eGro is a Danish startup whose objective is to create a sustainable agricultural model based on practices of permaculture to stabilize Earth's climate, and it is the first company to commercially use an ecosystem design to strategically secure the supply chain of the food industry.
The eGro model aims to connect rural communities to worldwide buyers, connecting them in the global supply chain. eGro has searched for different project locations since its idea was conceived. Currently it is active in Northern Ghana, in the area between Yendi and Tamale, and is collaborating with 8 local communities, for a total of approximately 140 acres of land used for crops.
Our vision is a sustainable mankind: We believe that humankind has the ability to develop and become the shepherd of stability on this planet.
Our mission is to stabilize Earth's climate. Humankind has the ability to do so with eGro's agricultural model that transforms dry and poor land into profitable food producing forests.
- Co-creating and spreading educational material on Permaculture practices for farmers.
- Establishing production and trade in countries that have unexploited potential for regenerating vast lands to become productive forests.
- Supplying raw materials from crops that are characterized by a trending increase in global demand and whose production reliability is threatened from climate change.
- Developing direct partnership with the processing industry to facilitate the production and trade of crops produced by farming communities.
- Targeting large business-to-business, especially within the food ingredients industry.
The eGro model
The overall objective of eGro is to develop a sustainable agricultural model for future global business. This model will ensure food production, as well as supply a number of other industries with raw materials, from energy sector to furniture and ornamentals, and thus create the basis for economic security in the world. Using the model on a global scale will eventually create environmental and climatic stability as well.
By using the eGro model we will prove that:
- We can regenerate the arid lands to become productive.
- We can make more money than conventional agriculture.
- We can sequester CO2 on a mass scale, in a business model.
The business model
We provide the emerging farmers with design and knowledge of how to implement and maintain productive ecosystems. They receive materials, biological fertilizers, seeds and seedlings from our professional nurseries.
The farmers own the land as independent farmers and by contract they become eGro’s suppliers. This makes our supply lines predictable, organic and resilient to climate change. eGro buys back the products at the suppliers’ farmgate, we process it centrally, cutting out the middlemen. eGro then sells, ships and delivers the product to the food and ingredients industry. By making our customers’ supply chain completely sustainable we become an essential part of the global raw material industry from agriculture and forestry.
A global impact
When we turn dry and deserted areas into eGro’s forests, we are not only increasing the viability of the food industry and restoring local farming communities, but we are spreading a production model that sequesters vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the soil, showing the potential for reversing climate change through a profitable business model.
Building a new forest creates storage of CO2 in the soil, which happens through the roots and the life that lives in this rootzone. Forests also absorb the rain and let it penetrate into the water tables, thus re-establishing natural resources for future generations.
The eGro agricultural model will eventually replace the conventional agricultural production model, which destroys the planet at present since agriculture currently accounts for 25% of the overall impact on climate change. Producing food with the eGro model for the global consumer can stop the damage of these 25% and instead use the consumer industry to absorb the effects of the other 75% and hereby reverse climate changes.
It is a matter of turning enough land fertile and reforesting the planet again. Thus the food industry and global consumerism has the capacity to become the engine for a planetary transition, as global consumption is the fuel that drives the food production engine. In the end, consumers and global food industry will finally drive the global transition and when used to regenerate forests in a business model, impact will begin to reverse climate changes altogether.
Our solution: Permaculture
Technically we are replicating how nature works, with a design based on forming the landscape to our favour, collecting the rain and using high biodiversity to increase productivity and reduce risk of disease and drought.
The ecosystem design is in essence an enormous forests that produce food, herbs, timber and other products. The forests are designed in a way so they are 100% able to sustain production indefinitely with no further inputs from the outside, such as fertilizers, petro-chemicals etc. The technical methods are known throughout the world, and have been used for self-sufficiency production by indigenous people in oases and forest systems for centuries. The same principles are used by international organisations such as the World Bank for reforestation in their largest projects. eGro is simply commercializing a model that has the capacity to be scaled and completely replace the existing agricultural model.
The production method is dependable and resilient even in dry and hostile environments like deserts and under extreme weather events. It withstands severe droughts and still reliably produces food when industrialized agriculture collapses, when it runs out of rain and water-table resources or when it depletes the soil nutrients.
eGro´s agricultural model autonomously provides solutions of such issues:
- Landscape water-catchments mitigates droughts and sudden flooding disasters.
- Regenerative planting improves soil fertility for higher yield.
- Perennial crops secure high output in years of drought.
The overall local effects are an increased ecological biodiversity and regenerated natural resources, such as water tables, forests, resources that ensures economic stability and viability for generations. Below an example of eGro's model is depicted, to give an impression of how we combine trees and crops in an ecosystem design.
Representation of an ecosystem with intercrop farming. The composition of species in this system is designed for working in subtropical climates in semi-arid areas.
Overcoming local barriers
eGro intentionally operates, in opposition to its existing competitors, under more difficult conditions, where conventional agriculture is not possible due to the harsh climate. The purpose is to spread the ability to produce in these climates and thus compete on both volume and quality.
In existing production countries, using conventional methods, the production cost is increasingly expensive due to the mechanically, chemically and electrically supported irrigated food production. We produce in areas where the land is cheap and the labour market is underdeveloped. This gives us the capability to involve masses of people, planting on vast amounts of land and start generating a big volume in a short period of time. eGro’s model does not require mechanical or chemical inputs since it depends on low technology or manual labor and natural fertilizers.
Where weather patterns are unstable, it is impossible to sustain a conventional monoculture mechanized agribusiness sector. In these large areas, there is no other choice than to shape the landscape and to apply a diversified polyculture of mixed crops, to keep the soil moist and fertile. We select less developed rural areas in semi-professional emerging markets, that have access to the global market through harbours and shipping routes.
Our selection criteria for choosing a place to produce crops is based on an analysis of climate, geopolitical safety and cultural incentives in the population to collaborate. Our crop product is selected for its ability to reach the global market with a long shelf life, either directly from the tree, or with a simple local value adding process. This gives us the ability to package and transport over great distances with poor infrastructure.
eGro did a pre-feasibility study of Ghana from Denmark in early 2016, found capable partners locally and without hesitation started a pilot project in Northern Ghana. We constructed a professional nursery for growing our chili seedlings, which could potentially mature before the end of rainy season of that year. We followed a local entrance protocol, getting the blessing to operate in the communities by their chiefs.
eGro recruited three professional people as partners in the urban areas, merging with and acquiring the skill and staff of a local social enterprise. Together with the local farmers and the Ghanaian team, we proceeded to plant 50.000 seeds of chili and eventually planted 25.000 of them in the 16.5 acres of field provided by the farmers. Only 1000 survived with one farmer, the rest died before maturing and flowering at the end of rainy season, mainly due to floods and drought. We ended up with all the learning we needed about the local weather patterns and farming opportunities and got a meager production of 3.5 kilo, only useful for testing labelling and packaging.
Since 2017 eGro is a registered company in Ghana, and has recruited 51 farmers for the 2017 season, in 9 communities. This time around we are seeding at the beginning of the rainy season and we have had a whole 6 months to prepare the implementation based on last year's lessons. We have 3 operative project managers and agronomists employed in the city of Tamale and 6 field officers living in the producing communities, who will be employed from May 1st.
In 2017 we are planting 3.000 production trees of lemon, cashew, mango and 1.000 acacias support trees for soil amendment and nutrient exchange purposes. These were all germinated in January, on our demand, by a professional seedling supplier, that has been in business for 30 years.
These, along with another 10.000-15.000 seeds of fast growing pioneer trees and a crop mixture of peanuts, chillies and quinoa, will be planted in rows in the 51* acres of fields provided by the farmers. The fast growing pioneer trees will protects our crops from storms, wind and temperature fluctuations. The objective of establish a protective forest which retains water in the soil for the survival and healthy growth of the crops and fruit trees.
We have developed an educational module for our field officers, who have been trained by our local agronomist in principles and practices of permaculture and the operations of the company. They supervise the farmers in establishing and maintaining highly productive sustainable ecosystems. These farmers organize in cooperatives where they own the land and we become the buyers of their products. Together with the farmers we decide what crops they are producing and we provide them with the materials, capital, and seeds to produce according to our global clients’ demands. eGro become the direct link between the rural farming communities and the large corporate food sector, eliminating the long chain of middlemen.
eGro pays close attention to the introduction of any new element in the community, not only on an economic and productive level, but also considers the social impact that may derive. This is why high relevance is given to the understanding of the local context, in order to find the most adaptive solution for the framework eGro works within. Consequently, knowledge transfer is entrusted to the Ghana team for two main reasons. Firstly, the language barrier may represent an issue in contexts where the education level is low in average and English is not a lingua franca. Secondly, the knowledge and awareness of the local context is a fundamental prerequisite for spreading not only eGro’s methods, but also its narrative.
The objectives for eGro today is to ensure that the harvest quality and quantity is maximized and stabilized, and to find international buyers, in order to:
- Have sufficiently strong seedlings from the nursery to be planted during the rainy season.
- Stabilize the transfer of knowledge and quality assurance from field officers to farmers, and their families who work the fields.
- Do an ISO standard processing facility for exports.
- Establish logistics between Ghana and Denmark to successfully ship the first harvest
- Satisfy the first customers.
- Scale up our production with a rate of 3.4x in 2018.
In 2017 we are planting as follows in the table below, these are all to be sold on the European and US markets. As there is currently an export restriction on some varieties of vegetables, from Ghana to the EU, the chilis need to be sold in the US market.
|Species||Numbers of trees/acres||Function|
|Lemon*||1.000 trees||Production in 2019|
|Cashew||1.000 trees||Production in 2020|
|Mango||1.000 trees||Production in 2021|
|Acacia||1.000 trees||Support tree (Nitrogen-fixing)|
|Peanut||36 acres||Harvest end Sept. 2017|
|Chili||15 acres||Harvest July- Oct. 2017|
|Quinoa**||9 acres||Harvest early Sept. 2017|
*The lemon tree is a mediterranean species and is experimental as a cash crop in Northern Ghana. Our project manager has a thriving lemon tree in his backyard, we intend to prove that it is possible to grow citrus trees commercially far north with our methods.
**The Quinoa has yet to be tested for commercial production in Ghana, but it is working in Togo, which is the neighbouring country. Academia is convinced it will work, but no one has yet taken the initial risks commercially.
In eGro’s future ecosystem design the peanut will be the dominant crop, as it has some interesting beneficial effects. Since it is a nitrogen fixer, it helps to amend the soil, the farmers have vast experience with it, it is resilient to pests and suppresses weeds.
Among the production crops, peanuts are preferred by local Ghanaian farmers, because they suppress weeds and does not need fertilizers and pesticides to give a good yield. This is primarily because it fixes its own nitrogen in root nodules in symbiosis with soil bacteria. Processing is among the easiest, it needs unshelling before blanching or directly roasting before shipment.
It has a medium long shelf life when packaged as snack, and a longer shelf life when oils are extracted or it is processed as peanut butter. It can also be sold with the peanuts still inside the shell. The target market is the large food processing industry in need of vast amounts of raw material.
The local knowledge of chili production is very high, however the processing can end up being complex since it needs to be dried in the sun or in an oven as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours of being picked from the plant. It also needs to be kept in a dry place with low air humidity.
There is risk of a common fungi developing mold and aflatoxins in the fruit. For this reason the entire chili industry in Ghana is subject to an export restriction to the EU. Chili, however, has a very long (3-4 years) shelf life making it possible to ship anywhere and find the premium market.
Producing and processing quinoa is a risk eGro is willing to take, despite any unforeseen problems connected to the growing conditions and the lacking knowledge of the local farmers on this particular crop. It is a crop with a fast growing demand and has a good shelf life. If we can produce it, it is very likely that we can sell it, even in premium markets with more competitive selling prices..
It shows good production performances in many places, and it's sister plant, the amaranth, has been known to thrive in the Ghanaian climate zones. There is little reason why it shouldn't work in Northern Ghana.
The quinoa processing, machinery and other equipment needed is the same as for all other grains of similar size. Basically, it just needs to be kept dry during the transportation from field to storage like all grains, such as wheat, barley, rye. There is little risk of rotting or molding like the chilis and peanuts since it is a hard grain like flower seed. Where peanut are moist when fresh, and chilis are full of water in the tissue, they are easily affected by mold if not dried or processed.
|Crop||Production||Processing||Sales price flux||Shelf life||Safety of sale|
Our current best estimate on production capacity is as follows:
In all our business cases, we are mostly selling the narrative of eGro and the story of its sustainable suppliers, hence our typical customer is a conscientious consumer. We consider packaging and labelling of our own brand on the short term the as an emergency plan, if we cannot find B-2-B customers.
In 2017, we will not be certified as organic, but the product will still be a conscientious climate crop, this has not yet been tested with the consumers.
There are all the right conditions in terms of timing and global future trends at the moment for us selling our products. We focus on big bulk buyers and wish to stay a trading company with focus on optimizing on expanding our suppliers capacity. or for marketing our own label into premium markets, selling directly to supermarkets. The latter is however a task that requires a larger sales department in the future, and we would be happy selling B-2-B in the first production year. Priority is on getting a proof of sale even if this means suffering a loss. The fruit trees will eventually start yielding, and as such the investments we make should be considered long-term and over a period of minimum 7 years.