Your conclusions may be varied after reading this article. I may have reinforced your belief in the prospects of your intended investment(s) or may have heightened your fears.
Regardless, my intents are clear and simple – to provide practical signposts you cannot avoid making that investment decision – big or small.
This list is not conclusive, but highly representative of the issues/opportunities you must consider.
The complexity of Ghana’s land tenure system is a signpost you cannot ignore in your search for farming land. You must be thorough and diligent. Written or oral assurances are never enough guarantees of legal interest in any land capable of any transaction.
Ideally, seek to secure land from stools/skins (as Lands Commission will be involved in the process). Alternatively, engage with government agencies with agriculture mandates as they may have secured lands in anticipation of private sector investments.
Your search checklist must anticipate the immediate or future needs of your farm. Closeness to city centres, access to water for irrigation purposes, available social amenities, road infrastructure among others should be a must tick.
Land is a valuable asset for any purpose. But farmlands do not generate the same interest for any funding leverage. The last option should be to offer to buy outright farmlands in large tracks. Financial investments into such acquisitions cannot be leveraged for lending when the business needs it.
Negotiate innovative lease agreements with payment terms fixed at intervals over a long period of time. Such agreements must cater for the financial interest of all beneficial interest owners of the land over time.
Most lands won’t be vacant so make arrangements for the payment of compensation for crops to those currently in use of it.
If in doubt, seek help!
2. Expertise or Technical Capacity
Labour is abundantly available. Your ability to engage and retain will be influenced by your wage structure & incentives. If you are unlucky and find yourself in an enclave of other big farms, then you will be required to pay extra to get your required labour. Be warned, mostly this labour is bereft of the science of farming except for the art.
Farming is both an art and science. Over the years, we have focused greatly to the detriment of the science on only the art – clearing land, getting any type of inputs, praying for the rains, planting and waiting on the Lord for a good harvest.
Quite different, farming involves the science of testing and knowledge of soil type and its nutrient position including acidity level etc, land development protocols dependent on the type of crop, planting timing, appropriate agrochemicals and fertilisation protocols based on the soil test etc.
Even some persons with agriculture-related certificates do not possess this know-how. So do not be too confident it is that type or this type of crop growing area so skilled labour will be available or that you have engaged a certificate-based farm manager.
Invest in your own knowledge of the sector, crop etc. Learn by practice, sign up for self-growing programs and develop some capacity. Deliberately engage persons with practical experiences to lead. If possible, bring them from outside the immediate community and develop a plan for technology transfer – they must become the train-the-trainers.
If they prove to be beneficial, you run the risk of losing them to other farm projects hence your retention plan must be top-notched – your bottom line depends on this.
It is a sad reality but, if you can afford, bring at least a technical lead from outside Ghana. If you do, look towards countries with the same climate conditions as Ghana.
3. Capital or Money
Zig Ziglar’s money quote “Expect the Best. Prepare for the Worst. Capitalise on what comes” should never be lost on you.
In expecting the best, you must invest wisely. Investment decisions must be driven by functionality & operation optimisation. Aesthetic investments must never be considered during the first 5 years unless you are operating with deep pocket. Technology & mechanisation must lead in this decision-making process.
Either you prepare for it or not, the worse will come. When your production yield expectations are not met, you may be confident the next may be better. However, by the time you institutionalised such improved yield expectations, your losses will have outrun your pocket. Yield performance remains a factor of several issues – mostly things not within your immediate control.
Your debt accumulation rate will become high or you will keep funding as equity.
At this stage, what source of money you capitalised on will become important. If it is your personal saving or money from friends & family (even that) you may have a breather. In the unlikely event, it is loans or private debt arrangements, then you may just have sold your peace of mind.
So be warned. Pursue the use of personal funds, patient capital or partnerships involving a mix of capital and technical investment. Loans from financial institutions should never be the 1st options when deciding on your investment.
Remember to limit your liability overreach by using the instrument of a registered company.
“Time,” they say is money. So if your money is in, your time must be too. Time in this context includes your physical presence, your involvement in the farming activities, the ability to learn quickly and provide leadership with your knowledge acquired.
You cannot be an absentee farmer/entrepreneur. If you feel you have earned the right of an investor, just look for the right business to invest in, not farming. You cannot buy time with the engagement of others no matter how competent they are. We all see things differently and your time may help change a thing or two.
It is never the concern of how you can manage your time with other things you may want to do. Farming is just that one thing you can only do at a time or with the greater allocation of your time.
Do not let the desires of “I can make time” lead you into temptation. It either you have the time or you don’t dare start it.
5. What to grow
The sector has endless opportunities across various sub-sectors and their value-chain. Based on your interest/passion, decide what you want to invest in or grow.
Whilst making the investment decision, be guided that profitability is a factor of crop type/investment. Underlying that is your knowledge of the seasons. Timing is key. And on a commercial scale with the right investment into irrigation, your production capacities can be managed in ways that increase during the dry season and moderated during the major planting season.
If the local market is your target market then your production must be all year round so you can take advantage of the price windfalls. Do not attempt to produce everything, specialise. Be known for one or at most two crops and do stay ahead of others.
With a strong understanding of what to grow and when to grow it, you can control prices for at least 6 months of the year and increase your profitability.
The community is a unique source of labour, support and problems. It will be expensive ‘importing’ labour from other communities to your growing area. So you will count greatly on the cooperation of your immediate.
You will need to quickly get the buy-in of the community into your project. Make plans for interventions that support skill development, support for community project etc apart from employment opportunities.
Not long, you will start receiving all kinds of letters/appeal for fund envelops from churches, youth groups and don’t be surprised traditionalist may come too. These form part of community expectations for development and progress.
You should be excellent at managing these expectations if not your project may suffer the repercussions. Engage opinion leaders, the chief or assemblyman on how to navigate these and build partnerships for the growth of your farm and the community.
Take this for granted and the risk of community agitations (all of a sudden, it may be your project that has taken over their lands and livelihoods), theft, increase animal (goats, sheep, cattle etc) destructive activities will run in your face.
Some of these associated challenges you could manage with siting decision of your farm. You can mitigate any concern for inclusion if the community is carried along.
What you put into the soil is what comes out as fruits/yields. Inputs play a great role in determining your actual yield. A bad seed performs badly. A wrong fertiliser composition is of no value to the plant.
Input sourcing is highly tricky. Nice packages and powerful brand propositions do not reflect reality. Few accredited and credible input dealers exist on the market. Establish a technical support relationship with them and leverage it for the growing process.
Let your technical team lead in any decision of purchase of inputs and if possible run series of test before purchasing in bulk. You should anticipate disagreement should the inputs turn out to be below standards, so keep records in proof of your claims.
Finally, buy for cash or establish a credit line – but honour the terms.
8. Trials and Trials
Practice does not only make you perfect. More practice (trials) gives you the opportunity to understand the performance of your inputs, the response of the soil, climatic conditions, workers’ approach & attitude to work among others.
Your scaling up decisions will be measured if you have conducted enough trials. Less risk, more control is all you need to be successful.
Be innovative at this stage. Backed by science do the nonconventional things, keep the records and evaluate the results. You may have discovered new ways of growing.
Learn by sharing ideas. Engage in peer review with service providers, other stakeholders in the sector. Count in on the expertise of others. They may have learnt the valuable lessons worth sharing.
Except for your highly guarded innovations, bring in the 3rd eye at least each month to assess your progress and give you feedback. If you operate in an enclave with other farms, visit them, see what they are doing differently, ask permissions and copy where necessary.
Keep a word within your network. Let them know you are open to new ideas and looking at growing together. You may not know where your next investment in the form of a grant, equity or debt or technical support may come from.
10. Do not believe in Microsoft Excel, reality is key!
Microsoft Excel is a great invention! It is a great productivity tool. But do not be excited about its output – projections. Farming does not obey the rules of 5 – 3 = 2. Nothing is real until it happens.
Worse is the assurances of your technical team when clearly they have missed it. Expect no miracle beyond that point. There is no perfect picture moment beyond the reality you have seen.
Learn the art of managing one’s expectations. Master the skills of managing disappointments.
Be Strong. Be Resolute. Stick around. You can still turn things around but not on Microsoft Excel projections or workings.
The Author – Richard Nunekpeku, is a Lawyer @ E.L Agbemava Law Office and an Agribusiness Entrepreneur.