Welcome to the Second Season of the founders Corner!

We were delighted to have a conversation with Edmond Kombat, the visionary behind Oyster Agribusiness. During our engaging discussion, Edmond provided invaluable insights into sustainable agricultural methods and the trajectory of agribusiness in the tech space. His dedication to innovation and environmental responsibility left a lasting impression!

Edmond Kombat is the Founder of Oyster Agribusiness. He is from the North-East region of Ghana. He did his first degree in Political Science and History, and served as the SRC president at the University of Ghana. He is an alumni of the GIMPA Faculty of Law and the Ghana School of Law.  He is currently pursuing an MPA degree at Harvard University.  He is a Lawyer by profession and an entrepreneur by occupation. 

Introduction and Background:

  • Can you share a bit about your background and journey in the agritech industry.

After graduating from The University of Ghana, I seized the opportunity to undertake an internship with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London. This experience significantly altered my perception of entrepreneurship, prompting me to embark on my entrepreneurial journey in 2016.

I came to realise that Entrepreneurship creates jobs, generates wealth, and boosts capital formation in a country. Successful enterprises not only provide employment and generate income but also contribute to national development through taxation.

  • Is Oyster present in every part of Ghana? Are there plans to expand?

Currently, Oyster operates in six out of Ghana’s 16 regions, namely Bono East, Savannah, Upper East, Upper West, Northern, and North East. Our headquarters is situated in Greater Accra and our operational office is in Kintampo in the Bono East Region. We are actively investigating opportunities in the Volta and Eastern regions to initiate rice and cassava production. Additionally, we have future plans to introduce livestock and aquaculture as part of our expansion strategy.

  •  What inspired the founding of Oyster Agribusiness?

While still in Law School, I established a Fund Management Company licensed under the Securities and Exchange Commission. Unfortunately, this venture did not achieve the desired growth. Subsequently, I delved into research and between 2017 and 2018, I stumbled upon a document published by the African government bank and the World Bank regarding the state of agriculture in Africa. The report emphasised that agriculture was a lucrative sector with vast untapped potential, particularly a good opportunity for young people. Africa was noted to possess 65% of the world’s arable land, presenting a significant opportunity for development if properly harnessed.

As someone who grew up in a small farming community where there was subsistence farming, I felt compelled to address this issue, not merely for financial gain but to create an enterprise that would add value to the community. This led to the establishment of Oyster Agribusiness in 2018. 

Initially, our plan was to engage in commercial farming. However, due to challenges such as limited access to farm inputs and markets for farmers’ produce, we shifted the focus of our business model to making a tangible impact in the lives of smallholder farmers. We began by providing farmers with inputs such as improved seeds,  fertilisers, imparting best and modern agronomic practices and guaranteeing to buy any crop that the farmers produced. 

  • How would you say the startup journey has been for you?

The first three years were very difficult. During the first year, my attention was divided among various activities, so I delegated operational responsibilities to hired staff. Unfortunately, these employees lacked the required commitment, honesty, and integrity crucial for running a startup effectively. Recognizing the need for more direct involvement, I refocused my efforts on the business in 2019, however,  Covid-19 happened and it affected our financing and other operations. 

Despite these setbacks, there was a turning point toward the endtail of 2020 when our fortunes began to improve. With a renewed focus and commitment,  I became fully involved in the day-to-day operations of the organisation, leading to positive development and progress.

  • Why has Oyster made it a point of interest to engage in agriculture in a manner that appeals to young people?

Agriculture presents a straightforward and rapid pathway to wealth creation and accumulation, offering one of the simplest means to generate employment opportunities. Unlike many other ventures, it doesn’t demand extensive resources in the form of deep-dive technical skills but rather keen attention to detail.  The issue is that 95% of the people who are engaged in agriculture in Africa are aged. This eventually threatens our food security as the ageing farmers struggle to keep pace with the demands of farming activities. Currently 1 in 6 people around the World is African- that number will be 1 in 4 by 2025  and 1 in 3  Seventy-five years from now. There are going to be more mouths to feed and more jobs to be created. 

Encouraging youth involvement in agriculture will not only help to alleviate unemployment, but it would also enhance food production and security, reducing reliance on imported essential food items. Just next year, 2025, Africa’s agricultural food import bill will be about $110billion. These products are things we can easily produce anywhere across the continent. The people who can better do it sustainably and profitably are the young people of the continent. 

By inspiring and empowering the younger generation to embrace agriculture, we can create a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector that benefits both present and future generations.

Fun Founder Facts:

  • If you weren’t leading this company, what profession would you pursue?

Well, I usually say that I think I’ll be a good musician or a footballer but when I mention that everybody around me laughs. 

  • What’s the one skill you wish you had mastered earlier in your career?

I always felt that I’d be better off if I knew how to play one of the musical instruments or if I knew how to dance. Music, with its vast diversity and therapeutic qualities, has a unique way of soothing the soul and lifting one’s spirits. Engaging in these activities not only provides companionship when spending some alone time but also serves as a calming escape when trying to wind down.

  • If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?

Undoubtedly, my choice would be Kwame Nkrumah. Growing up, my father flooded our home with Nkrumah’s portraits and writings, so I grew up reading about Nkrumah and took an interest in the work he did. I regard him as an exceptionally visionary leader, not only for Ghana but also for Africa and the broader black community. 

If given the chance, I would eagerly seek insights from Nkrumah on his motivations behind leading Ghana to independence, why he chose to make Ghana a one party state that eventually led to his overthrow, and the challenge that he  encountered along the way. I would have also been keen to find out what he would have done about the current leadership paralysis in Ghana and across Africa. 

The Role of Technology in Transforming Agriculture:

  • In your opinion, how has technology revolutionised the agricultural sector?

Technology has revolutionised the agriculture sector in several ways. One significant advancement is the development of apps, which have enabled us to register and maintain a database of farmers. With this we can keep track of our engagements and transactions with the farmers. 

Technology has also helped the agriculture sector with an inventory system through which  businesses can accurately monitor their produce and general activities. The introduction of Mobile Money (MoMo) and other digital payment systems have made it easy to pay smallholder farmers and build their credit history.

In the agriculture sector, there are Geo-sensors that help to predict rainfall patterns in various regions. Based on this, we know when to plant and when to harvest the produce. The existence of GPS devices aids in measuring the acreage of land as opposed to doing that manually as we did in our father’s farms with the use of ropes and our feet which was time consuming and lacked accuracy. 

Overall, these technological innovations have significantly streamlined agricultural operations, making tasks easier, faster, and more efficient for farmers.

  • Can you share with us Oyster’s agricultural process? 

Oyster employs several models to engage in agricultural activities. One of them is the outgrower model. With this model, we work with smallholder farmers by speaking with them about the crops we are interested in and registering those willing to partner with us . We then assess their lands, conduct soil testing through reputable institutions like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and prepare the land for cultivation. We provide a guaranteed market for the farmers by buying whatever they produce.

The ingrower model takes a similar approach. However, in this approach, we acquire the land ourselves and employ immigrant labourers to work on the farms. These immigrant workers receive the same support and services provided in the outgrower model, ensuring a seamless and productive farming process.

In the third model, we utilise our own farmland, either by renting or leasing it out for the farming season. Following cultivation,  we harvest the produce and transport it to our various offtakers. 

  • How does Oyster address farming challenges for farmers who may not have access to mobile phones or the internet, and what innovative solutions does Oyster offer in such scenarios?

So what we do is that we reach out to farmers who may not have access to phones by connecting with literate family members who own mobile devices, serving as their primary point of contact for communication.  We also have a lot of motorbikes and motor Kings for commuting to and from the villages. Beginning this year, we have made it mandatory for farmers to possess mobile phones, as we will be disbursing payments through mobile money or Rural bank accounts. This will help them build some credit history. 

We are also one of the few organisations that are able to  offer financing options and procurement services for agricultural inputs, because these farmers do not have the money to buy the inputs they need. 

Another innovative solution we provide is a guaranteed market for the produce of the farmers, ensuring a stable income stream. Also, to minimise post-harvest losses and streamline harvesting processes, we provide threshers to farmers. After the produce has been harvested, we make sure to incur the cost of transporting them to our warehouses so that the process does not affect the farmers financially. 

Sustainability and Environmental Impact:

  • What unique practices sets Oyster apart from other agritech startups?

Oyster is a mission-driven Enterprise. Our unique trait is our desire to create meaningful impact, generate employment opportunities, and reshape the perception of agriculture, particularly among young people. So we have been able to successfully get a lot of young people, mostly city dwellers, involved in agriculture and farming thereby bridging the gap between city dwellers and agricultural practices.

We also make sure our staff are compensated fairly and treated with dignity and respect. We prioritise their professional growth by offering challenging opportunities and implementing a performance management system that rewards excellence.

We also have a diversified crop portfolio as we understand the risks associated with relying solely on one crop. By maintaining a diversified crop portfolio and adopting vertical integration, which encompasses production, input supply, agro processing, and livestock, we mitigate the impact of potential crop failures.

Our current crop selection includes sorghum, maize, soybean, rice, and sesame, with plans underway to establish a poultry farm and a cassava starch factory. Additionally, we practise crop rotation to optimise soil health and productivity.

From humble beginnings with seven farmers, we have expanded our network to include 3,000 smallholder farmers. Our goal is to further increase this number to 10,000, empowering more individuals to participate in sustainable agriculture and contribute to community development.

Addressing Food Security Challenges:

  • In what ways does Oyster contribute to improving food security and ensuring access to nutritious food for communities, particularly in underserved regions?

We prioritise the production of edible crops, ensuring that all our crops are safe and healthy for consumption by making sure we don’t use poisonous chemicals on our Farms. We promote Environmental Conservation and sustainability by asking our Farmers to do a lot of crop rotation. We also practise ethical sourcing by ensuring the food is well cleaned for the end consumer.

Through thorough cleaning and inspection processes, we ensure that our food products meet the highest standards of safety and hygiene.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Where would you say you see the Agriculture industry in the near future?

The Agritech industry is rapidly embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI) for its efficiency. While AI offers numerous advantages, there are concerns about its potential to disrupt the global labor force, with predictions suggesting it could replace up to 40% of jobs worldwide.

So in the near future, Agricultural practices will become very effective and farmers will be able to achieve maximum efficiency. Farmers will be able to scale, increase yields, and implement precision agriculture techniques and a whole lot more.  Despite the excitement surrounding AI’s potential in agriculture, it is crucial not to overlook the importance of human connection. While it offers the promise of maximising efficiency, we must ensure that it doesn’t come at the expense of human welfare. Finding a balance between technological innovation and human involvement will be key to ensuring a sustainable and equitable future in agriculture.

  • Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers, whether it’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or insights into tech in Africa?

I recently shared a tweet that has been in my thoughts for a while. And that is my advice for readers.

In my journey of entrepreneurship over the past seven to eight years, I’ve realised that while market knowledge, vision, and a solid business model are important, the most crucial lesson is not to delay starting your venture. Time doesn’t wait for anyone, and procrastination can hinder your progress. Once you decide to embark on your entrepreneurial journey, apply yourself to research and be humble. Assemble a bright team, learn from them and leverage their expertise to propel your venture forward. Remember, taking action and starting your endeavour is the first step towards success.

  • Any upcoming events or plans we should look out for?

Last year, Oyster successfully raised a significant amount of funding, and this year, we’re gearing up for another round of fundraising. We will kickstart two major initiatives: the expansion of our farm operations and  establishment of a poultry farm and the  launch of an award ceremony to celebrate smallholder farmers.

We will be increasing our portfolio to 10,000 farmers and introducing agro processing.

Ultimately, our vision is to become the next multi-billion dollar agribusiness from Africa. With determination, innovation, and a commitment to empowering farmers and enhancing the Agricultural value chain across Africa, we’re confident in our ability to achieve this goal and make a lasting impact on the agricultural industry and the economies of Africa and the world.

For more information, visit: 

Oyster Agribusiness website: https://oysteragribusinessgh.com/

You can also reach out via the social media platforms:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/OysterAgribiz

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/oyster-agribusiness/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/oysteragribusinessgh/

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