Innovative agronomy for Ghana’s future

Sonia Folikumah, Safi’s Seedling and Fertilizer Plant Coordinator, is an agronomist with a passion for improving Ghana’s agricultural sector. She talks to us about her professional background and what she finds most motivating about her day-to-day work.

Becoming an agronomist was not my initial plan – it was actually my dad who talked me into it. My dad is very passionate about agriculture because he’s worked for many years in Ghana’s import and export sector, so he’s seen how agriculture can contribute to the country. He always hoped that one of his children would work in this sector, and that’s turned out to be me! Over the years, I’ve grown to really love my profession.

I studied agriculture as my first degree, and was the only agronomist in my year to win a government scholarship to study abroad. I ended up studying in Russia, where I interned with a a few different companies in Moscow to gain practical experience. After coming back to Ghana and starting work here, I realised that there are a lot of gaps in my own country’s agricultural sector compared to what I saw in Moscow.

For example, from what I saw, Russians are very passionate about their food, about what they grow and how they grow it. It’s amazing to me that almost every Russian home has a garden and that every family uses it to grow something. And when you get out onto the field, you see that the level of technology that has been deployed is of a very high standard.

I love the way that Russian greenhouses are organized and regulated, and the fact that although they have a real variety of climates from winter to summer, their technology is advanced enough to make accurate calculations all year round. Everything is done in a very precise, well-organized way, and everything is estimated and calculated down to the very last detail. The results are tremendous.

I realised that there are a lot of gaps in my own country’s agricultural sector compared to what I saw in Moscow

In Russia there are strict rules for farming from the moment you enter the farm, and they have good reasons for having them. I remember that one day, we went in a greenhouse to harvest, and some of the students touched the tomatoes. They were spotted on camera, and the manager sanctioned us!

Farmers in Ghana, on the other hand, tend to take it for granted that there are no rules, but that they just need to harvest something. There are great gaps in technology and agronomic practices here, and gaps in knowledge too. The reason that I came back to work in Ghana was to work in the Ghanaian agricultural sector, and contribute to its success by offering what I think we are lacking here.

Here in Ghana, I first started working with IFDC (International Fertiliser Development Center), who sent me on secondment to work on their WASH project with Safi Sana, which was how I ended up joining the team. My role was to help with compost production and formulate the composition of the compost, as well as working on marketing and branding and getting farmers interested in the product. At that time, the greenhouse was already on site but wasn’t yet operational, and the nursery hadn’t been built, so we’ve moved on a lot since then.

Now, I’m in charge of all of Safi Sana’s agricultural activities in Ghana. I’m involved in all of the agricultural work that needs to be done on the sites and on the organic fertilizers. I also regularly meet farmers to share products and knowledge with them, as well as our other contacts in the agricultural sector. The challenges faced by farmers here are enormous, and Safi Sana alone can’t meet them all. They might face problems with their land itself, or with their seeds, inputs, fertilisers, chemicals, or even with the water they use. At the moment, we are focusing on solving the farmers’ fertilizer problems.

We also have greenhouses, where we’re growing beautiful, good quality seedlings to help the farmers have a good start for their cultivation. The traditional way that farmers nurse seedlings here is by spreading their seed on the floor and watering it, allow the seeds to sprout, and then transplanting them. It’s not the best way to start your crop, but there’s very limited knowledge of proper nursery management or proper farming practices here. Safi Sana is helping to solve that.

There’s very limited knowledge of proper nursery management or proper farming practices here (in Ghana). Safi Sana is helping to solve that

We only launched our fertiliser company a year and a half ago, and we’ve already seen steady improvements. Our workers are confident with the production process, so we no longer need to instruct anyone on how to do it, and we’ve increased our production significantly. Now, we’re focusing on getting a foothold in the market.

Working for Safi is totally different to my previous roles in the agricultural sector, because our work has so much potential to have a great impact on society. The diversity of the areas we work on is another thing I find really interesting – the biogas and agriculture element combined with waste management is not the norm, but these kind of innovations are going to have a great impact on the community. It’s really exciting for me to be part of something that is really impacting my nation. That’s exactly why I came back to Ghana, to help solve a problem, so my work is a huge motivation for me.

It’s really exciting for me to be part of something that is really impacting my nation.

In a few years’ time, I want Safi Sana to be be right at the forefront of the industry, known as one of the main companies worldwide pioneering proper waste management with great credibility and expertise, as well as providing innovative solutions in the agricultural sector. For me, that would be an amazing achievement.