Time is precious to Joshua Ayinbora, so he makes sure that he uses it as wisely as possible. After putting in a full day at a global engineering consultancy, he turns to the running of his 10 hectare farm, where he grows pineapples, papaya and vegetables.
Despite rarely having any free time, Joshua wouldn't have it any other way.
"I have two jobs – one as an engineer and the other as a farmer, but I manage to combine the two," he says. "I work each day from the moment I wake up till the time I fall asleep, but that's the way I like it."
Due to his job commitments, Joshua can only be physically present at his farm at weekends. Helping him in his busy schedule is a range of smart tools, which enable him and his team of young farm managers – all graduates like him – to run his farm wherever they are.
"On our farm, we do things slightly differently," says Joshua. "We use ICTs to make things run smoothly and efficiently." These include a mobile phone app which tracks all farm activities, online systems to order inputs and make payments, and equipment to measure soil moisture, so as to avoid over-irrigation.
Never one to leave things to chance, Joshua did his homework before embarking on a career in agribusiness. After studying earth science at university in Ghana, he did a master's degree in petroleum and gas engineering at the University of Salford in the UK. Returning home in 2013, he already had a clear idea of the direction his future should take.
"I've always had a passion to be an entrepreneur and start my own business. While at university in England, I did a lot of research to pinpoint the area, and I realised all of it was pointing towards one thing – agriculture," he recalls. "Everything I read was talking about agriculture as the future of Africa – one of the few sectors where Africa had a competitive advantage."
A company with a conscience
Starting a business based on agriculture also fitted in with Joshua's social objectives, of reducing poverty and creating jobs in rural Ghana. Already, after just two years of running his enterprise, he employs 15 staff.
"I was trying to find a business that would not just give me a second source of income, but also help the community that I came from and help solve the real problem of food shortage in Africa," he explains.
It comes as no surprise that Joshua did careful research before opting for pineapples as the main crop to grow on the land he leased in eastern Ghana. He soon realised that there was a shortage of this fruit in his country. Most companies had to source pineapples from as far away as Togo and the Cote d'Ivoire for processing into value added products.
Further inquiries revealed that local conditions were near perfect for producing pineapples, with ideal soil and climate. After carrying out a financial modelling exercise, the young entrepreneur calculated that this crop had good prospects of being profitable, with its 1.5 year growth span allowing him respite from excessive short-term economic pressure and fitting in neatly with his full-time job schedule.
Most of the pineapples produced by his small business Groital are sold to a nearby juice processing firm, which is the largest buyer of fruit in West Africa. Locating his farm within a 30-minute drive of this company has proved a strategic advantage for Joshua, and he delivers truckloads of pineapples on a regular basis.
Joshua invested his entire savings in renting his first plot, together with the monthly salary from his job as a geologist. He won cash prizes in two prestigious awards in 2016 – for the StartUpper contest run by Total Petroleum Ghana, and ENGINE, a competition to reward budding entrepreneurs run by international NGO TechnoServe. Every last cent of the respective US$20,000 (€18,650) and £6,000 (€6,950) prizes will be invested in his business.
Reaching out to other young people
So have the sacrifices been worthwhile? Joshua's answer is an emphatic yes.
"The first reward is satisfaction. I have managed to create jobs, and that is very satisfying. A lot of them are young people. If more people did this, we could solve unemployment in Africa," he says. As part of his determination to give something to the community, Joshua has linked up two rural villages to clean drinking water, supplied by the borehole he drilled for his pineapple plantation.
"Before, they used to get their water from a muddy stream, so when I see children going there to fetch water for drinking, cooking and laundry I just feel so happy that I am able to improve the livelihoods of people living close to the farm."
As part of his strategy to use high-tech solutions to streamline operations, Joshua has experimented with flying drones over his farm. They help to identify plants that are unhealthy and target spraying to treat them, as well as monitoring growth to apply fertilizer only where it is needed. The result is less waste and more cost-effective and sustainable farming. In October 2016, Joshua hosted a demonstration of precision agriculture using drones organised by CTA.
The modern image projected by Joshua's operation is one that other young people find attractive, and in the past few months, he has been contacted by a number of youngsters wanting to know more. Maintaining updated profiles on Facebook and other social media channels helps to spread the message. There are plans in hand to team up with the African Youth Network for Agricultural Transformation (AYNAT), organising internships, so that young people can receive work experience. In spite of his time constraints, Joshua does his best to offer advice to school leavers who contact him and makes a point of inviting them over on a Saturday, when he too will be present at the farm.
"My advice to young people is that agriculture is a business, and they must see it from that viewpoint, rather than just something you do when you have nothing else to fall back on," he comments. "They should also think that if everybody eats, it means that there is a great deal of hope for the agriculture sector. If you farm well, you will definitely make more money than someone working in an office."