Janet Gyimah-Kessie joined a programme in Ghana that promoted the cultivation of cassava in 2002. What started as an acre of cassava has since grown into a cultivation and processing business, Josma Agro Industries, that is looking to branch into direct exports in the near future. Jeanette Clark spoke to her about how she built the business and growth opportunities in the cassava industry.
Lack of fresh cassava market led to processing
Gyimah-Kessie did not plan to become an agro-processor. After a year of growing the improved variety of cassava provided by the Presidential Special Initiative programme, she found there was no market for the harvested produce.
“I was honestly lost. I did not know the market I was producing for and discovered cassava spoils easily after harvest,” says Gyimah-Kessie. A discussion with a friend led to the idea to process her harvest and those of other local smallholder farmers into garri, which is the granular flour obtained by processing the tuberous roots of the fresh cassava. Garri is cooked by adding water and kneading it into a dough that accompanies dishes like stews.
What would later become Josma Agro Industries, started small in a local kitchen with eight ovens for roasting the cassava and about 15 staff members.
Processing the cassava turned the harvested crop into a product with a much longer shelf-life. The local farmers supported the start-up by contributing their harvests and, in 2004, Gyimah-Kessie registered Josma Agro Industries.
Today, the company grows about 70% of the fresh cassava it uses on its own land, while the rest is sourced from other smallholder farmers.
Finding the finance for equipment
In the beginning, Gyimah-Kessie used her personal money to get started.
“When I realised the business was outgrowing my available capital, I applied for a grant from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, meant as support for small-scale farmers and agro-processors. This helped me to procure the first pieces of equipment: a grater and a chipper.”
However, this machinery had to be replaced within a year, as they were not stainless steel and unsuitable for long-term processing. “It was a lesson learnt. I realised the need for good quality equipment. This is when I was introduced to the Root and Tuber Improvement Programme – a joint venture between the Ghanaian Government and the International Fund for Agriculture Development – at a harvesting programme I attended. I received financial support and was able to buy two good graters and roasting pans,” explains Gyimah-Kessie.
Cutting out the middlemen
At first, Josma sold to a trader in bulk. The price the company got for its product was a lot lower than what an end client would pay.
“We wanted to make inroads into the market but it wasn’t easy. Cassava is readily available and garri producers can be found everywhere cassava is grown,” Gyimah-Kessie says.
The company investigated exports but was unable to find direct clients in neighbouring countries or abroad because it did not have the required certifications.
“We then started talking to companies already exporting and sold our product in bulk to them.” While this has helped the company to grow, the time has arrived for Josma to promote its own brand.
“This is something I would do differently if I could start over; make sure everything is in place early on for me to enter the export market directly instead of producing for others,” she reveals.
With the assistance of the Ghana Export Promotion Authority, Josma is currently acquiring the certifications to export the garri under its own label.
“I think this will definitely improve our revenue. The difference between the price we get and what the middlemen sell it for is astronomical. We need to address that.”
The potential of cassava flour for industrial use
In 2015, Josma began production of high-quality cassava flour (HQCF). The product is used in industrial sectors to make glucose syrup, industrial alcohol and bakery products, and even for the production of adhesives such as plywood glues.
According to Gyimah-Kessie, the potential market for this product is much larger than for garri.
However, the company has since temporarily paused production of HQCF while it waits for a new drier to be installed.
“I think there is a big opportunity for HQCF. It is being used on a wide scale and has a massive market. We did have a few potential clients but our production capacity was too low. The large companies wanted product in much larger quantities than I could provide. We are now gearing up to provide on this scale.”
The company has secured funding from the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to build a line drier to assist in the production of HQCF.
Josma has been selected to form part of the government’s One District One Factory initiative, which focuses on promoting commercially viable businesses and establishing at least one mid-sized to large factory in each of the country’s rural districts.
Intense competition in garri
Many competitors vie for a share of the garri market in Ghana. “In every community you have garri being roasted. All along the highway, you will see garri sellers. However, getting the right quality is an issue and finding the right quantities from more commercial producers can be challenging for some clients,” says Gyimah-Kessie.
Josma’s current annual production capacity is 145,600 kg of garri per year and Gyimah-Kessie hopes annual sales can be boosted by 10% to 15% once the export certification is in place.
Josma Agro Industries managing director Janet Gyimah-Kessie’s contact information
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