When Catherine Krobo Edusei quit her banking job in the United Kingdom and returned to Ghana, she had no idea what her next job would be. But she was certain she would never return to the executive world. Instead she found the potential in cultivating vegetables and herbs and empowering other farmers along the way.
"I had worked as a banker for close to a decade, and when I had my two children in the UK I did not want to leave them in someone’s care," says Edusei.
"I returned to Ghana and decided to do something that would give me ample time to take care of them.’’
Edusei was lucky. Upon her return, she saw a huge potential in cultivating vegetables and herbs – most of which were imported. This provided an opportunity to dominate the market.
Her first hurdle was navigating the unfamiliar world of farming. Edusei then equipped herself with the knowledge she needed to thrive in her newly chosen field.
The 'wrong' book
‘’My sister in-law in the UK was supposed to send me some materials on how to plant aloe vera. Somehow she sent me literature on how to plant vegetable and herbs, so I studied it and tried it and it did beautifully,’’ says Edusei.
Like many startups that kick off with little or no capital, in 1997 Edusei started her business, the Eden Tree, with just 230 euros of her savings.
This was because banks at the time were unwilling to fund agriculture.
She began by using two acres of a family plot and planted her first vegetables and herbs, which included mint and coriander, among others.
"The first supermarket I approached at the time to sell my freshly packaged herbs was local retailer, Kwatsons," she recalls.
"The manager did not know what they were so he reluctantly agreed to display them on his shelves and promised to pay back only after they had been sold.
“I came back the following day and to my surprise everything had been bought, mostly by expatriates.’"
Edusei ploughed her first profit back into the business, brought in more farmers and gradually acquired additional farmland in various parts of the country to meet demand.
Twenty years later, her company remains one of the leading producers of fresh vegetables, spices and herbs, supplying to major supermarkets.
The company runs the majority of its operations from its main depot at Baatsona, a suburb in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, where harvested produce from several farms across the country are assembled, sorted, cleaned and packaged for delivery.
‘"To survive, we knew that we had to add value to our produce, keep to standards and package them in a way that was appealing,’’ says Edusei.
As her clientele grew, so did her business, which now boasts a staff of 65.
Edusei can afford a smile now, as the company she started with a couple hundred euros is now worth an estimated 850,000 euros. These days she shares her entrepreneurial experience with other young would-be Ghanaian entrepreneurs.
"I look back and I have no regrets at all that I left the banking sector. I am happy that what I produce and supply are of the same standard as those you buy overseas and that for me is fulfilling,’’ says Edusei, who owes her success to hard work, determination and her dedicated staff.
The Eden Tree has increased its smallholder farmer base to about 50, offering support with soft loans and training.
One such farmer is Samuel Annor, 43, who has been with the company for 23 years.
“Catherine’s company has been beneficial to most of us. I was one of the first people she started with,” says Annor, who started on a few acres of land for Eden Tree.
“I am able to support my family – I’ve even been able to build my own house just through this job. It’s really helping us to secure sustainable incomes.”
Ghana’s economy is largely import driven. A study by Health and Food Security (AHEFS), an NGO found the West African nation spent more than 85 million euros importing vegetables annually.
Mostly tomatoes and onions, the vegetables usually imported from neighbouring Togo, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
Ghanaian certified nutritionist Akosua Konadu Yiadom opines that the story can change if people buy and consume locally grown foods such as those at Eden Tree which are not only a healthier option, but also helps to grow the economy.
‘"When we buy from locals, first of all we boost the local economy. When we buy and consume what we grow, we know that we are eating something that has not travelled on the seas for long with so many additives,’’ says Yiadom.
Despite Edusei’s achievements, she says she is still looking forward to expanding and exporting to other African countries.
"We want to be able to export to our neighbouring countries soon, but for now we want to have our products in every home,’’ she says.