One of the resources that Africa is endowed with is the natural resource of which forestry is part. However, many young ones have centered their career on white-collar jobs, leaving the forestry business for the ageing group. But Yvonne, a young lady, is charting a different path. She has decided to use sustainable means to tap into the country’s forestry and agriculture to earn a living and create employment for others. Read how she is doing this as she narrates her story to the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups.
Yvonne Odame-Nti has a background in natural resource and climate change. She is a product of the Kumasi Girls Senior High School. She holds a degree in Natural Resource from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Then she had a scholarship to do her second degree in Climate Change and Development at the University of Sussex, UK, in 2012. From there she worked in Geneva for the United Nations for some time and came back to Ghana to pursue a passion she has developed for years— protecting the environment through eco-friendly and sustainable agriculture.
But before then, she worked with the Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment (KITE) and as a research assistant for a former Minister of Environment. In 2016, she felt the time was right for her to start her own business.
Yvonne’s business dates back to the lecture hall in 2009 while she was still a university student. In one of their presentations in class which centered on reforestation projects being done in Ghana, she became aware that people supply seedlings to the Forestry Commission for the project. It struck her that she can also be among the people who supply such seedlings. With guidelines from her lecturer, she decided to engage in nursery of seedlings for timber. After registering her business with the name Y&M Regeneration Ltd, she got a contract from the Forestry Commission to supply seedlings under a programme dubbed ‘The National Plantation Development Programme’.
In 2010, she moved a step further by adding plantation to her business. But all these were on a very small scale as she didn’t have the time to commit fully to it. So, in 2016, she finally made the decision to leave her job and focus on her own business fulltime.
As it stands now, the company has expanded from nursing timber seedlings to planting cash crops using modern methods that do not harm the environment. Today, Y&M Regeneration Ltd owns 480 hectares of timber plantation (teak, mahogany, ofram, gmelina, etc), 20 acres of cashew, and 10 acres of maize farm, and other vegetable farms. The annual production for both the timber and cash crop nurseries is around 1 million seedlings. Again, she has provided direct employment for seven other people.
She also has implemented the Integrated Biomas Project— a sustainable means of producing and using charcoal. Then, she has initiated what she calls ‘Edu 4 SDG’ which facilitates the planting of trees in schools to promote sustainable development. Yes, that is how far a business that has its roots from the lecture hall has grown.
Working in a male-dominated field
For Yvonne, choosing a field that is largely male-dominated has rather been to her advantage. She says most men are awed to see the energy and commitment with which she does her work. Because of that, they are willing to provide her with the needed assistance.
Y&M Regeneration Ltd has big plans for the future. Yvonne says in the next five years she wants to move from planting cash crops to agro-processing. Again, she wants to use innovative technology to plant other species of timber that is rarely used.
The number one challenge she mentioned is lack of adequate capital to expand. With the vision outlined for the business, she has to invest so much into technology to achieve this. But with killer-interest rates, she dreads the idea of borrowing from the bank to finance her projects. She has to rely on the revenue she generates from the business to plough back as capital and that is not enough to drive the vision.
The role education has played
Yvonne says her educational background has been of immense benefit to her. Even though she is largely driven by passion for what she does, had it not been for her educational background, she wouldn’t be able to make that passion a reality. Remember, it was in the lecture hall she got this business idea, so the role of education cannot be downplayed at all.
How GCIC has contributed
Joining the Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC) programme, Yvonne says, has put her business on another level. She says the GCIC gave the business a grant when she provided convincing evidence that the business is profitable.
Women economic empowerment
Women economic empowerment, Yvonne maintains, is very crucial to the society as women are very influential and shows much commitment to a course than men. So, for her, women must be educated and have their capacities built to make them ready for gainfully employment.
How government can support
Yvonne thinks with government’s assistance and support, forestry and agriculture can be rebranded to attract the youth. She feels if the right policies are implemented by government, more young people will become attracted to agriculture.
Advice for young entrepreneurs
“I will say, not only gold is money; there is also money in forestry. If you have the right business idea and commitment, you can also make money in forestry and agriculture business. Forestry is very diversified; you can go into planting, processing, among others. So if you have the right idea, you can succeed in this business.”