The African Farmers’ Stories is an initiative of Support4AfricanSMEs that aims to amplify the voices of African farmers and highlight their pivotal role in keeping the continent fed, while exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, their challenges, and possible solutions. It is powered by the support of partners like BusinessDay, Clarke Energy, Big Dutchman, and more.
In the latest edition of The African Farmers’ Stories tweet chat hosted by Edobong Akpabio, we profile Evans Larbi, the “Gentle Farmer”, an aggregator, facilitator, trainer, marketer, advocate for rural women & youth in agriculture, and CEO of Beit Farms, a leading company in the agricultural industry in Ghana.
Evans is dedicated to contributing immensely to the growth of agribusiness in West Africa, and believes that agriculture is as prestigious as any profession and can be treated with the prominence it deserves through more awareness and digitization. Farming, to him is his life, and an empowering force, and his farm a place for learning, to make mistakes without judgement.
Evans grew up on a farm and was exposed early on to farming, going to the farm and to the market to sell produce with his mother. He notes that there have been a lot of positive changes in the agricultural sector since his childhood through mechanization, irrigation, processing, and export, while acknowledging that there is room for growth in income, storage, market access, road networks, and food production, especially at the small-scale level.
His agribusiness, Beit Farms Limited was started when Evans was a smallholder farmer; his yields and market links made while selling maize, plantain, cassava, and cocoyam encouraged him to go into commercial farming. Beit Farms aims to cater to the welfare of smallholder farmers, women, and youth, with the aim to educate, train, empower and create ready markets for all SMEs in Africa to make farmers proud of their livelihoods and create jobs.
On challenges faced, Evans notes issues like financial inclusion, credit, market access, and mechanization, but adds that he does his best to find solutions. He suggests strong farmer cooperatives with well-structured management so that potential partner companies can easily profit from doing agribusiness with farmers. Many smallholder farmers are not organised, and financiers, off-takers, and aggregators as such are not willing to do business with them; Evans aims to change this phenomenon.
He cites three factors that helped him to scale up from a smallholder farmer to a commercial farmer: consistency in providing products for buyers, even if it requires sourcing from fellow farmers, saving profits from every harvest, and learning about what crops to grow and who to sell to from other farmers. He also attends agricultural workshops, capacity building trainings, and does research online and on YouTube for advice on best farming practices before a new farming season.
Global institutions have speculated that Africa will be the world’s food basket post-COVID. Evans regards Africa as the home of agribusiness in the world and says it is time to take the sector seriously in order to maximise the potential and resources in Africa to feed the world, create jobs and improve livelihoods. African farmers can be motivated to participate in the conception and implementation of agricultural policies by forming consortiums with government agencies and the private sector to take their place on the table of governance.
Regarding support systems for farmers in Ghana, Evans explains that farmers in Ghana need education on emerging technology, digital solutions, storage facilities, consistent production, and value addition. Beit Farms Limited is addressing this need in their own way by providing capacity building training and summits where farmers can meet various value chain actors yearly to market their various produce.
Evans admits that the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected agribusinesses: poorer farmers’ access to their farms and shortages in farm labour and food supply are the major challenges posed by COVID-19 in Ghana. Farmers need input and financial support to scale up production to continue to feed the world through this period, as well as better solutions for storage, value addition and packaging, and involving youth more actively in farming.
Evans sees agribusiness as holding the potential to turn around the African economy, and advices young Africans to take part in the lucrative value chain. The potential returns of investing in young people are boundless, he says, in terms of food security, poverty reduction, employment generation, peace and political stability.