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Martha

CAMFED Association member and mushroom entrepreneur, Ghana

I come from a family of 12 including my mom and dad. I have four sisters and five brothers. We all loved education and our parents did their best to put us through school. My dad was always borrowing books from friends and people who he worked for, and my mom was always happy to see us read, though she had no education herself.

However, growing up was far from easy and things only got harder as we approached high school age. (I’m the fourth born.) Due to poverty and other issues, I had to leave my biological family to stay with an adopted one. So at only 10 years old and still at primary school, I had to leave my mother, my father, and live with my adopted family.

I went to live with a woman who had three sons, and as a girl it fell to me to do the household chores. I found time whenever I could to continue reading, even though it was difficult to buy books. When I was given pocket money for food at school, I would use it to buy books and go without meals.

I always told myself, “I am going to make it!”

In Junior High School I studied hard every day, looking for opportunities, borrowing books from friends, and learning. The school’s expectations of me and my peers was that we would not perform well in our Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). With Grade 1 denoting the highest performance, and Grade 9 the lowest per subject, they expected our grades to be in the high double-digits.

Three months before the exams I told my teachers on behalf of my class that we would bring them a single figure grade. Though they clapped for us, I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. But with perseverance and a little support from friends, I was able to study hard and achieve a 9 overall across eight subjects. I don’t think any student at that school has broken my record since!

Despite my success, I thought I couldn’t continue to Senior High School due to financial challenges. By the grace of God I was able to keep going. However, my poverty-related challenges kept growing and I got pregnant, meaning I had to drop out for a while. I still reminded myself that education is the one thing I need to move forward. So 1 month and 15 days after giving birth, I went back to school, wrote my final exams, and passed very well.

To me, education is a right to help every individual to fully realise their potential, become responsible citizens, and ethical leaders.

I joined the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support in 2015, when I got the opportunity to attend the University of Cape Coast through CAMFED Ghana, as part of its Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. There I earned my Bachelor of Education in Science and I served the CAMFED Association network as Vice President during the 2017-2018 academic year. Being a leader taught me a lot, especially about working with other young women as equals. I attended programs like the Changemakers Congress, organised by CAMFED and the Mastercard Foundation, which really built my confidence level.

Being a CAMFED Association member has been one of the most important experiences in my life. That network is where I found another family to help me grow. Getting to be in a family of sisters who share a common experience, a background with me, who have a similar focus in life, is so impactful. It is such a good experience, growing together, learning together, having a support system.

My scars only remind me of where I’ve been, but they don’t limit me. I’ll determine where I’ll be.

I have seen the growing impact of climate change in my community, where we rely on the two rainy seasons for agriculture and most people can’t afford irrigation. Over recent years the weather has become more unpredictable. The wells dry up after extended drought. We also have bushfires that can burn someone’s whole farm. In recent years, already germinated crops died due to insufficient rains or excessive heat and sunshine. That meant that parents were unable to provide for items for their children that they needed for their schools, as farming is their sole source of income and livelihood.

So now I am the founder and CEO of a business called Healthy Choice Agro Consult, which I started in 2019. CAMFED and the Mastercard Foundation supported me to launch and grow the business, offering entrepreneurship training and business investment. I was also connected to the Ghana Enterprises Agency, and the training they provided was critical in shaping my business idea and equipped me with the entrepreneurial skills and attitudes I needed to excel as a start up.

Martha, CAMFED Association member and mushroom farmer, Ghana

Martha Fanny Gaisie at her mushroom farm in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Credit: CAMFED/ Joseph Assah Mills)

We produce oyster mushrooms. Mushrooms are a climate-smart crop because there is no need to cut down trees or burn crops. They grow in an enclosed area. We use waste sawdust from nearby wood mills as compost, and after we have harvested the mushrooms the saturate becomes an organic fertilizer which I sell to farms in the community.

I strongly believe that the hope of tomorrow is in our hands today, and I can take decisions and actions that can go a long way to write that future.

This video was created by CAMFED in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation Young Africa Works program. Entrepreneurs like Martha are sharing their knowledge and expertise to help inspire and train other women to succeed in business. 

My business began with the production of 500 bags of mushrooms every three months, and now we produce 3,000 bags of mushrooms every three months, which is 12,000 in a year. When I first started out and I saw the mushrooms growing, it was so exciting and I knew this was what I wanted to do. Mushrooms are a delicacy enjoyed by many people. However they are usually harvested from the wild – and seasonally – during the rainy season from the villages. We wanted to make mushrooms available all year round so that people can get them when they want.

We process our harvest into dried mushrooms, powdered mushrooms, canned mushrooms, and even frozen mushrooms that we can send long distances. Most of our customers are from far away, and sending fresh mushrooms over a long distance is a problem. By the time they get to them, the colour and texture has changed. So it only works when you get refrigerated vehicles to keep them in that fresh state.

I am very confident of my future. This is because I feel I can sustain and grow my business. I can provide for my needs, create jobs for others, and impact others’ lives.

I have three women and four men working for me. I have trained them in all aspects of the business from preparation of the compost to bagging the mushrooms. I’m proud to be able to support women to earn something to support their lives. And as they are not full time employees, I have also committed to offering grants to workers in the business. I’ve been able to support four women to start or improve their own businesses – selling soap and other commodities in the communities. I also coach them in business – how to save, how to do their finances, keep records, cut down costs, buy in bulk, and more. They really appreciate it.

Aside from this, the business is committed to another social aspect. It seeks to contribute five percent of profits to support the Empowered Youth Foundation – my foundation that is dedicated to empowering young women in rural communities. So far, it has provided direct educational funding to three girls. I also want to help my young sisters to understand the essence of education, and to ensure they go to school and complete successfully, avoiding exploitative relationships or becoming pregnant. In just one year of implementing the program in two schools, all the girls completed and wrote their BECE without any pregnancy. The headmistress told me that my program has really helped.

The CAMFED Association network in the Central Region has awarded me for my contribution towards preventing teenage pregnancy. They also gave a plaque to my mom because when I got pregnant she supported me, helped me to deliver my baby, and took care of her when I went back to school to write my final exams and beyond.

I’ve realized that success is about being fulfilled in life. Identifying something you are passionate about and being able to achieve that thing.

What brings me fulfilment and happiness is helping the less privileged in society. Through my business I look forward to training many more people in mushroom production and encouraging youth in agriculture – so that they look upon it more positively. Through the training, I hope to get at least 20 young women in a year into mushroom and agricultural production. I would say to them that they need attitude and skills, but most of all perseverance. You need a spirit of persistence, never giving up.

In my enterprise I have a mentor, Mr Bernard Bempah of Bencom Ventures.We speak annually. He’s into mushroom production, snail farming, grass cattle rearing, and beekeeping, and has been able to train 500 youth annually in these areas. His focus is to help young people to earn a livelihood by starting their own businesses in the northern sector. So I thought to myself, I will take up that challenge for the southern sector since I’m located here!

You should always stay focused on your dream.

I always take advantage of the opportunities I get to speak to younger people, especially younger women. I tell them that if I was able to do it, to overcome all my challenges, come this far (and still know I can go further) then they can too! There are support systems out there. So, don’t give up on yourself, trust in your abilities, and move on. Persist, keep dreaming, and you’ll surely get there.

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Young women entrepreneurs in the spotlight on Citi TV Ghana

Citi TV — one of Ghana’s leading television channels — is shining a spotlight on young women entrepreneurs through a series of interviews on its popular Breakfast Daily show. Catch up on the broadcasts with CAMFED Association members as they share their experience of entrepreneurship: their challenges, successes, and hopes for the future. 

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