Africa Lead Intern Uses Experience to Launch Own Agribusiness Start-Up

Africa Lead Chief of Party, David Tartif-Douglin (right) listens intently as Boadu Owusu speaks of his internship experience and plans for his start-up, Accra, Ghana

When Boadu Owusu graduated from the University for Development Studies in Ghana with a degree in Agriculture Technology and Operations, he found himself in a situation common to many graduates - struggling to find a meaningful way to use his education and gain sustainable employment in the agricultural sector. After graduation, Boadu spent a year teaching Information and Communication Technology in a community school in the Upper West Region and later worked for over a year as a bank insurance marketing officer. Despite his challenges in finding work, Boadu remained passionate about agriculture and continued to look for opportunities that matched his academic training.

Boadu found his opening when he was recruited as an intern through the Internship Platform Network (IPN), a continent-wide internship program implemented by Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP). ASNAPP, a value chain development NGO based in South Africa, works to enhance growth in African indigenous plant products and horticultural industries by intervening and building capacity along the supply chain and using world-class science, technologies, partnerships and business approaches to developing successful African agribusinesses that enhance Africa’s competitive advantage in local, regional, and overseas markets. Africa Lead awarded ASNAPP a grant to scale up its internship opportunities for youth across the African continent. The objectives of the IPN initiative are to provide opportunities for youth to acquire hands-on, vocational and managerial skills to become “Entrepreneurs, Employable or Employers” in the agricultural sector. ASNAPP also builds the capacities of companies and organizations to develop their own in-house internship programs.

Through ASNAPP, Boadu was assigned to the Ghana Grains Council, a private sector-led initiative which advocates for favourable government policies for the grain industry, certifies and enforces agreed-upon industry standards, and promotes capacity building and knowledge sharing to achieve an overall Increase in the quality, productivity, and profitability of the grain value chain in Ghana. During his tenure as an intern, Boadu assisted in coordinating workshops and seminars and prepared resource materials. He also carried out follow-up visits to members of the council such as smallholder grain farmers to collect data on results from the support services delivered by the council, identifying challenges and opportunities for early intervention and further support.  In addition, Boadu developed communication materials to disseminate information on the progress of the council to its members and the general public, wrote concept notes and proposals for new activities, and assisted in screening applicants seeking membership in the Council.

However, Boadu’s greatest contribution to the Ghana Grains Council was using his ICT skills to develop an electronic database that the company now uses to keep track of its membership. He stated, “The database made it easy for the council to keep track of its membership in a more effective manner.” Boadu was also part of a team that successfully organized and facilitated a workshop event to enhance grain pricing policy in Ghana. During his work as an intern, Boadu noticed opportunities for agribusinesses across the value chain and became convinced he’d “have to start something on his own.” Thanks to his commitment and dedication, Boadu was offered an employment opportunity with the Ghana Grains Council, but he declined the job offer to work full-time on his own agribusiness start-up.

Partnering with a fellow ASNAPP intern, Boadu co-founded Vegetable Masters Ghana Limited, a vegetable aggregating, marketing, and packaging company that delivers fresh vegetables to the doorstep of its clients. Vegetable Masters supply vegetables such cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and green peppers to grocery shops, homes and offices of Accra-based clients. Boadu credits his ASNAPP internship with not only being an opening to formal work in the agriculture sector after a nearly 3-year job search, but also with providing cross-cutting skills essential to entrepreneurship such as marketing and communications. “The internship program strengthened my capacity in marketing which gave me the confidence to take up a new career path”, Boadu commented. Boadu and his business partner hope to expand their vegetable business through effectively utilizing local aggregators and hiring more staff. He hopes to use skills from his internship position to better manage his business to become a more profitable venture while doing his part as an entrepreneur to contribute to Ghana’s economic development. “The ASNAPP concept has truly developed an agripreneur in me,” says Boadu. Boadu and his team continue to receive support from ASNAPP, using a portion of ASNAPP’s campus for Vegetable Masters’ corporate office.

To date, ASNAPP has placed and supported 65 interns in 40 host institutions in Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and South Africa. Workforce development projects like ASNAPP’s internship program remain critical to bridging labor market gaps between academia and industry and addressing youth unemployment and underemployment in the agricultural sector. Of the forty-two (42) interns that have successfully completed an ASNAPP internship, twenty-four (24) have secured employment, two (2) have gone into agribusiness and sixteen (16) are pursuing agriculture-related postgraduate studies.