Jeff Bridges once said, ‘The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.’ His words resonate strongly with many people but very few actually live by it. In a time when majority of news about the future of the world reads like a who’s who of horror stories, these veritable Agriheroes have embodied the essence of Jeff’s message and are setting a beautiful example of just how much change and progress an individual can make.
In no particular order, here are this year’s honourable mentions.
Edith Akosah Wheatland
With so much laughter and excitement in her voice, Edith Akosah Wheatland is a returnee on a mission – empower Ghanaian female poultry farmers.
Edith was born and raised in Ghana, studied and worked in the UK and the US before returning home after almost 13 years where she met a friend who happened to be a poultry farmer. This friend poured her heart out about her frustrations with farming but being an optimist, Edith felt encouraged rather than put off to venture into agriculture.
In 2013, Rockland farms was born, 7 miles from Mampong Futa in the Ashanti region. When asked why the Ashanti region, Edith explained that she felt passionately that the knowledge and experience she had gained abroad could benefit her fellow Ghanaians especially women, in that rural communities. ‘I love to see smiles on people’s faces’, she continued, ‘and I felt I would have more impact there’. It was a real commitment for Edith because back then, the roads were so bad that the short 7 km journey from the main town to her farm could take over an hour not to mention the fact that in the beginning years, Edith was living on her farm! ‘We later progressed to staying in the warehouse for about 2 years’, she reminisced. ‘A part of the reason why things were so bad in the beginning was the fact that it was not easy getting a bank loan.’ When Rockland farms did eventually get a loan from a rural bank, it was only half of what was requested for with a note to come for the rest later. That time never came so Edith ‘turned to friends and did some crowdsourcing from within to raise the remaining funds.’ Rockland farms has been very successful since and has grown from 8,000 birds to 60,000, producing 1300 trays of eggs a day.
Recently, the Ashanti regional minister visited Rockland farms where he was introduced to the Women in Poultry Association, a union co – founded by Edith to give female poultry farmers a unified voice and to create and provide growth and development opportunities. The association also has a presence in the Brong Ahafo region where it was inaugurated during the ‘World Egg Day’ celebrations. It was here that Edith met the President and encouraged his support of female poultry farmers.
To mitigate the challenges posed by inadequate funding in the short term, Akofa assists farmers with getting seedlings on credit. She also has some brilliant ideas on solving this particular problem on a larger scale.
‘The Outgrowers Scheme’ is an initiative that will give opportunities to farmers to raise day old chicks and be assured of a ready market for their produce upon maturity. This is being made possible in partnership with other farmers such as Akati farms who will produce the day old chicks and Vespa Oil will be supplying soya for feed. With Exim bank as a potential investor in building the processing factory, Edith hopes that within the first year, the scheme would have at least 250 outgrowers. It is projected that the value chain for the scheme alone could be potentially creating over 7400 jobs.
Given all that Edith has achieved in agribusiness, it’s little wonder then that she is a recipient of the AWIEF Awards. At the 2018 National Farmer’s Day in Ghana, Edith also won the ‘District Best Poultry Farmer’ and was the 2nd Runner Up for the Regional Best Farmer – Ashanti Region.
What does graphic designing and farming have in common? Gideon, the Goat Master. Although now a master rearer, Gideon started his career in the art of creative design. He describes his drastic career change as an ‘opportunity which struck and had to be grabbed’. Gideon’s grandmother had a backyard farm to envy and which he was lucky enough to inherit. His family had initially wanted to sell the farm, but he decided to quit his job to manage the farm full-time if it meant he could keep it. He was an agriculturalist at heart and had always wanted to be in a position where he could create employment for others so he saw this as the perfect opportunity.
Gideon worked diligently to convert his grandparents small backyard farm into Goat Masters, an agribusiness firm with particular focus on added value and the value chain: rearing, butchering, processing, packaging, and marketing, among others. Gideon still uses his skills as a designer in keeping Goatmaster’s social media pages, colorful, engaging and interactive.
Recently, he’s started producing eggs and has sold more than 200,000 eggs through his 5,000 birds at Pokuase. Speaking on some of the challenges he’s had to overcome, Gideon highlighted how difficult it was to get funding from traditional banking facilities which made it difficult for him to grow as fast as he would had wanted to.
In keeping with his vision of creating employment, the coming year will see Gideon’s training centre at Amansan launched. The centre will focus on training young people, especially the unemployed, in professional goat rearing, barbecuing and other agribusinesses to build their capacity for self-employment. The initiative is looking to train 500 people in its first year.
Monipel Owusua Ansong
From simple curiosity about how palm-nut fruit becomes soup to a leading expert in Food Safety in West Africa, Monipel Owusua Ansong is not your average Ghanaian. Her original career path was meant to be in the marines but defying her father’s wishes, Monipel left the Ghana Marine University to study Food Science and Technology. Her bold move paid off and Monipel has since been awarded an MSc in Food Quality Management from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology among other international certification upgrades. Monipel lives and breathes to make food for Ghanaians safer and healthier through her keen observations and the advocacy group she founded.
MS Food Safety was born out of growing concerns of the safety of food in circulation and the wellbeing of her fellow Ghanaians. Monipel has worked in several food safety positions and as a consultant for several leading manufacturing companies. As a result, she’s seen witnessed some gross food safety malpractices. The NGO, Food Safety Action Network is a by-product of this exposure.
One of the issues she’s working on is the gaps in regulations especially controlling how farmers care for their crops and farms. For example, ‘there isn’t mandatory regulations stating that a farmer can’t defecate close to his farm, and so there is no legal backing for anyone to stop farmers from engaging in such harmful food safety practices’. This makes it difficult to control malpractices in agriculture. She added that the regulations that do exist largely concern itself with the exports industry and adhering to international regulations and not locally produced foods for local consumption.
In order to help create a dialogue on a higher level, MS Food Safety partnered with Groen Agro Contro in the Netherlands. The aim is to do some testing on fruits and later vegetables in West Africa and the contaminants they potentially contain to help policy makers appreciate the extremity of the situation.
While working on these longer term prospects, Monipel engaged in talks with USAID while a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Cornell University – USA. USAID in turn brought her back to Ghana to support in training the Ministry of Agriculture on the best food safety practices and also introduce updated food safety policies. She then moved to Sierra Leone to work on the ‘Farmer to Farmer project’. MS Food Safety also uses the media as part of their outreach. A week ago, the team was on Starrfm talking about food safety. They also have a weekly column in the Business and Financial Times dedicated to Agribusiness.
In 2019, Monipel and her team will be embarking on a national advocacy campaign, speaking to four radio station in each of the ten regions.
In the coming months, she will be embarking on a pilot food safety campaign in two districts in Central and Eastern region in Ghana.
As an expert on Food Safety in Ghana, Monipel advises that people in the food industry, agric extension officers, food safety officers and even officers from the Environmental Protection Agency should be empowered to hold the mandate to enforce the regulations if anything is to be done about the situation.
In the coming years, Monipel hopes to earn a PhD on food safety in West Africa and come out with facts, figures and recommendations that will help inform and shape future regulations.
For consumers, the advocacy group is also looking at starting a YouTube channel in the coming year that will feature opinion, educational and informative pieces from stakeholders, lecturers, spoken to processor, regulatory bodies and to create understanding of the importance of Food Safety within the populace themselves.
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