Ghana-based agribusiness company Maphlix Trust exports vegetables to markets such as the UK and Dubai and also supplies local companies like KFC and Shoprite. Jeanette Clark talks to founder and managing director, Felix Kamassah, about how he secured international clients, local import substitution opportunities, and why he sees potential in the processing of sweet potatoes.
In 2012, Felix Kamassah worked as an economist in the banking sector in Ghana, dabbling in farming on the side. He learnt from his aunt, who raised him, that growing food can always be a part of one’s life, no matter your day job. She, for example, was a nurse, but also grew her own vegetables.
“Fresh produce is something I love, and I enjoy being able to grow it myself,” says Kamassah. With his wife as his partner, he first planted cassava and maize on a piece of land in the Volta region on the southeastern border with Togo. The business soon expanded to include various other crops, driven by local demand and, in 2013, Kamassah resigned to establish Maphlix Trust.
The company has grown from supplying a few local shops in Ghana to a thriving producer and exporter of over 27 different vegetables, tubers and fruits. It employs over 150 permanent staff and, when harvesting is in full swing, another 80 daily casual labourers are brought onboard. It counts Shoprite and KFC as its main domestic customers and exports over 90% of what it produces to markets such as the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and the UAE.
When the company was established, access to farmland was difficult. Over time, it has managed to grow its land under production to almost 760 hectares. It also has 80 greenhouses. In addition, Maphlix buys from a network of 654 smallholder farmers, to whom the company provides financing and agricultural inputs like seed, tractor services and training. Currently, these smallholder farmers contribute 30% of Maphlix’s total production.
Securing export clients
In its second year of operations, with assistance from the Ghana Export Promotion Authority, Maphlix participated in a trade fair in Germany. While there, Kamassah and his wife did market research to better understand European consumers and what they were interested in. Back in Ghana, they spent a year setting up the production of specific crops for which they identified demand in Germany.
“We again exhibited our product at the fair in 2015 and that’s when we started getting orders. Because we were already set up back home, we could supply quickly,” he explains. “A lot of those original clients are still with us today.”
In 2020, Maphlix produced 2,077 tonnes of vegetables, increasing it to more than 2,800 tonnes in 2021. Sweet potato, okra and chilli are the company’s top three export products.
However, Kamassah is not complacent about future revenue generation and actively seeks additional clients. At the end of last year, he attended the Macfrut fruit and vegetable fair in Rimini, Italy. Upon his return, he made a statement to the press that five potential export clients had expressed interest in its vegetables.
One of the company’s biggest customers in Ghana is KFC, which Maphlix supplies with tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage. “Our country spends US$300 million annually to import tomatoes. Our goal is to claim at least 40% of this local production gap,” reveals Kamassah. Another crop that sells well locally is carrots. “Again, the country has to import it, so there is another opportunity.”
Sweet potato processing offers growth opportunities
Maphlix already processes sweet potato into gari (a granular flour) but Kamassah urgently wants to expand its processing facility to allow for the production of high-quality sweet potato flour. Sweet potato flour can be used for baking and the production of various snacks. Kamassah says Maphlix is currently the largest producer and exporter in Ghana of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which has a very high nutritional value.
“High-quality flour would be a viable alternative for wheat flour. With the current crisis in Ukraine, and even before the pandemic, wheat flour was expensive in Ghana – and we eat a lot of bread.”
The company will soon receive funds from USAID to expand its smallholder farmer network for this potential flour production but is now actively looking to secure funding for the requisite equipment. “We’ve already done a trial of the flour; we just need to scale. We could supply other African countries as well if we get this in place.”