In 2013, Ghanaian Richard Nunekpeku ventured into farming, starting with commercial egg production. At the time he was employed full time, but managed his agribusiness remotely and visited the farm on weekends.
However, in May 2015 he quit his job as marketing manager at Samsung, overseeing five West African countries, to concentrate on building his farming venture. Nunekpeku says leaving a successful career was “purely a business decision”.
“I think as a young person, if I do this (agriculture) sustainably, I can drive profitability not just for myself but also contribute to our national economy in helping reduce food shortages and importation,” he says.
His efforts are gradually paying off. Today he runs Anyako Farms, a commercial farming business involved in rearing poultry, and growing maize, rice and vegetables. The business has a long-term lease for a 500-hectare piece of land in the Volta Region of Ghana.
Nunekpeku initially began diversifying his portfolio from poultry to crop farming because he wanted to cut the cost of producing chicken feeds – more than 50% of feed expenses were going towards purchasing maize.
“We came to the decision to acquire additional land and start producing our own maize to feed the poultry,” he explains. “Upon the first production of maize we did a review of our performance and realised there were bigger opportunities in the crop sector besides producing maize just to feed our poultry. So we expanded the maize production and went into rice and vegetables.”
After the first harvest, Nunekpeku realised he wasn’t achieving optimal crop production by relying on rain. So he made additional investments, and secured matching grants from a World Bank-funded project, to acquire new irrigation equipment.
“We currently have 113 hectares of land under irrigation and we have electricity, which enables us to produce all year round,” he says. “We are still diversifying, going into pig farming. We are currently building the piggery. Once we fully commercialise the maize production we will have a lot of by-products that can be used to feed our livestock, so we need to be ready for that synergy to avoid waste of the by-products.”
Nunekpeku says he manages Anyako Farms the same way as a business in any other sector. Just like in the corporate environment where structures, systems, processes and compliance are non-negotiable, so should be the case in an agricultural venture.
“In my professional career I was involved in ensuring companies drive revenues, minimise costs and maximise profits. I look at farming from that angle – purely as a business. I came into agriculture with the view that if I handled it as a business rather than the peasant and subsistence angle previous generations have taken, I could make a lot of money from it.
“If you put in place structures and systems, you set your business apart from other farming entities and your employees and stakeholders will understand the seriousness of your investment and support that agenda.”
Human resources and financing challenges
One of the key challenges Nunekpeku has faced is finding well-trained and experienced agricultural professionals.
“I do not have a background in agriculture so I rely a lot on technical experts,” he says. “But there are limited human resources available. Even at the district level, the local government agriculture office is under-resourced so you don’t get all the technical support you need.
“You have to go to the open market and pay expensive fees for the limited consultants to come help and advise you about the technical aspects.”
Accessing financing is also a big challenge. In Ghana, Nunekpeku says, most farmers rely on rain, and often miss their production targets when there are disruptions in rainfall patterns.
“Most of those farms do not generate enough revenue to pay back previous loans, so the banks have come to a position where they are not interested in financing agriculture. If you want to do agriculture in Ghana today you must look for your own financing.
“We have invested over US$1m into this business, mostly from our own savings or monies borrowed from friends and family.”
Despite the hurdles, Nunekpeku says he has no regrets about quitting his job to become a farmer. If anything, he thinks he should have left the corporate world much earlier.
“We are looking at becoming one of the leading agribusinesses in Ghana. Most commercial farms in Ghana are predominantly owned by foreign investors and foreign companies. So by 2020 we want to be a leading locally-owned and locally-managed agribusiness in the crop and livestock sector.
“We want other youths to look at us as a shining example in the agricultural industry, and get motivated to also join and contribute in addressing the food shortages.”