everywhere; it’s about scaling our impact while supporting many African agribusinesses to thrive.