Although the movie industry in Ghana has shrunk in the last decade, he still commands a lot of respect especially among Ghana’s youth as evidenced on social media where he actively engages his over 8 million followers.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who transitioned into directing and production in the glory days of Ghanaian film, Dumelo now spends more time on the farms than on movie sets. He is leading a campaign to get more youth involved in agriculture.
The Africa Report caught up with Dumelo after a Tuesday farm round for an evening chat.
“By getting into farming I want to motivate a lot of youth to go into agriculture because I am certain that agriculture will make Ghana great,” he says.
Dumelo’s agriculture journey started in 2012. A decade later, he owns more than 2000 acres of farmlands scattered across Ghana, producing maize, rice, ginger, mushrooms, cabbage and rearing snails and livestock.
“Between 2012 and 2014 I travelled extensively around the country and found that millions of acres of arable lands lay fallow, but we were still importing food. This did not make sense to me and so I decided to get involved and I love it so far,” he says.
Not everyone can be a farmer, but everybody can get into the agribusiness space.
In 2021, Ghana imported about $1.9bn worth of agricultural and related products, even though it tags agriculture as a pillar of its economy.
The agriculture sector in cocoa-rich Ghana employs about 45% of the national labour force although the majority of farming activities are done on subsistence basis.
Young vs old
Life expectancy hovers around 64 years in Ghana, but the average age of a farmer in Ghana is 55.
This puts in sharp focus the need for more youth in agriculture as analysts suggest that Ghana risks compromising its food security if young farmers do not replace the ageing ones in the next decade.
Dumelo says he wants to use his influence to encourage many young people to go into agriculture to revolutionise the sector and reduce Ghana’s food imports.
A 2021 report by Heifer International provided some reasons for low youth participation in Ghana’s agriculture space:
- Stigma associated with farming
- Limited access to lands by young people
- Difficulty in accessing credit
Attracting young people into agriculture must start with changing the negative stereotype about agriculture, Dumelo believes.
He says young people are not getting accurate information to begin their journey into agriculture and the few who do barely find the needed support and mentoring to keep going.
It takes about six years for a rubber tree to grow to a point where you start to harvest. You can harvest for 28 years. Each tree can give you approx 8.6kg of latex a year. One acre rubber plantation can have 220-240 trees in it so that’s about 1,760kg a year approx. pic.twitter.com/uYSULN5e3X
— Farmer John (@johndumelo) January 26, 2021
“The story is not being told right and a lot of people give up along the way when things become challenging. You should master the art of agriculture because there is no business without risks. You need to start small, then you grow with it as [the] years go on because my own journey has also been challenging,” he says.
Like his major successes in agriculture he shares the stories of his challenges with his followers online, including an incident in his early years when he lost all his livestock to an estranged farm manager.
On social media, Dumelo goes through several messages he gets from interested young people, mentors a couple of them on their agricultural journeys and encourages other successful young farmers to do the same.
After venturing into food processing in 2021 starting with ginger, John Dumelo says it is an important part of the agricultural value chain with vast opportunities, especially for young people who would not want to be into the open fields.
“Not everyone can be a farmer, but everybody can get into the agribusiness space. It is a long value chain and you […] actually make more profits by adding value,” he says.
Cabbage farming is profitable but demands a lot of time and dedication. You can use about 8,000gh( seeds, workers, irrigation system, weeds control etc) cultivate an acre and make about 4000gh profit after 4 months. Join me let’s farm!!! pic.twitter.com/LlHFfwf87i
— Farmer John (@johndumelo) August 30, 2022
A rice processing factory in Ghana can cost about $1m to set up, but it is a worthy investment in Ghana where there is a growing push for local rice consumption, Dumelo believes.
“I am pushing th[e] eating made-in-Ghana campaign so that we stop importing poultry for instance from other countries… It is expensive to set up food processing units, but it is necessary for Ghana’s agriculture,” he says.
The actor is constructing a ginger processing factory in the Guan district of the Oti region, with plans for a rice mill within five years.
He says for the long term he will focus on his overarching goal of a food-sufficient Ghana.
I’m happy to launch the “Operation Feed Ourselves” initiative this morning. The main focus of this initiative is to produce more foodstuff especially rice( from the Guan district and Northern part of Ghana), tomatoes, onions and maize from other parts of the country. pic.twitter.com/gq9cqJKkhB
— Farmer John (@johndumelo) November 7, 2022
“I want Ghana to be food self-sufficient and this is about leading an agricultural revolution to change the way things are done. I am doing my part to make sure that we stop importing rice, poultry products, tomatoes, maize and other things we can grow in Ghana,” he says.