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FEATURE: Keta, Ghana – agribusiness offers women and youth greater food security during pandemic

In Keta, a rural community of Ghana, a semi-pro basketball player is promoting agribusiness among women and youth to enhance food security during the  pandemic. Misper Apawu reports. This is the twenty-eighth in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.

Keta is a rural community of Ghana, situated in the Volta region close to the Togo border, where food crops are mostly imported. In March 2020, when Ghana’s borders were closed due to the COVID-19-related lockdown, people in Keta started to face shortages of some food crops.

Sedem Tetevi is a 27-year-old semi-pro basketball player and a civil engineer, originally from Keta, who was living in the capital city Accra for work. When COVID-19 started creating food shortages in his native village, he decided to return there and venture into agriculture, with the aim of growing crops to ensure food security.

Mobilising youth and women to engage in commercial farming

In March, when Sedem first heard about COVID-19, he was preparing to join his basketball team in the United States for training. But his trip was cancelled due to the pandemic and his job at the Tema port was also at stake. Thinking about his family back home and the people of Keta, he decided to return to Keta right before the lockdown was announced.

“When I arrived in Keta, my first observation was panic among the people. They didn’t know what to do, as the authorities asked everyone to stay at home. They were clueless about how and from where to get their food,” he shares.

Seeing the struggles of his community, Sedem decided to co-found SEDLA, named after the two co-founders, a youth-driven commercial farming business in the Volta region, to protect communities from starvation during COVID-19 and provide much-needed income. At first, he shared his business idea with his basketball team manager in the United States, who assured Sedem that this was the right way to help his community.

Through SEDLA, Sedem and his team of young entrepreneurs are now mobilising young people and women to engage in commercial farming, from production to processing and supply chain management.

“Our vision is for youth to become drivers of change by taking charge of commercial farming in this region to mitigate food shortages,” he adds.

He initially reached out to his friends and family to join hands in starting an arable farm. He used his savings to start the business on a small piece of land. Eventually it became a collective effort when other community members joined him.

We came together to venture into agribusiness, to ensure food for the community during the pandemic. So far, we have harvested cabbage, pepper, tomatoes and maize and sold them to the community at a low price. We are looking forward to harvesting sweet potatoes in January 2021. This is a very good initiative that will sustain us during the pandemic and beyond,” says Senam, a school teacher in Keta.

“SEDLA has brought farming into our community and created employment for young people. This initiative has helped us to have foodstuffs for our household and the community at large by selling the food at a lower (than market) price for them; it has reduced our suffering,” says Bliss Quashie, a volunteer in the initiative.

Image: harvested tomatoes

In order to make the business economically sustainable, SEDLA intends to expand the acreage of its farms and their commercial operations. Sustainability also requires that they plan the crops carefully to suit the climate conditions of the area. They also plan to involve the families who are engaged in subsistence farming.

Sedem and his team intend to revitalise the fish farming culture of Keta and encourage people to take it up again, too.

“We realised that we have water bodies around us; especially the lagoon. Back some years, Keta used to produce a lot of Tilapia fish, even for export, but due to lack of funding and maintenance, they were not able to sustain it,” Sedem shares.

Coming this far was not easy for Sedem. He had challenges in registering the organisation and mobilising youth. They do not have any warehouse until now, in which to store their surplus produce. Sometimes crops get spoilt when they are unable to sell them within a particular period of time.

They also had pest attacks on the crops and vegetables in the initial days. They used local knowledge and techniques to fight against them.

“To get rid of pests, we got the seeds of a neem tree, crushed them into powder, mixed it with water and sprayed on the crops. We also realised there are nematodes (worms) in the soil that are impeding the growth of the pepper. So we planted corn in the midst of the pepper to control the nematodes,” he shares.

Despite these regular hiccups, Sedem and his team envision growing bigger.  “We want to utilise the plots available and export our produce. We have also decided to practice organic farming,” he proposes.

But for that, they need help to secure lands, and funds to buy machinery, farming equipment and to build a warehouse. “If we can build a processing factory, we can process sweet potatoes to get flour,” he adds. He also calls for NGOs and other institutions to join with him to promote collective farming.

Leaving the basketball career trajectory behind, Sedem now spends half of his day on the farm and encourages young people to get involved in agriculture rather than chasing white collar jobs.

Interviewer’s perspective

COVID-19 crisis has presented a chance for people to be proactive, creative, and innovative to tackle numerous challenges it has posed, including food security. As the pandemic advances, food security is becoming a growing global challenge, especially in Africa. Initiatives by young people like Sedem to sustain his community during the pandemic and beyond shouldn’t be underestimated. Young people in this part of the world prefer to be employed rather than venture into entrepreneurship, not to mention agribusiness entrepreneurship. This initiative can be an example of how helpful agriculture is to rural communities. Different forms of support are vital for this initiative to be sustainable. They should be supported by experts’ advice, equipment, and marketing facilities. They need it.

About the interviewer

Misper Apawu is a documentary photographer based in Accra, Ghana. She uses photography to learn about communities, focusing on the social, physical, and emotional aspects of daily life.

About the interviewees

Sedem Tetevi is a 27-year-old semi-pro basketball player and a civil engineer and is the co-founder of SEDLA.

Bliss Quashie is a 42-year-old woman based in Keta. She is currently volunteering in SEDLA’s commercial farming initiative.

Senam is a school teacher in Keta and one of the farmers collaborating in the commercial farming initiative of SEDLA.

Read more Voices from the Frontline

Read the whole ‘Voices from the Frontline’ series from communities across the world.

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