In an exclusive interview with African Harvesters, the CEO Greenhouse Ventures Ltd (GHV), Roland Fomundam speaks on sustainable agriculture and how youth inclusion can help attain Food Security in Africa.
See information on the interview below
Question 1: Can you introduce yourself and what your organization does?
My name is Roland Fomundam. About a decade ago, I travelled to the USA where I attended school and earned a degree in Technology Entrepreneurship. The degree conferred me with the acumen to identify and further develop technology products essential for the bottom pyramid.
Upon graduation, I set out on a mission to travel several US University’s labs and identify technology products that could be applicable in ameliorating Cameroon’s rural development problems.
I have since founded Greenhouse Ventures Ltd (GHV) – Cameroon’s premier sustainable agriculture company with a focus on developing and deploying the affordable greenhouse technology; cultivation and marketing of greenhouse grown crops; building capacities among participants interested in greenhouse agriculture and ultimately, a platform to host several other complementary technologies.
GHV has as its mission to use the affordable greenhouse technology to improve the quality and quantity of food production while saving the environment.
Question 2: Food production in Africa is not enough, what are the measure put in place by Green House Ventures to curb the issue.
- To best understand why this problem exists, we should consider the causative agents herein:
Africa has the capacity to produce but Africans do not invest in the resources to beef up production. We still farm the same way we have been farming for over 500 years.
- Seasonality greatly affects food production in Africa. This leads to a fluctuation in the supply of produce and hence prices.
- There is no value system for food being produced on the farms in Africa especially farms owned by the small-scale African farmers. And Africa remains the only place where the farmer is unable to consume what they produce – and if they do – they consume the bottom of their harvest. All in all, farmers are not included in the value chain of their produce.
- Most small-scale farmers are rural dwellers who also live under the poverty line. Most of them are not educated enough to be able to follow the current trends in agriculture development. They have little or no access to grants and the know – how to approach government funding allocated to them. They remain marginalized and face several barriers to access resources suitable for their growth and development.
- Most importantly, farming continuously to be practiced by the older generation. This generation is weak and unwilling to adopt technological advancements introduced in the agriculture sector. And the youths, who are to be involved in the sector have nothing that motivates them to get involved in the industry sector. Agriculture is stereotypically considered a poor man’s occupation and so the youths see no reason in getting involved.
- African markets are still premature and do not have the necessary infrastructure to promote homegrown products like in other Western countries.
At GHV – we have carefully considered the above points to be able to establish a platform that seeks to develop and introduce solutions to the crisis.
a. The greenhouse technology is considered to be a motherboard for agriculture in Cameroon. Using the technology, we can assure production in quality and quantity year round – irrespective of seasonality.
b. GHV has introduced a business model that seeks engages multiple farmers under a unique platform where they are enabled to become producers – while providing them with a market for their harvested produce. This closed loop system ensures producers can produce and can sell hence including them in the value chain of their produce.
c. With such a platform, GHV will engage numerous producers who will produce year round at different times across the country. In so doing, GHV will be able to assure a constant quality and quantity of produce in the marketplace.
d. GHV’s ability to ensure production will further strengthen its position in being able to stabilize the fluctuating market prices. Once prices are stable, production will see an incremental rise up till achieving our full production potential.
Question 3: What are the commitments of Green House Ventures towards the development and transformation of Africa’s sustainable Agriculture?
GHV’s end goal is the establishment of a food processing unit to transform the excesses into finished and packaged goods for several markets. GHV will set up a supermarket chain to sell local produce to local, regional and international markets. At the tail end, GHV will set up an institution of learning and technology development where ideas are turned into projects and products that are essential for community and national growth. This way, GHV will be able to transfer knowledge and technology as a means of ensuring value to all in the value chain.
Question 4: Kindly enlighten Agric stakeholders on how greenhouse aligns with sustainable agriculture and affect crop yield.
Sustainability takes into account the 3 pillars of sustainability: the economic, the social and the environmental.
1. Economically – GHV’s model assures a positive return on investment for any party (the company, the farmer/producer and shareholders) involved within 2 years of operations.
2. Socially – GHV Foundation has introduced a One greenhouse One Orphanage project with a goal to identify orphanages and pair them with donors who sponsor the acquisition of a greenhouse at the orphanage. This way, the orphans are trained in greenhouse farming – and any harvest serves for consumption and the excesses sold to sustain the orphanage. GHV also works with traditional leaders where they acquire development land – and set up greenhouses that are managed by the locals and serves them as well.
3. Environmentally – GHV is committed to promoting sustainable practices. The greenhouse itself works by containing greenhouse gases that could otherwise escape into the atmosphere and cause further pollution. GHV also utilities a Biogas unit(s) for the production of their organic manure instead of using the chemical fertilizer that further contaminates the soils. GHV’s packaging and construction plastic are made of a biodegradable material which goes to further solidify our position in promoting sustainable outcomes.
Question 5: Postharvest loss is an issue in Africa. What insights do you have for Africa to attain food sufficiency in Africa?
Postharvest loss is one of Africa’s greatest agricultural problems. And the problem continues to exist because the continent does not have infrastructures in place to minimize these losses. The use of chemical fertilizers is a catalyst to degradation and spoilage. Coupled with poor storage conditions and access – produce takes longer to reach markets and when markets are unfavourable, the challenge is how to store them for longer.
GHV is tackling this issue by growing crops with an extended shelf life. For example, GHV’s tomatoes have proven to last over 35 days on the shelf compared to mere 5 days for outdoor grown and cucumbers over 67 days compared to mere 7 days for outdoor grown crops.
Our goal is to make greenhouse farming a standard while promoting these standards to assure mass adoption of quality and excellence.
Question 6: What you view on youths inclusion in Agribusiness? What measure can be taken to have African Youths engaged in Agribusiness?
Agriculture in Africa has been stigmatized with a lot of negative connotations. It is seen as the occupation of the poor and unfortunate. It has never achieved sustainability and has been non-attractive to the many youths who see the office job as the true definition of success and achievement. Nevertheless, engaging the youths in Africa’s agriculture is the key to ensuring increased production by these youths who are more energetic and innovative than their old aged peers.
To be able to engage the youths, agriculture must need to be rebranded – and seen from a totally different perspective – a perspective that proves that any investment in agriculture will yield profitable outcomes. This is what GHV is currently doing.
And agriculture has the potential to provide a broad-based development stage that will be very instrumental in creating jobs for the numerous unemployed youths.
Question 7: How has agribusiness investment in Africa changed over the years and what other solutions can be done by relevant Agric stakeholders?
Sadly, agribusiness investment has benefitted the non-Africans more than the African stakeholders. Africans are still waking up to the realization that agribusiness investment is profitable.
The only solution to reversing this trend will be to have an active support platform by the governments to lower the barriers of entry in investing in the sector and more so, enabling an ecosystem that promotes profitability and hence sustainability.