A path to food security

Alloysius Attah’s company has improved the lives of 1.7 million farmers | Photo by Michael Swan

Support for sustainable agriculture is key, Ghanaian agtech pioneer says

Doing well and doing good simultaneously is the path forward for agriculture-related businesses in Africa, a leading Ghanaian businessman says. “The future business of food security is helping farmers be resilient in the face of global challenges, and to produce more, and to sell more to boost revenues and profits,” Alloysius Attah says.

Attah, co-founder and CEO of Farmerline, made the comments in a speech at MEDA’s annual convention in Toronto. He started Farmerline in 2013 with only $600 US. Its earliest partnership was with the MEDA GROW project in Northern Ghana. Since that time, Farmerline has grown to over 100 full-time staff and 3,000 commissioned field officers. The company is a Ghana-based agtech whose products have improved the lives of 1.7 million farmers in 48 countries. Its Mergdata platform was recognized as one of the 100 best inventions of 2019 by Time Magazine.

Last June, Farmerline was selected by the World Economic Forum for its 2023 Tech Pioneer Cohort, a diverse range of companies that are addressing global challenges through cutting-edge technologies. Sustainable agriculture is the key to a better future for small-scale farmers, Attah said. “Sustainable farming ensures that farmers can not only keep their yields but also improve them. Improved yields mean greater profitability and all the benefits that go with it.” However, he said that the adoption of sustainable farming methods by small-scale farmers around the world remains low. “This has been largely due to shocks affecting farmers but also largely due to lack of access to high-impact products and tools that were invented over 100 years ago.” These include high-quality seeds, organic fertilizers, and solar irrigation.

Attah wants industry, governments, and development partners to double down on sustainable farming practices, giving farmers and agribusinesses all the tools they need to succeed. This would include increasing the access, distribution, and adoption of products and services that deepen farmer resilience. Such moves “will improve farmer preparation for shocks,” he said.

Farmerline is working to address some of these challenges. It recently launched Mission 13, a partnership to reduce the environmental impact of farming and to support climate adaptation by small-scale farmers. This includes the adoption of drought-resistant seeds, organic fertilizers, solar equipment, and innovative financing. Accelerating innovative and blended financing, especially climate (mitigation) financing to farmers and agribusinesses everywhere, is also key, Attah said. “MEDA has been a pioneer in impact investment, and we can continue doing (that) for the next 70 years.” Creating lasting profits and wealth for farmers everywhere will require maintaining a disciplined approach to addressing these challenges, he said.

Scaling with mission-aligned partners, including national and local governments, is important. He said that being cost-effective and sustainable at all times should be another guiding principle. “If cost-effectiveness is built into the model, the chances of withstanding shock — any form of shock, be that climate change or war — increases.” Continuing rigorous impact measurement in all things to determine what works is the third guiding principle that cannot be overlooked, he said. “If we continue to stay true to these three things, we will preserve what we’ve built together. We will continue to do great things that last.”

Attah praised Canada’s International Development Minister, Ahmed Hussen, and the Canadian government for their continued support for initiatives in Africa. “Our efforts, together, will make the difference to ensuring farmers can stand up on their own feet and do their part to ensure global food security.” Quoting convention master of ceremonies Marcus Shantz, Attah told his audience they “should never underestimate the spiritual essence of young adults with big dreams.”

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