Ghana: Entrepreneur seeks to boost agribusiness sector with technology

Isaac Sesi holding the GrainMate moisture meter in Accra, Ghana. Photo by: Richard Akakpo

By Sefakor Fekpe, bird story agency

Sesi Technologies, an agricultural technology firm, focuses on creating cost-effective, technology-driven solutions for farmers. The company’s flagship product, the GrainMate, is a grain moisture meter designed to help those handling grains effortlessly gauge the moisture content, thereby minimising post-harvest losses.

Isaac Sesi picks up a small bucket of maize to demonstrate the latest iteration of his moisture-measuring device. After powering the device with batteries, he presses a button, bringing up a white screen that displays various grain options for testing. He chooses the maize category and presses another button to initiate the reading. Sesi is demonstrating the most recent model of the GrainMate moisture meter, a device he developed to combat food loss in rural farming communities.

“Moisture content is one of the physical quantities that are essential in determining the quality of your end product, so we have come up with the GrainMate to make it easy to know how much moisture content you have in your product,” Sesi explains.

As a young man from a farming community in the Ashanti region of Ghana, Sesi became familiar with the challenges of storing grain the hard way, witnessing the difficulties his parents and other farmers experienced when trying to store their farm produce. He dedicated his academic career to finding a solution to this food loss.

His first iteration of the device was completed in 2018. The idea was to help farmers, aggregators, feed producers and anyone in the grain value chain to easily measure moisture content in their grain before storage, feed preparation or processing.

“One aspect of food security is in the process of being able to reduce or mitigate post-harvest losses because 30% of the food that we produce is lost … If we can cut down on these losses, that will bode well for our food security because the food that is being lost is food that can feed other people,” Sesi says.

Currently, Sesi Technologies’ GrainMate is less expensive compared to other, imported, moisture meter brands.

Sesi’s company offers two models. One is for regular grains, which is sold at 800 Ghanaian cedis (about US$65) while a second model extends to high-value commodities such as shea nuts. That version costs 1,000 Ghanaian cedis (about US$83).

Sesi graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and used his final year research project to come up with the GrainMate.

“In Ghana, with research, you just finish and put it on the shelf so you move on with your life but we thought that we developed something pretty good so we wanted to make it beneficial to farmers so I started Sesi Technologies to commercialise the output of my research at KNUST,” Sesi says.

The company’s breakthrough came with a sale of 150 of the devices. “Sesi Technologies was initially financed through a large pre-order by an international non-profit. This gave us the funds we needed to produce our first 150 units and hire our first employee,” the entrepreneur said in a previous interview.

Since then, Sesi has depended on revenue from sales of moisture meters and other services, while his company has received funding from a range of sources.

“We started with no money, absolutely no money. We just started by trying to commercialise this technology. How we were able to manufacture our first batch was that we got some pre-orders so we asked the client to pay for 70% so that we could use it to finance the initial inventory,” he says.

Determined to reach as many farmers as possible, Sesi participated in various start-up support programmes. He emerged as the overall winner of the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize, an award for African agri-food innovators and entrepreneurs who are developing solutions for the agriculture value chain, in 2019.

“We won the overall US$50,000 prize.”

This prize helped him to scale both production and human resources.

“We have about 25 people in our team and that tells you that our wage bill every month is substantial and we’re making progress. We also have our field team who are in charge of providing services that we provide to farmers,” he explains.

Over 5,000 farmers have now tried out the device, although uptake has been slower than Sesi and his young team anticipated. “There’s very slow adoption to new technology and so we have not seen the kind of rapid adoption that we are looking at.”

However, feedback from the current pool of users keeps Sesi and his team motivated.

“For instance, poultry farmers use our device to check the moisture content of the different components of the feed before they put it together. When they do that they tell us that once they know the moisture content they see the quality of the feed is high, productivity is high and their birds don’t suffer from diseases because our device helps them.”

In an earlier interview with How we made it in Africa, Sesi said his biggest mistake was underestimating how long it would take to build the product. “We were new to building commercial hardware products and we didn’t anticipate all the challenges we would face along the way. This led to us overpromising our biggest customer who had made a huge bet on us. It almost caused our downfall. Now we know better.”

Sesi is optimistic about growth and is eyeing a local manufacturing facility employing skilled engineers to increase production capacity and push mass adoption of the GrainMate device.

“In the end, the goal is to be able to produce and assemble more,” he says.

/bird story agency