25 years of Eden Tree - CEO shares her story on Springboard

BY: Emmanuel Bruce

Eden Tree is a leading producer and distributor of high-end fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs in Ghana.

The mission of the company is to promote healthy eating habits in the country by producing, packaging and supplying high quality vegetables, fruits and herbs to the Ghanaian market.

The Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the company, Catherine Krobo Edusei started this business in 1997 and 25 years later, she employs over 70 people, with several other families depending on her and her wisdom to make a living in agribusiness in the country.

Last Sunday on the ‘Engine Room’ series on the Springboard Your Virtual University, Ms Krobo Edusei shared how it all began, the exciting moments, the award winning moments, the pain and tears, and disappointments that she encountered in her incredible journey of establishing the Eden Tree Limited.

She noted that even though her business was in food processing, she had always identified herself as a farmer.

“Despite all the processes along the value chain, I identify myself as a farmer because that is where all the processes start,” she stated.

She pointed out that the basic requirements of farming were soil, water, seeds and the individual’s time.

“You acquire a land and even if it’s not huge, any soil that you find around yourself, you can start planting and you can start planting small and gradually scale it up.

“In 1997, I started small and as time went by, I acquired more acres of land and kept growing,” she stated.

Perception about farming
Commenting on the perception of farming in country, she noted that farming was not for people who are not educated or people who do not have options in life.

“Farmers are very important. When you are in your office as a banker, you need to eat and everything that you are, you need food and farmers are the ones producing the food.

“So it’s a shame that they have been placed at the bottom end of achievements in life,” she said.

On what the role of women were in farming, she said women play a huge role in farming but these roles were usually hidden.

“When it comes to land ownership and the cash, then it is the men who are fronting but when it comes to making the holes for planting the seeds, it’s the women who are doing them. When it comes to harvesting and trading, it’s the women who are doing it. So women play a large role,” she explained.

Transition from banking to farming
Ms Krobo Edusei also shared her she transitioned from a banker in the UK to a farmer back here in Ghana.

“I went into farming out of a need. I got divorced and I had two children so I prayed to God to help me raise the children and by doing that, I had an open mind. Because I was a single mother, I did not want to go back to a formal work environment.

“I was doing banking in the UK so I relocated to Ghana and before I did that, I decided not to go back to the formal environment so that I could spend time with the children,” she narrated.

Upon arrival, she said she came across an NGO who wanted to cultivate Aloe Vera in large quantities, which sounded interesting to her.

“So I contacted my sister-in-law in the UK and asked her to send me literature on how to grow Aloe Vera. But instead, she sent me literature on how to grow vegetables and herbs and that is where it all started.

“I asked around and a lot of people said it won’t work but I tried and it did very well. I have come to realise that when you think about things that you think are of lower standards, those things, when done well, can turn out to be better than what people think is better. I feel I have moved further up in life than I would have if I was still in banking,” she pointed out.

11 Lessons from Krobo Edusei’s story
1. Cultural perceptions; I have always called myself a farmer with a sense of pride. There is a cultural perception that farming is not for women. The reality is that while men lead in land acquisition and in the collection of cash, its women who plant, harvest and trade in farm produce.

2. Opportunity; I am a banker who went into farming by default 25 years ago. I relocated to Ghana, divorced with my two children and prayed to God for work outside the formal sector. An NGO request for aloe vera in large quantities created an opportunity. I ended up planting culinary herbs such as Basel, parsley, dale, coriander and fennel and the rest is history.

3. Open mind; I went into farming because I had an open mind and refused to see it as below my level. My friends laughed whenever I mentioned that I was a farmer but I have gone further in life than I would have as a banker.

4. Food safety; At Eden Tree, food safety is our point of differentiation. I won’t sell to my customer what I will not eat. If we hadn’t been so obsessed with food safety, we would have been rich by now. But we have no regrets.

5. Planting vegetables by gutters; as a champion of food safety, I disagree with the methods of those who plant vegetables by wastewater. But I recognise the demand for what they produce. We need to create opportunities for them to do it right.

6. Export; I do not export because the local demand is significant. My foodstuffs are perishable and I don’t want to deal with all the complications involved.

7. Agric education; because school farms were used as a punishment in school, many people grew up with a deep-seated psychological dislike for farming. Imagine if they had picnics and exciting fun activities at the farm. The story would be different.

8. Images of farmers; It saddens me to see the kinds of pictures we use to portray farming — poor farmers in tattered clothes wielding machetes and hoes. We must rather showcase technology.

9. Post-harvest losses; Agric products are perishable. To avoid a glut and post-harvest losses, do your research, stagger your planting and explore your market even before you plant.

10. Policy support; In Burkina Faso, the state has dams and wells that trap rainwater and channel them into irrigation. In Togo, government had a huge tract of land for carrot farming. Small farmers were each given a parcel of land, a well and a pumping machine. We can do same for those planting by gutters in Ghana.

11. Agric and youth employment; If COVID has taught us anything, it is the fact that there are endless possibilities with food. The world will continue to demand more food. Considering how much arable land we have, if we make Agric enjoyable and profitable, Africa could end up being the food basket of the world.