Name: David Asare Asiamah
Name Of Company: Agro Mindset
David Asare Asiamah is the founder of Agro Mindset. He is a farmer, an entrepreneur and a development conscious professional. When speaking to David you instantly notice his switched-on strategic vision, values, and fresh approach to promoting agriculture. As a true leader he has and continues to empower a new generation of African youth to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that agriculture presents the continent to transform herself. He is super-passionate about this transformation and he is actively in the front lines leading by example
His recognition as a thought leader in African agriculture earned him a place as a panelist for the 2014 Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) Awards in Nigeria, on meeting needs of the African Youth and building a 21st century workforce. David has also been recognised in Ghana as a young achiever and Ghana 30 Under 30. He is a frequent speaker and has spoken on platforms such as TEDxKNUST. He is a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and belongs to the Kumasi Hub.
During this exclusive interview, we catch up with this inspiring and thought provoking change maker as we discuss all things African agriculture, education and politics.
The Rise of African Agriculture
Prince: Can you describe Agro Mindset and the idea and concept as if I knew nothing about it or the market it is in?
DAVID: Agro Mindset is about building a new “Green Revolution” for young and educated people to venture into agric entrepreneurship as a form of decent employment opportunity, while providing for them the necessary support to succeed towards fulfilling career requirements and industry expectation.
Two big problems in Africa now are food insecurity and a booming youth population that are facing daunting employment prospects, which can be shot with the agriculture double-barrelled gun because of contribution to GDP in agrarian countries.
Our “Green Revolution” focuses exclusively on educating the youth on the prospects of agriculture, encouraging students to pursue agriculture related programmes in higher academia. We facilitate youth engagement in agriculture in a sustainable, industry relevant manner. We promote the engagement of youth in agriculture by helping them acquire knowledge and skills to meet career and contemporary industry expectations. We provide this opportunity by running a model production farm, a vibrant agriculture education outreach programme, and logistics services to assist promising young farmers and new small-scale farm entrants, to have effective links to market and gain understanding of African agriculture.
Prince: How did you conceive the idea to start an agriculture empire in Africa?
DAVID: The Agro Mindset dream was born in 2009 as a third year undergraduate. It was born out of a personal realisation of the vast professional opportunities in agriculture versus the deep levels of apathy amongst several course mates on the agriculture degree. This combined with my realisation of the high levels of youth unemployment in Ghana and my desire to be self-employed, formed the motivation.
Prince: What gave you the motivation to start?
DAVID: I spent 52 weeks at different periods between 2009 and 2014 as an intern on a farm in the UK. During that time, I did over 1,000 hrs of tractor driving, supervised colleague workers, managed a 24,000 free range poultry unit for at least 52 weeks, served as quality control officer for harvested produce when the farm was growing vegetable crops for supermarkets and wholesale markets but now concentrates on producing crops for seed production.
The exposure and understanding of agriculture in England led me to found the Agro Mindset. This was a significant eye-opener for me as I appreciated first-hand the scale of mechanised commercial farming, and more importantly the involvement of the youth! The involvement of the youth was a proof of my dreams for Ghana. I finished my postgraduate studies from the University of Reading, turned down some job offers in international development to start a farm in Ghana.
I am confident of the critical role that my leadership of youth in agriculture plays in sustaining the fragile sector, and the potential to impart knowledge and skills to other youth keeps me motivated. Having been brought up to think independently for myself also contributed to my entrepreneurial acumen. Seeing first hand, seniors of mine struggle to get jobs after graduation may also have created that desire to think outside the box.
DAVID: Building a start-up is hard. Initially no one believes in you. Financing of the whole project and general biosecurity were huge problems initially. The challenges I faced began with the continuous depreciation of our Ghanaian currency the Cedi. This meant I couldn’t purchase much needed inputs at the market. Land tenure systems and ownership problems were also real issues. I also face the problem of theft from workers, which may not be eradicated, but possibly minimised. When birds begin to lay eggs, workers think of the eggs as money, disregarding the cost of production and maintenance amongst others…some even kill the live birds so they can take home after work.
Prince: How important is agriculture for the future of Africa?
DAVID: Although there is an increasing urbanisation, most of the poor people in developing countries live in rural areas and, mainly, they depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture thus remains vital for sustainable development, poverty reduction and food security.
Farming is the profession of the future. We wouldn’t have as many problems if Germany and the U.S were not getting fuel from cereals. This has increased demand as humans, animals and industry competes for the same resources.
Agriculture is more than simply crop or animal production. It is an organised exploitation and management of natural resources for meeting human needs for food and nutrition, livelihoods, economic development and nation building. Agriculture includes any activity in which human beings are deliberately engaged in producing biological products from land and aquatic resources at different geographical scale.
Generally, in the initial stages of a nation’s development, agriculture forms the basis for pulling the nation out of poverty and in attaining appreciable economic growth. This includes provision of raw materials, foreign exchange, and a market for the local agricultural industry.
Key issues are right policies that promote investment in physical infrastructure, smallholder farmers, existing stock of knowledge and technical improvement to deliver wealth. The World Bank has it that by 2050, there will be 9billion people in the world. How do we feed the growing population; by miracle? We can’t neglect agriculture because it will lead to demand exceeding supply, which necessitates importation volume of which depends on the demand. This trend invariably results in hikes in food prices which have been evidenced in most developing countries until recently. This will result in more poor people with Africa and Asia facing this effect most. On the other hand, however, as countries become richer, challenges faced generally include the ability to balance demand and supply, as well as maintaining biodiversity, climate change and ecosystems services as mankind cultivates the land.
A country’s economy makes room for diversification, and with local and international investment, other sectors take on more importance in terms of their contribution both to Gross Domestic Product and to absorbing labour. This generally happens at roughly the same rate as the importance/contribution of agriculture decreases and goes hand-in-hand with improved education and opportunities for people to enter the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy, which then absorb labour and further grows domestic demand and fuels growth in the economy.
I have little conviction that development will happen and continue when we keep ‘missing out’ on this ‘step’ in economic development with only certain sectors of agriculture integrated into global value chains, like cocoa in Ghana and horticulture in Kenya.
If the African agriculture fails, we imperil our future. Food is the most burning problem on the planet, and it will get worse unless the affluent nations find some way to help those nations who need it.
Prince: Do you feel that young African entrepreneurs have slowly changed their attitudes towards agriculture?
DAVID: Change is gradual. A lot of educated young folks are venturing into agric although they did not read it at school; it’s a passion from somewhere and we should expect more to join the train. People will go where there is fulfilment. We all have to set the right frameworks and environment for young African entrepreneurs to be successful, and for agriculture to thrive.
Prince: You also started the Young Farmer Awards; why did you feel there was a need for this initiative?
DAVID: It would be prudent to celebrate young farmers who have committed their time and resources to get us food. Most policies are not smart and hinder the progress of agriculture. Having said this, we thought of a better project that will sell beyond the walls of Ghana; The Agro Mindset Fellowship Program (TAFP) which aims to develop a network of entrepreneurs and others with a demonstrated interest in creating a new chapter for agriculture through action. It is an endeavour to create a new brand for ideation, collaborative exchange and implementation that allows for sustainable agribusiness models to have far reaching impact.
In a multi-layered, cross-sector and interdisciplinary approach, the fellowship blends vast formal and informal educational components; including innovative sessions in value-chain thinking, outstanding scholarship in the crop sciences, impact-driven training in social entrepreneurship, robust linkages to accomplished and seasoned professionals and access to e-content for lifelong learning. We want to catalyse consciousness through minds.
Prince: Are you proud to be introduced as a farmer?
DAVID: Yes! I love to be called a farmer. In my passport, it is written that my profession is farming. Although this gives me unneeded attention most times; the question people ask me is why a young man would do something that the old do after public service. I go about my work filled with pride and honour as a young Ghanaian farmer because it is a business that I’m passionate about.
Prince: What are your ultimate aims and goals as a young entrepreneur?
DAVID: You will win in the market place by educating your customers not just by selling to them. Educational establishments across the continent are failing to meet the needs of their economies and the ambitions of their students. Relics of colonial frameworks need a revamping to suit the practical productive needs of their societies, especially the youth.
Looking into the future, I want to build a world class pan-African education provider to educate Africa’s new generation of entrepreneurial-minded agriculturalists; cultivating within our students the critical reasoning and problem solving skills and the interest to take up the vast opportunities present in agrarian African countries.
With an ever-increasing global population, and growing pressure on the world’s finite resources, the analytical skills of agriculture oriented professionals are relevant now more than ever. My bigger plan is to set up a University that would lead the development of teaching and research in agriculture, agri-business, food, and land and property management that explores the nexus between the different fields of knowledge. Everything that Agro Mindset is doing is geared towards education.
Prince: Do you have any future plans to expand your empire beyond Ghana and possibly Africa?
DAVID: We pray for life, good health and prosperity in the coming years. Definitely, I cannot divulge all plans on this platform, but permit me to throw some light on two major plans: sustainable farming and our academy which could reach 1 million youth by 2025 if we have the right financing to kick-off.
Prince: Can you give your top 5 pieces of advice on starting an Agribusiness venture in Africa?
1. Young aspiring entrepreneurs, start early! Fail earlier and learn faster as ‘we’ are already late!
2. Spend time learning and mastering what you want to do before you jump into it. Take enough time to recharge your batteries since it is difficult going far when your lights are dim.
3. It is good to build a brand that people can easily associate with, but if there is a slip-up or failure, it becomes indelible too and people will associate your brand with the blunder and not the proper things you have done. In that situation, you will thirst after another breakthrough moment to evoke a good name but it might be too late. We all must protect our brand with integrity and lasting good leadership skills.
4. Have passion for your battles and chose them wisely; that’s the way you will leave a legacy. Without passion you will give up.
5. We all don’t have money when kick starting our ideas. Focus has to be on leveraging on social and human capital.
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