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Personality profile – Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

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In greater recognition for your courage and valor in leadership, as a trail blazer in business and entrepreneurship, for your inspiration to your fellow human beings and your contribution to society in your long outstanding life of rising to the pinnacle of success, The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has deemed it fit to award you with a Doctorate Degree of Letters. We, hereby, celebrate your great achievements to mother Ghana!

– Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: Ghana’s transport system is said to be underdeveloped. What’s your position on this and what do you suggest could be done to improve?

Dr. A.A.I: It is true! We need to have very good roads and government must be ready to provide them. I believe in toll roads where people have to pay for the use of these roads. People need these roads to enhance efficiencies in business operations so government should seriously provide these roads.

For instance, Accra to Kumasi, if the roads were good and dual carriage, people wouldn’t mind to pay the toll and travel because it gives them a good ride and possibly avoid accidents because the roads are good. It’s not just doing the road but also maintaining the road matters. Obviously, a lot needs to be done in the transport sector.

The road networks and the kinds of cars that come into the country should be properly considered. The old vehicles pollute the environment a lot and should be eliminated. There are too many trucks around because anybody can bring them in. We need to have properly established transport companies so that we can hold them responsible when things go wrong.

TVM: Ghanaians complain about heavy trucks that ply the roads during the day and their negative effects on the road and to motorists. What is your take on this?

Dr. A.A.I: I am a strong advocate of trucks transporting at night. In 2009, there was a law or a directive that heavy trucks should not travel at night anymore. But that directive did not make sense. So, I advised the government that the movement of trucks at night is the best.

The reason is simple. At day, the road becomes soft and unable to carry the loads of these heavy trucks. The bitumen and asphalt when exposed to the intensity of the sun literally melts and becomes soft for heavy trucks to ply. This, then, leads to the destruction of the roads. But at night, the cool temperature compacts the bitumen and asphalt and then they compress to become ‘motorable’ for heavy trucks.

Aside that, the road becomes very free from commercial passengers because majority of them will be in their homes resting. In some countries such as India, China, Germany etc. you will never see a heavy truck travel at day; they all do their journeys at night and park wherever they get to before the day breaks.

Also, we should be able to encourage night commercial activities to reduce human traffic during the day.

TVM: Ghana’s cocoa has been known to be illegally ‘spilling’ across the borders to other neighboring countries by courtesy of our haulage system. What measures do you suggest be put in place to curb such spillage?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t believe it is the haulage system that drives smuggling of cocoa. Even if it is, what roads do the perpetrators ply and what are the security forces doing? So, it has to be a collaborative effort between security forces. I don’t believe it’s primarily the haulage system that is causing the smuggling. It’s fundamentally our economic situations; we are rational.

For instance, if a bag of coca in Ghana is $70 and it costs $100 per bag in neighboring country, there will be a price differential of $30 per bag. So, as rational economic agents, we will go to where we can get more. And this is per bag! So imagine if I’m to sell a thousand bags, how much extra income I will be making other than selling in Ghana, $30, 000, very huge for the poor Ghanaian farmer. If we don’t do the right pricing, cocoa beans will be sent across borders.

If we really want to address the issue of Ghana cocoa not going to the other side then we have to pay the right price. Let’s say if the price gap is just about $10, smugglers will not be interested in going through the hassles of smuggling. It’s an economic phenomena.

Anyone who makes it a political phenomenon does not understand the system. The stakeholders in the business need to be looked at. We have the farmer, the buyer, the government and the transporter; all have vested interests and all these interests must converge to ensure the smuggling is stopped. It’s an economic rationality and nothing more! If you want to use the security you will just be wasting resources. So I don’t want the haulage system to be blamed for this problem. The solution lies with the fixing of the price. That’s where the real solutions are.

TVM: The Akuafo cheque system used as payment order has been replaced by the cash and carry. What is your take on this development?

Dr. A.A.I: The Akuafo Cheque system was abused. The cheque system was better because cash is risky and as a result, farmers are constantly attacked by armed robbers after receiving their monies in cash. Also, for the Akuafo Cheques, farmers would have travel very long distances to access their monies. Some had to even travel days and sleep there for days before accessing their monies. All these inefficiencies and poor management collapsed the Cheque system.

Later, it was politicized and government was blamed for it. It is difficult to fathom why any wrongdoing in Ghana is blamed on government. The individual culprits are left off the hook for their doings and government is attacked. Amidst this situations, I can’t still say the cash and carry is better. We should be able to find simple technology to make life easier in this regard.

It is rather unfortunate that most of these farmers are women and they are old. Using cash is a very risky business so cash is not really the solution. Technology is advancing, so stakeholders should find simple technology to address the situation.

TVM: Has Ghana really maximized the benefit of cocoa?

Dr. A.A.I: If there were no benefits in the cocoa business, Ghanaians would have left it long ago. In the 1980s, cocoa production was hovering around 150,000 tons but now we’re doing about 800,000 tons to 1 million tons. What else do you want as a country from cocoa? Production keeps increasing so I think it has been beneficial.

TVM: What is the Impact of the current economic situation in Ghana and its effects on your businesses?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, there is high inflation or increasing inflation, depreciating currency, high unemployment, very high interest rates. And all these are factors that are affecting business operations in the country and not only mine.

Obviously, the cost of funds to business is very high. As trading companies, we are experiencing very high interest rates hence very high finance cost to our businesses. If the finance costs are very high then there’s likely to be lower profits; if you do the math revenue minus cost.

An example is the cocoa sector. We buy cocoa; the cost of operations is mainly the finance cost because we borrow to buy the cocoa. The cost of finance constitutes about two thirds of the operations cost, so therefore, if high interest rates are looming or are in record high then obviously your operating cost will go very high and that’s how it’s affecting us; our profits are being whittled away.

We are on the fringes; just striving to survive. My group employs directly and indirectly about 12,000 people; so you can see how it is affecting us. Basically we are just paying monies away because business is not booming. Exchange rate is also another factor. Most of our inputs are imported. For example, our large fleet fleet of trucks have been imported, they were not produced in Ghana.

So you import them without a supplier’s credit but with loans and with the loans you pay high interest cost. Also with the payment which is in dollars, as a result of depreciating local currency, you use more cedis to buy the dollar.

So, obviously you end up having much problems with your cost. Your cost increases astronomically and end up having problems. So, in a depreciating currency environment your cost goes up as hell. The reason is that when you depend on foreign inputs (and we are not exempted), you have to bear the consequences.

That’s a major issue. Then inflation! So if you look at the relationship between these factors, you will see that we are caught up in a spiral and there is nothing we can do. Inflation is going up, there is labour agitation for increasing wages, we are employing 12,000 people; paying them is not easy.

So it is having a toll on us! We are borrowing and borrowing and borrowing but we believe the good times will come and when the economy stabilizes, we should be able to survive. The economy is killing us; inflation is killing us, wage demands, increasing overheads, electricity has gone up, water has gone up, fuel has also gone up.

Over the next month or in two, these increases are going to cripple a lot of businesses but hopefully we can survive with our muscle. We do hope that we may have the safety nets and the shock absorbers to survive.

Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: How are you weathering the storm?

Dr. A.A.I: All we are doing is to improve efficiencies in operations in terms of financial management, treasury management, and operational efficiencies. We hope to contain our cost and keep the business going; that’s all we can do. We cannot change interest rates or fix inflations. It all depends on government policy. There isn’t much we can do except that we must respond strategically as a business and that’s all we are doing.

TVM: What do you suggest can be done to reverse the trend?

Dr. A.A.I: Reversing the trend? The onus rests with government. These are macro economic fundamentals controlled by government; we don’t control them. I believe government must do the right thing; the excessive borrowing by government must stop. I’m referring to previous and current governments.

Once they keep borrowing, interest rates will go up. Alternatively, the more they pump more money into the system, the more inflation increases. So for me, it’s about the government trying to get its act together and eliminating wastes and I think economies are managed by governments, that’s why we elect them and give them the mandate and this is not about politics.

TVM: What do you make of the recurrent depreciation of the Cedi?

Dr. A.A.I: We are all part of the reason why the cedi is always falling against the major trading currencies. If someone should give you dollar right now, you will take it, right?

TVM: YES

Dr. A.A.I: But, if you go to China and India and you have dollars, nobody will accept it as a legal tender. That is what we are to do here in Ghana but the reverse is the case. So, we shouldn’t blame anyone; we should blame ourselves. We are all part of the reason for the depreciation of the cedi.

TVM: Who is Dr. Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu?

Dr. A.A.I: I’m a Ghanaian. My mother comes from Paga and my father from Niger. I grew up here in Accra– Old Fadama to be precise, at the timber market. We actually started the timber market at the post office and later moved it to the Makola Fire Service, then to Kantamanto before finally settling at Amamomo where the market is still situated.

But, before all this, I used to help my father on the farm. So, I learnt a lot about farming. At age 17, I joined my brother in Accra and we started the timber business. Through the timber business, I developed interest in the transport business as well because I needed to convey the woods to my clients and by 1964 I bought the first two Fargo trucks, during Nkrumah’s regime.

I bought the first CKD trucks in Ghana in 1964. At that time, trucks were imported in their skeletal forms and then assembled here in Ghana. We had Man Diesel, Mercedes Benz, Fargo trucks, in fact all the trucks were assembled in Ghana. So, no one could import an assembled truck directly from overseas.

After Nkrumah till Kutu Acheampong’s regime, all the leaders did same. Moreover, during Acheampong’s regime, he ordered that motorbikes, bicycles as well as cars should also be assembled in Ghana. No one could import a brand new car as of that time. This created industrial boom and job creation in the country.

TVM: Is that where you got the idea of your transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: No no no! I started the transport business even before Nkruma’s regime. I actually started the transport business with a horse-driven cart. I had a little cart tied to a horse on which I packed the wood from the timber market to distribute to our customers in Accra.

So I had the idea from there because I needed to keep supplying the customers’ everyday with the wood and that was how I got the idea and it wasn’t a bad one. Only that the transport business is very risky.

TVM: H o w risky is it?

Dr. A.A.I: Very! One cannot tell when a car or a truck can have an accident. You can buy a truck today and give it to a driver and you can’t tell what will happen in the next minute. It can be an accident, an arrest because of an illegal engagement by your driver etc. All these accounts for the risky nature of the transport business. TVM: Did you have to drive the trucks at a point?

Dr. A.A.I: Yes! When I started the truck business I was driving the trucks myself but also, I had other drivers.

TVM: At what age were you when you entered into the transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: I started working with my brother at the age of 17 but by the time I entered into the transport business I was in my thirties. I did it simultaneously with the timber business but after four years, I stopped the timber business to concentrate on the transport business. I had the opportunity to also supply the timber to countries like Togo, Burkina Faso etc.

TVM: What lessons did you learn when you were working with your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: My brother gave me free hands to learn the business very well when I was with him. I learnt how to serve as an apprentice as well as collaborate as a partner. I also learnt to manage my brother’s business as my own. I was very obedient to his instructions and contented with what I had.

TVM: Did you ever think you would be this successful while you were selling the wood?

Dr. A.A.I: I had a vision and that’s why I separated from my brother’s business. I was very hard working. For instance, when I was 16 years and staying with my father, I worked on his farm and did not give him the cause to work on the farm again.

I worked so hard he didn’t have to touch anything on the farm. I did the same for my brother when I joined him to sell the wood at the timber market. That is why today I advise people that they should not be selfish but work hard.

Even if it is not their job, they should go ahead and sacrifice themselves for the job. If they feel the company does not belong to them and so would do as pleased, such an attitude wouldn’t get them to be successful. Africans have a different attitude to work unlike Europeans and Arabs.

While I was with my brother, because of my hard work he wanted to build a house for me but I refused. My priority was not for the gift offerings but to ensure the business grew as expected for me to earn my income. I took nothing from the business without his prior notice and consent.

TVM: What was the motivation to refuse your brother’s gift?

Dr. A.A.I: Honesty! I never take anything that is not mine from people or steal from them. If I needed something, I always consulted the person. I was and am not a materialistic person, so I managed the business with honesty. Trust! I never wanted anything but just to ensure the business was growing. If you want people to trust you, you have to do things to earn you the trust.

TVM: What business did you venture when you separated from your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: I continued with the timber and transport business together for about 4 years before moving fully into the transport business. In three years, I had acquired about ten trucks and six years later, 1972 – 1978, I had about 100 trucks.

But I must say all these successes I chalked were as a result of trust. Merchant Bank had come onto the market around 1972. They were only servicing corporate clients and started to deal with us on high purchase bases. But when they started doing business with me, they realized I was an honest man.

All the monies I made from the haulage business, I used them to service my debts with Merchant Bank to pay off the loan on the trucks. Usually I took the hire purchase quota for 18 months but by the 12th month, I would have paid off. This created the trust between the bank and myself. I never defaulted and the bank helped me a lot.

TVM: Can you give a fair count on the number of trucks you have currently?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t know the numbers. But I know they are about 600 that are in good condition and are moving.

TVM: From a sawn mill dealer to owning 15 successful companies. Was government involved in this success?

Dr. A.A.I: Government is not involved in any. By the will and grace of God, I have come along with my staff and I don’t think there is the need for government to help entrepreneurs like me. Moreover, I don’t see the need for government to support entrepreneurs because if you [entrepreneur] have built your own company, you don’t wait and expect government to help you run your business for you.

The only thing you need as an entrepreneur from government are the favorable policies and conducive business environment and not financial aid. The only people who need government’s support are the farmers and not entrepreneurs.

TVM: Did you ever envisage you would one day own all these companies?

Dr. A.A.I: Well, the companies did not come all of a sudden or on a silver platter. It was sheer hard work and focus. As and when there was a need, we registered and created it to supplement each other’s operations.

All the companies relate to one another; they are interlinked. It looks like different people helping each other to be better. For instance, the transport firm needs a warehouse to offload the cocoa, and the insurance firm underwrites the various activities against risk etc.

So the companies are interrelated to support each other’s activities and promote integrated growth. The only one with a different purpose is the bank. TVM: What inspired you to own and venture into Banking?

Dr. A.A.I: I could have sent the money outside the county and put it in an investment account to earn interest. But, I believe first and foremost letting the money stay in this country to do business and the sector I chose was finance.

So, I decided to venture into the two areas– banking and insurance, to help add-on to what is in the system. I am, fundamentally, concerned about the high cost of borrowing in this country so I believe that having a bank if all things being equal, the bank will be able to lend money to people at very competitive rates.

The high cost of borrowing is killing businesses in this country and even the availability of the finance is also another factor. On the other hand, I thought it would help my business as well; to be able to provide my other firms with the credit needed for our operations and also to deposit our funds but the Bank of Ghana’s regulation restricts anyone who establishes a bank to transact with that same bank without limitations.

But, I have not regretted though, because it has created a lot of employments. If you check the value of the money I invested in the bank at the initial stage, it was not as huge as it is now because the investment has appreciated. My basic motivation is to see the impact on the cost of finance in the nearest future reduced, and also create more jobs.

TVM: Are you happy about the way the Bank is performing?

Dr. A.A.I: Oh yes, I am very happy.

TVM: Did you dream that one day your will own a bank?

Dr. A.A.I: Usually, I don’t look or focus on what I cannot do. So currently, if I get another idea that will be profitable I’ll venture into that space too. I’ve got very knowledgeable and trustworthy people who are running the bank and I’m happy with their work.

I told all the workers some time back that the bank belongs to them. They are enjoying from it and even, some of them are marrying each other in the bank. All these bring happiness and once they are happy then I’m happy too.

TVM: You were recently honored with a doctoral degree and also, most importantly, a laureate at the Millennium Excellence Awards 2015. How did you feel at the occasions?

Dr. A.A.I: I was very happy. But that was not the highest achievement or the first time I received an award. The biggest award I have received was in 2007 when I was presented the Order of the Volta spearheaded by the former President, President John Agyekum Kufour, for recognizing my efforts.

I was very happy and I realized I was a noteworthy personality and an appreciated citizen in the society. At the recent awards, I was also very elated and overwhelmed. I actually believe I should have been acknowledged a long time ago because of the way I am very practical.

Those who know me will testify that the awards were purely merited and not just conferred on me. Even those with very good education, still come to learn a lot from me. In 2007, people wanted to tag me with a political affiliation but the former President Kufour ignored all those and honored me.

TVM: Do these achievements make you a fulfilled person?

Dr. A.A.I: I am human, so yes! To have come this far and being recognized for my contribution to society, I feel I have served a great purpose to humanity. As an ‘unschooled’ person like me having professors, doctors, and other very educated persons under my various companies operations, I feel fulfilled. What makes me happy is when I manage to get all these engineers, doctors etc. to be working for me.

TVM: You have defied the general notion that ‘education is key to success’, what do you see as key to success?

Dr. A.A.I: Education is nothing and it’s not paramount to success. God is the giver of true knowledge. “Education is a collection of ideas of people put together”. All these books we usually study did not come by themselves.

They are made of humans’ ideas put together for others to study. But practical experience becomes a non-forgettable knowledge and that’s what culminates to personal knowledge. That is why I tell people practical solutions are more important. I am a problem solver.

Sometimes when I get to some of my sites and the engineers are struggling with the building project I am able to proffer accurate solutions which work. Meanwhile, I have never been to school before. So instead of education as a key to success, I’ll rather say practical knowledge or experience is the key to success.

TVM: Did you ever have a role model(s)/ mentor(s) when growing up?

Dr. A.A.I: At all! I never did. People rather want to look like me. All I do is a special gift and grace from God and not by my might or design. It was not by my strength and I never looked up to anybody. God gave me the talent and it is not my strength. I just used the talent he gave me.

TVM: Your philanthropic activities spread across the nation. Why do you engage in such massive benevolence?

Dr. A.A.I: I would not want to speak specifically about my charity work. I do them unto God and not for the pleasantries of men. Every day of my life is meant to meet the needs of society. There are some that are quite open but majority of my charity work I don’t disclose and I wouldn’t want to announce them.

 

TVM: What motivates you to do them?

Dr. A.A.I: It’s not the motivation. Charity should be done through your love for God. When you love God, you become motivated enough to provide for the needy. So, the fear of God in one is enough to engage one in charity.

The motivation comes from your quality walk with God. A lot of people don’t believe in Judgement but I do. On that Day of Judgment, everyone shall be accountable for his/her works, charity. And I know this, so I’m doing mine.

Any area I move to and live or do business, I make sure that they benefit from my benevolence in terms of social amenities – water supply to the communities among others. So I advise everyone to get involved to help solve the needs of humanities.

We should not be greedy to concentrate on ‘self ’. My desire is to be able to meet the needs of everyone who is in need. It gives me extreme joy when I’m able to solve those needs of humanities.

TVM: You have proven in all aspects that hard work pays. Do you have hobbies you engage during your leisure hours?

Dr. A.A.I: At my leisure hours, I spend quality time with my maker, God, by reading the Quran. All I do is to worship Him. I also make time for my family and kinsmen.

TVM: What discipline of sports did you or do you engage?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t engage in any sports. I used to play golf but I don’t play anymore because I’m getting old. The energy I have now I use to worship God.

TVM: Do you enjoy specific kind of music?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t have time to listen to music. I rarely listen to music. Sometimes I watch a bit of TV and sleep.

TVM: How many children has God bless you with?

Dr. A.A.I: So far I have 22 children alive out of 23. I’ve had about 4 wives with so many grandchildren that I have lost count. I’m happy when I see them and I advise them.

TVM: Can you share with us how a day in your business life looks like?

Dr. A.A.I: I always have a very busy day. There are no holidays, no weekends. I work every time when the need arises. There are no breaks. I give myself some time before stepping out. I usually step out in the mornings at around 8-9a.m. unless there is an emergency. I visit my staff (executives) every morning before I go anywhere.

TVM: At an advanced age, you are still strong and are able to perform your duties officially. What is the secret to your strength?

Dr. A.A.I: I eat very well and pay careful attention to my health. I believe whatever we take in has the potential to kill or to keep us alive so I watch what I eat and drink carefully and also the timing of meals, I pay attention to. I go for regular medical check-ups as well.

TVM: And so, what are your favorite delicacies?

Dr. A.A.I: I like traditional foods- the Tuo Zaafi and the rest. They are very nutritious so I take them more often.

TVM: General advice to Ghanaians?

Dr. A.A.I: Let’s love our currency because that is the only legal tender we have. We shouldn’t love foreign currencies more than ours. We are not helping ourselves and the economy if we continue to do that. The economy cannot be managed by only one person but every individual in this country is involved in the management thereof. We should also be conscious to patronize made-in-Ghana goods to help boost the economy.

TVM: What is your advice to the youth of today?

Dr. A.A.I: The youth of today are not like the youth of my time. Even when you are advising them, they don’t take it. But for the few who listen to instructions, I’ll say, they should work very hard, they should not cut corners; do it diligently, do it as though it is their own.

There should be no room for laziness. The other aspect is humility; it opens to you great doors and helps you to listen to people. If you are too pompous, you seldom listen to people. You become too full of yourself and that won’t take you far.

No matter who you are, be humble, respect other people and be receptive to people. The third one is Honesty. I don’t compromise on this! I believe the one who steals your 1 cedi is capable of stealing your 1 billion; so, you don’t entertain him. If you do honest labor you will be rewarded accordingly. The final one is good human relations.

So, I term them “The Four H”; Hardworking, Humility, Honesty, Human relations. Not in any particular order, they must be integrated into you. When you meet people, you must be nice and receptive to them. People will have problems; listen to them, don’t trample upon them. When you meet people, you must learn to respect them.

Dr. Adamu Iddrisu in a cheerful discussion with his son Alhaji Abdul Aziz

TVM: What will be your advice to government?

Dr. A.A.I: There’s been mention of a lot of things already. We need more social cohesion. The country is too polarized. The NDC-NPP divide is too wide, so good materials cannot cross over from one side to the other to help in the management of the economy. That is totally wrong! The ‘Dumsor’ (electricity rationing), currency depreciation, high inflation as well as high interest rates are some of the challenges affecting the economy. Energy is everything these days. Obviously, if you need energy to produce and you don’t have energy, it means you can’t produce meanwhile you’ve invested in plants, you took loans, and you have to keep servicing the loans yet you don’t produce then you will crumble. The government should find a way to fix the energy problem because in the whole world now, energy drives everything. IT is power, manufacturing is energy, and education is energy. Energy is everywhere! So, if businesses don’t have consistent supply, their operations are likely to be affected adversely. So I agree the problem must be fixed. But we also have to think about alternative energy sources; wind energy, hydro is very conventional to us but the fuel powered sources are very expensivehence if we want energy we must think about these alternative sources. Our beaches can be used for wind mills, our fields can be used for solar; we need very diverse minds to deal with these issues and come up with more energy sources so we can complement the existing sources. If we become mono dependent it can be disastrous, we need alternatives.

TVM: What advice would you give to SME’s in this trying times? SME’s should strive to thrive on honesty, humility, good management skills and hard work and they will be on their way to success. It is very unfortunate in this trying times for this growing sector but better times await.

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One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment in agriculture – Dr. Abu Sakara Foster, Executive Chairman of Sakfos Holding

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The Role of Agriculture in Economic Development

TVM: What is your general assessment of the current state of the Ghanaian economy?

ASF: Our economy in its current state is one in which the essential transformation of its nature has still not happened. It is still an economy based primarily on production and export of raw materials and not one predominantly described as a value added economy. The service sector has grown but not by servicing Ghana’s industrial sector; it is rather servicing imports. So the nature of the economy really has not changed much. However, in terms of the performance of the economy, what you are seeing essentially is a stabilization of the currency, the building of our reserves, which basically has contributed to the stabilization of the currency and steadying of the national inflation. All this not withstanding, bank interest rates (generally above 20%) are still too high for many primary producers and manufacturing industry to maintain and expand operations competitively in the domestic market. Also liquidity is very, very tight!

On the latter point,  recent enforcement of rules in the financial regulatory sector has meant an even tighter squeeze on the liquidity of funds. This action is however indeed good in one way because it will help bring interest rates down to a more realistic level as entrepreneurs progressively turn towards incentives to do more sensible business and turn away from more risky businesses. But in the short term these measures have dried up access to funds from banks, as they themselves have struggled to find money quickly to meet their obligations with the central bank.

So in terms of macro economy, there is a good turn around in terms of the fact that you have a stronger foundation for improved performance mostly from improved fiscal management. But when I say foundation, I’m relating to the performance of the economy, not the structural nature of the economy per se. By and large, it is a more predictable economic environment; but in terms of evolution from one kind of “creature” to another kind of “creature”, we are still where we are, an economy based on production and export of raw agricultural produce,  raw minerals, raw timber, raw fish, raw unconventional products and crude oil even when we have a refinery. This is where then major challenge of our generation lies.

TVM: Ghana’s economy has been predominantly agric-led for decades. For about two decades ago, there was a boom in the service sector and its continuous growth has seen agriculture over taken. What in your view might have accounted for this?

ASF: Of course the growth in the service sector naturally means that somewhere in the total GDP pie, some other portion of that pie must give.  The reduction in agricultural sectors’ GDP contribution relative to the increasing size of service and manufacturing industry and the mineral mining industry does not necessarily mean that agriculture is doing badly. After all in the final analysis, we want to have the agriculture sector reduced as a portion of it’s contribution to GDP if the manufacturing sector grows in return. We want to have the manufacturing sector grow because it is based on growth of domestic productivity growth and will most likely increase jobs and incomes more significantly. However the service sector can do grow without much domestic productivity increase in fact it may hurt domestic productivity growth and stall our competitiveness in our own domestic markets. That is not any guarantee that increased service sector growth in economies such as ours will increase the good paying jobs for any sustained period. Ultimately the wealth has to be created from somewhere and that in our situation is mainly from transforming the primary to secondary processed products.

In my view the service sector can grow but by only as much as the manufacturing sector is growing and it is servicing the domestic manufacturing sector. But if the service sector growth  is only servicing imports and the manufacturing sector is not growing very much, while agriculture sector is declining, then that is a problem!! Because it means that we are actually going backwards in terms of progressive capacity to have a home grown economy that is more robust and less susceptible to external pressures.

The increase in income from the oil sector has also brought about a new dynamic in terms of proportions of GDP contribution by various sectors, including agriculture. The impact of oil income on national GDP is not perhaps as big as one will imagine, but it has certainly influenced growth of the service sector because we had no previous history of a service sector for the oil industry.

All this recent growth means little if there is no evolution of the economy.  Metaphorically speaking if you are an eight-year-old child and that looks the like the size of a teenager, it doesn’t mean you’re grown yet, it just means you have only expanded in size. The evolution has not yet occurred. So we need to look more closely at how agriculture is contributing to transforming the economy basically from a raw material producing economy to a more value added agriculture. We must also closely observe the changes in all the technological innovations that comes along with investment in agro processing. It is happening, but too slowly. It needs to happen at a faster rate to effect that sorely needed evolution.

 

TVM: As a country, we’ve kept believing that agriculture is the back bone of our economic development. But then, unfortunately, the hypothesis has been disproved by the continuous decline of the agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP. Should we still continue to bank our hopes on agriculture as the basis for economic development?

ASF: The hypothesis has not been disproved at all; and we’ve not been believing. If we really believed, it would have happened. And that is the exact problem with agriculture. We say that agriculture is the backbone of the economy, but then when it comes to the allocation of the pie of the budget to it, sometimes it gets less than three (3) percent, or even a tiny little amount. You don’t need to go to Harvard Business School to figure out that in trading, the thing that is bringing you the most money is the thing that you have to spend your money on, in order to turn over more of it, to make even more money.

 

TVM: What in your view do you think are the main challenges confronting the sector from achieving its maximum impact.

ASF: There are three areas. The first is in the area of national policy which creates the medium within which everything happens including agriculture. The second area is the limits of knowledge base within the sector. Finally there is the service industry associated with the agricultural sector that provides it with inputs and marketing of its outputs. If we take these three areas, all of them have different kinds of challenges.

The main challenge in the policy area is a dysfunctional democracy that is not closely allied with the real things that matter in the economy. We can’t blame politicians alone. They have to get elected. So they respond in short term ways that the populace will appreciate but ultimately are ways that are detrimental to real growth of the agricultural sector. For decades people have called for a reduction of rice importation by any and all means possible. However the same people will scream to the high heavens if rice prices went up a pesewa because tariffs on imported rice were increased. Ghana has also seen the rise of “middle class political activism” that demands more accountable government and better balance of trade to reflect growth in made in Ghana products of which processed agriculture products should have the lion share. However policy makers have encouraged and boasted about the mushrooming of shopping malls filled with mainly imported goods that are consumed by the same “activist” middle class. It appears the need to win elections has dulled the capacity of governments to act more firmly in favor of the national interest to stimulate growth in the domestic agricultural sector.

The second issue associated with national policy is conviction by the leadership. There needs to be a very firm conviction among leaders that agriculture can indeed work sufficiently to give us the take-off we need the next phase of our national economy.  This will make us commit to it for long enough to make it work. Leadership needs to convince themselves and the populace that we can and will make it work!! Every country that has successfully transformed their economy from an agricultural base at the end of their colonial period did so with a very strong commitment and sometimes with only a single single crop. The Malaysians that we admire so much did it with only palm oil. And yet we have palm oil, yam, gold and so many other things. Mauritius transformed an agricultural economy based on only sugarcane to a modern value added economy.  

Fortunately or unfortunately, because we’re blessed with so many good things, we have so many choices. We have consequently dissipated our efforts trying to exploit all of them at once as and when it dawns on us. It is like a drummer with too many drums in front of him and trying to drum all the drums at once. There has to be a coherent medium to long term plan and a focus beyond four year terms of office. In addition to a national focus and we need to learn to live according to our pocket, a good manager should always tries to live within their means. The country and its citizens are carrying too much debt. We need to renegotiate terms even as we  work our way out of debt. Our national debt is not insurmountable given our resource base and it is in our debtor’s interest to give us more conducive terms to work off our debt.

Talking about the knowledge base, we have to have a system where we start looking at the variety of crops that fit our farming systems rather than the mono crops we relied on during the colonial economy that is still with us in great measure. The truth of the matter is that we know a lot more than we are actually applying because our researchers have come up with different varieties that fit many more farming systems, crop patterns and types of farmers. This sometimes leads farmers to make the wrong choices by opting for technologies that they cannot sustain. It’s like choosing a BMW car over a Volkswagen car but you can’t drive faster than 60 km/h because you lack the skills and experience. In spite of that you still want to join in groups talking about the pros and cons of a Ferrari versus a Ducati.  Farmers need to be educated to choose the right technologies for their level of capacity and at the same time take advantage to upgrade their investments to match their capacity through extension and farmer to farmer learning. Farmers that opt for high end technologies beyond their capacity can be likened to ordinary drivers that choose to run a Ferrari car but do not have enough fuel, a good road to race on and also lack the skill to control a fast car in the first place. Just because collapse of farms are not as dramatic as car crashes does not mean that they have less of an important effect on the national economy.

Our operators themselves (the famers and value chain actors) need to assess their capacity and know-how relative to the investments that they can make. I don’t think our farmers are ignorant, they know a lot and they’re quite experienced. If a farmer is not using a particular technology, it is not always because he hasn’t heard about it, sometimes it is because he/she has figured out that it doesn’t make any more money. This is because our marketing system does not always give them sufficient incentives. Also, the transaction cost are so high that sometimes they leave significant portions of the products in the bush.  We need to resolve that through development of farm track roads and greater use of appropriate rural transport to reduce the costs of the first aggregations and homesteads and subsequently at village markets.

 

TVM: In this age of technology, how crucial is agriculture to our economic development

ASF: Agriculture is still very crucial because it must form the platform that serves as a foundation for take-off of our industrial and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture is also where we have the greatest comparative advantage.  However three things need to happen to establish this foundation in sufficient measure. First, we have to intervene to turn our comparative advantage in agriculture to a competitive advantage. We cannot go and start competing with producers of space technologies and all of that very high end stuff. We don’t have even have comparative advantage for that yet.

In Ghana, especially the northern part, we have in abundance arable land, surface and ground water and a varied climate suitable for many crops and livestock.  With good climate it is a question of choosing the right combination of crops, applying the right technology both in terms of the physical equipment and inputs, and also the management know-how. Then we can be competitive in the market place. If Usain Bolt was sat in his lazy chair all the time, he could have never been a world champion in spite of his great potential. He has to go out and train to realize the potential is already there. Our policy makers profess our great potential all too often but what are we doing to realize even a little of that great potential?

This is basically where we have to make more effort and a very deliberate effort at that!  Beyond effort in agriculture, other parts of the economy have to be tuned to support the agriculture sector as the main point of thrust for the economy. When we do that for a consistent period, we get to a stage where we lift the whole economy and then other sectors can then start growing to then exceed agriculture in their contribution to the economy.

TVM: Do we need to reinvent the wheel as other developing countries are doing by focusing on agricultural development as a basis for economic development?

ASF: I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. The matter is we haven’t pushed the wheelbarrow far enough to the stage where economies can take off. So we need to push the wheels more and faster to get to the stage where it agriculture becomes a foundation for other sectors to take off organically in synchrony and yielding the greatest synergies. The other Countries like Malaysia and Mauritius did not forget about agriculture and then come back to it. Instead they rode on the back of Agriculture. They developed agriculture first and then it formed the foundation for their investment in other sectors. Also we have to remember that one of the key things that we use for development is human resources. So we need to empower and retool the people for productive engagements. That is another important reason agriculture must come first, it helps build the technological innovation skills needed for the other industries. We have to build agriculture as a foundation first.

 

TVM: But then, the government has rolled out several policies to revamp the agricultural sector with the flagship of Planting for Food and Jobs. What is your take on this and do you see this programme succeeding in the long term?

ASF: I think it is going in the right direction. Of course, there are teething problems with it and there are major challenges. It’s success is contingent on the determination to ensure that the fundamental things that have normally failed previous programmes don’t fail this one. So we must all resolve not to let it fail. If there is a threat that there will be no funding for it, policy makers should to sit round the cabinet table and raise the money for it by taking cuts from elsewhere, it is as simple as that. Why? Because agriculture is what is driving the economy and it must take precedence over consumptive expenditure that does not bring immediate income.  That is the kind of leadership direction that we need for initiatives such as PFJ to succeed. The fundamental thing that it is addressing is the availability of seeds and fertilizers at farmers’ doorsteps, using our own local seed producers and fertilizer distributors. Of course some seed is still are being imported, but we hope that will change in time in favor of locally produced seed. It doesn’t just change overnight, nor will it happen without persistent effort and investment in local seed producers and seed systems. We don’t yet have the domestic capacity to meet our full seed requirement. We have to build seed production capacity alongside growth of effective demand to ensure that the seed business is financially viable. For a viable seed system the seed produced must be sold. If it is not bought, producers will reduce seed production and some seed growers may get out of the seed business altogether.

We must strengthen the seed distribution for farmers to be able to buy seeds at their door steps. This means that seed dealerships between seed producers and farmers must be tackled effectively as a national priority and maintained as a national asset. The incremental gains that will accrue as a consequence of the dealership system will exceed its value for access to seed and inputs alone. It can also serve as a point of interface for output markets and evolution of the remaining agro-industry. We need to make these seemingly simple things happen for our agricultural system to work sufficiently well to support interventions and programmes like PJF sectors to succeed. I believe we can do this and already the early signs of success are showing. PFJ will succeed if we don’t blow it by taking things and people for granted.

 

TVM: In Ghana, the old folks practice subsistence farming. Being the executive director of the Rural and Agricultural Development Associates, how can the rural folks be empowered to turn the woes of this sector into fortune.

ASF: I think first of all when you describe our agriculture; it is a composite of different types of farmers. You have the small scale farmers who are subsistent farmers. You have the emerging medium scale farmers that are people who have determined that agriculture is where they are going to make a living and extra money from. Then there are the commercial scale farmers who have decided that they are going to put their lives to it for big time returns to investment. So our agriculture has a spectrum of farmers like an accordion. It is not a one single thing or type of farmer.

Now, it is true that small scale farmers in the past have formed a large majority of where we get our food from and are also the majority in numbers. Together small scale farmers make more money than the medium and large scale farmers. This trend will not however stay as it is in future. If agriculture evolves as we expect it to, then as numbers of the medium and large scales farmers grow, small holder farmers’ numbers will decrease. Small-holder farmers won’t be eliminated all together. Instead the remaining small-holder farmers will become more efficient. Even if they are still on small-holder allotments, they will become more productive and efficient. What we expect to see is that the medium scale grows significantly and maybe the large scale will also grow in a highly specialized market driven manner. Irrespective of the variations and specializations of different types of farmers there exists a relationship between them. That relationship and interdependence will grow stronger through linkages to market networks so let us not divide them artificially.

TVM: You spoke about you knowing older people that started farming and they falling out, so how do we now get the youth to be interested in this? How can the state make agriculture appealing to the youth?

ASF: Agriculture has to be appealing to everybody. If it is not appealing to the old people, it will not be appealing to the youth. And the greater appeal about agriculture is not as a hobby. It is as a business. No one has ever asked how we can make shop keeping appealing to the youth. If you have the capital, you go there and you make your money just like any other business.

Agriculture is however not an easy business like sitting and selling in a shop. Agriculture involves a certain level of difficulty because of its specialized knowledge and physical involvement, especially when one does not have the right equipment and tools. So one of the ways we can make farming more attractive to people starting is to have service centers for tools, equipment and specialized know-how. This applies not just for the youth but also for other farmers and value chain actors because it reduces transaction costs for ownership of equipment and use of services. It also makes service providers more accessible to farmers and value chain actors in rural areas.

TVM: A few years ago you cautioned the nation to focus on the soil not the oil. Can you explain why you did say that?

ASF: When the oil started flowing we were all dreaming and salivating about how this oil was going to change the whole economy. I’m glad you’ve raised that question. We’ve seen the oil sector come and stay. So what has changed?  Not so much and that is why I said at that time, focus on soil not oil. It was on the basis that if we were to see a big transformation then what ever income was coming from that oil, should go into the soil! At least the interest from the saved oil income should go into the soil to address all these challenges we’ve enumerated above to give us that quantum leap we expected from a completed foundation in agriculture.

“One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment agriculture.”

It should be used to make sure that we have the range and volume of seeds and equipment needed to make productivity higher on a big scale. We should not be relying on donor funds that may have their own priorities, areas of focus and limit on the scale of investment.  With sufficiently expanded scale of intervention in agriculture, would come many fold increased incomes from agriculture. Concurrent scale of investments of the cheaper money in improved agro processing would have also pulled up price incentives to sustain the production because higher profits from the added value goods can be shared as price incentives to sustain flow of raw materials to factories. Currently, operators have mills that are not getting enough rice because cost of financing operations greatly limits their capacity to share slender profits. The price structure of commodities across the entire value chain must be scrutinized to ensure a strong incentives for operators either as producers, farm service providers and aggregators. There are many jobs in agriculture apart from production.

The second thing I meant by that was, when you focus on the oil, how many people will be employed into that sector? How many towns can be touched by that sector? If you are not in Takoradi, you won’t know that there’s oil in Ghana. You don’t feel anything. But if we invest those monies in the soil and there’s soil everywhere in Ghana, the impact on people’s lives will be far more pervasive and we would have all felt it by now.

At the time, I said categorically that the best way of managing that money was to pretend we did not have it. In other words, all of it, not one drop should have been brought into the normal economy. All of it should have been kept out of the economy in an investment fund. And we only use the interest from that fund to reduce our rate and cost of borrowing. We could also fund specific turn key projects that are arranged in a hierarchical order of priority setting and they feed into each other. It would have helped us know just how much we take each year taking as chunk of money. In return for that money we must see at the investment period its end product and its value for money on the ground. For example if it is a railway we want to build to reduce transportation costs, we take the chunk of money and build the railway. We would not borrowed the money from anywhere and the railway is in place.

 

The Personality profile segment

TVM: When I started the interview, I did say a lot about who you are and your personality. When you go onto the internet you can read a lot about yourself but then it is always best to hear it from the horses own mouth. So who is Dr. Abu Sakara?

ASF: Well, I’m a family man.  I have been married for 36 going on to 37yrs with the same woman and I have four grown up children. The eldest is 35 years, the next is 32, then 29 and the last is 28yrs old. They are now adults, three ladies and one gentleman. We basically are a very close nucleus family and I’m also close with my extended family too. I come from a family of 22 children and 5 wives. We are the first generation of truly monogamous people but marriage in our culture is still predominantly polygamous.

I had initially had a village upbringing. I was born in Damongo but lived in Kpembi near Salaga for the first 6 to 7 years of my life. I grew up in my great grandfather’s house (the Sinbung royal household of Kpembiwura  Lanyor I). I learnt so much form the village life and my character benefited immensely from their culture of sharing and caring. Above all it left me with a strong identity and high self esteem.

My first crossover happened when I went to live with my father S.S. Sakara, the then Distrct Commisioner for West Gonja in Damango. Living with him in his European style bungalow with European accoutrements and affectations was very restrictive. I liked my freedom in the village  and felt like a prisoner in the bungalow life. But of course it had its benefits for learning academically and struggled to learn how to sleep in the afternoon, siesta!.

Then I went and visited my other cousins in Western Gonja who taught me the differences in culture between Western and Eastern Gonja, so I learned to become a cultural hybrid with capacity to cross over in accent and names of things. Capacity for cultural crossing over has been a major theme in my life. I have  lived between cultures both East and Western Gonja, African and European culture and Eastern and Westen Africa.

I  left for the UK when I was 12 years old. I went to school and grew there so I had to learn to live in that environment. When I became older I started travelling to other parts of the world like Latin America. My experiences have shaped who I am, because life is a sum of all our experiences.

 

TVM: You are one the few celebrated personalities in your field of endeavor. Was this what you always wanted to do?

ASF: When I was younger, I was very active. I was always dong one thing or another.  I initially struggled academically because I wasn’t paying enough attention but one day I was sat down by my foster parent and I learnt  and fell in love with the art of reading and that changed my world.

When I was in England I started doing a lot of sport and I got very much involved in judo. I rose very quickly through the belts and I won the England school boys at 15 years old. Later on I served the national judo team for the u16 and u18 at the same time. And when I was a bit older I was in the u18 and u21 men’s team at the same time. So that took a lot of my attention and at that time I thought my career was going to be in professional sport.

Unfortunately for me I tore a cartilage when we were at the Junior European championships in Bad hamburg, Germany in 1977 and I was required to take some time off and it came just at the right time because I was between 6th form and the university. As a matter of fact, I tried to overcome that and my attempt to get back quickly splitted the stitches so it took a longer time to recover. Thw long lay-off helped me make up my mind to actually go to the university because at the time, though I had a university placement at Reading, I hadn’t quite made up my mind to go yet.

I got into agriculture not because I made a deliberate decision in terms of career choice. It was simply because I had the sciences under control and that was the course that gave me an intercalated year abroad. So I was looking forward to this year abroad because when I saw the brochure, it was somewhere in the Philippines.   I thought if I do this course, I’ll get to go abroad for one year. So I chose the soil science course, only after the second year to find out that I had to win an award scholarship first.

I initially lost hope of going abroad because I didn’t think I had a fat chance of getting that Scholarship considering a student population of more than 18,000 at University of Reading at that time. But, my tutor was very insistent so he went and brought the forms and asked me to fill the forms and bring it back. I filled the forms and on the appointed day went to sit the examination for the scholarship. After leaving the examination hall I just took if off my mind because of the multitude of students that sat the examination.

It was a few months later when the result came to my surprise and I won it. The Dean called me to his office and asked me where I was going with the award? I wanted to go to the  Philippines but he advised IITA in Nigeria because he had been working in Nigeria as a researcher. So I after my seconds year at University I went off to Nigeria for one year as a research scholar.

When I came back to England, I was completely sure that I wanted a career in International Agricultural Development as a Scientist. So may career choice did not happen in a day. It took a period of two years. But by the end of that two-year period, I had submitted my research work and people had gotten to know me and I knew what international agriculture was about. After graduation, I applied for a post graduate training awards with ODA and went off to do my masters at Wye College London University and then off to Mexico for another year that turned out to be three years and  Ph.D. Since then I have been travelling with my work until I arrived in Ghana from East Africa via Washington.

 

TVM: You sought to become the president at some point in time. Given the opportunity for you to assume that position or that portfolio, what key things would you want to do as a president that would change or transform this country.

ASF: The way I’ll approach it is to ask: what can I do as an ordinary person? And then, what can I do as a president that I can’t do as an ordinary person? I will then as a President address those things that I cannot do as an ordinary person.

As an ordinary person, I’m within the policy environment created by others. All I can do is to try and do my best to make whatever I’m doing work well within the limits set by the policy makers. But as a President I can change the limits set by policy makers. This is especially true for developing countries where institutions are weak and policy is still maturing and not well defined. There is obviously less room for maneuver at ministerial level than at the presidency level where the President has the greatest influence toset that policy environment for everybody else.

We have institutions in Ghana and we shouldn’t belittle them because there are  in countries where they are almost non-existent. So I have great respect for our country and what we have achieved as a democracy of sorts. But nonetheless, we are a developing country, not a developed country. Sixty (60) years in the life of a nation is like six years in the life of a man. The countries we admire so much and try to emulate have been around for hundreds of years and yet we want to fly at the same pace. Yes, we can all aspire to shared values but the rate at which such values become an integral part of our society will differ. Values demand an understanding and common acceptance of certain ethics in the society. There is need a cultural adjustments take time to make between generations.

I think that there’s still opportunity to mold or shape our country in a different way along a different path. When I think of the role of a president, what is important is the opportunity to mold and shape the country not just for the present but more for the future. I’d like to be able to address those things that are fundamental to the system of governance, the architecture of our economy and the kind of society that we want to become. And these are three separate areas that all must be worked on in tandem with each other.

I think naturally, one will ask: “So what would you do differently?” For me, I perceive that you can be a president that presides over the most efficient incremental gains but you leave with nothing really fundamentally unchanged. Or you can be a president that seeks to restructure, recreate so that the country can have big quantum leaps thereafter. Those are big challenges. Of course it is not one or the other because there is a graduation in between the two options. One must however pitch camp decisively towards one of them as the totem pole for a presidency.

I think my desire to see some big changes and be able to count them off the tip of your palm is a driving force for any ambition I had to be president. I would definitely want to go with referendum agenda for governance (one six year term limit), organize Ghana into 25 regions as units for decentralized government and abandon the farce with local government a district levels, change nature of the economy (scrap export of unprocessed cocoa beans, timber, Gold and oil) and achieve self-sufficiency in rice production in five years and sugar production in 15 years. Ensure renewable energy for 20% of our energy needs and grow our jute (kenaff) for bags so that we can completely ban use of plastics as bags. And have a compulsory two year army service for all 18 to 29 year olds.

Normally when you ask people what they’ve achieved, they start mentioning so many things but many of those many things are not fundamental changes and will be swept away in the sands of time. This is not to praise the president because he’s my friend but when you look at what has transpired over this short period, what I like is that I can count some fundamental things.

  1. He has tackled a big challenge in the education sector at a fundamental level free universal education up to secondary level
  2. He has began the journey for change in architecture of governance by the creation of five new regions
  3. He has achieved a monumental task of peace in Dagbon which eluded so many for so many years. Yes many others were involved but without his steely determination it could have easily gone on for another five years.
  4. The progress with rail transversal rail transport and industries is too early to count. So I will hold back on that for the moment, the reopening of Obuasi mines not withstanding. We must wait for the commissioning of an oil refinery that stops export of our crude oil and a Gold refinery that stops the export od unrefined Gold and indeed makes it illegal.

 

TVM: The free education?

ASF: Yes the potential  impact of free secondary education is huge. Because free universal education to secondary level will restructure the numbers of people in education and it will have a long term impact if we do it well. It help to prepare Ghana to be able to absorb those people that will come off the farms and give them the  technological skills that we need to transform the economy in a significant way.

Secondly, the recreation of the regions will fundamentally change the architecture of governance in a sense that you will have 16 region. For example, in the Northern Region we had one region covering 30percent of the land mass of Ghana, now we have three regions having 10percent each. What it means is that it will bring the higher caliber of people that one needs at the regional level to stimulate the growth and development of the region.

Also is, the long standing Dagbon crisis which has now been resolved. Again I mention these only to highlight the fact that the hard things are the ones that are worth doing and they make the biggest difference.

TVM: Should Ghanaian still be considering you as a potential presidential hopeful?

ASF: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think if something is in your destiny, it will come to pass. I think every person that has a public spirit will answer that call if it comes to you, at the right time and in the right way.  As I said, for me what is important now is to focus on building a strong agribusiness as an example of what people in agriculture can do to help people in a qualitative way, not just a quantitative way; because if I don’t do that who else is going to that?

Above all, I think there are many people who can answer that call so at the right time, if we’re lucky and blessed, we’ll get the right person to answer that call, it could be me or it could be someone else, I don’t rule myself out. In the meantime I am doing what I advice all technocrats to do, excel in your area of expertise in the private sector if you can. I like the example of the proprietor of Asheshi University.

 

TVM: How would you describe your leadership style?

ASF: I am a fairly open person because I was brought up that way. I’m also somebody who believes in systems and their principles. I tend to find my patience with people who want to bend the rules is a little bit short. I believe very much that you can only make headway if you follow the principles.  One of the things I’m not very tolerant of is that in Africa, we believe the there should be different rules governing our conduct with regards to time, seriousness and morality as if the law of gravity doesn’t apply in Africa. Time is the same anywhere. Whether you are wearing a Rolex watch or a Timex watch, it is still the same time. Whether you are in Ghana or somewhere, same is the same  in its amount. We have to give time a higher value.

It is very important that our country works and follows systems that have been proven and tested. And my leadership style is always to make sure that I push people in that direction.

 

TVM: What kind of books do you read?

ASF: I like to read biographies of people that have achieved a lot. Their lives are very instructive and also gives one a firm conviction that if one persists, one will succeed. I think sometimes, reading about other people’s lives helps. I also read science fiction and mega trends in the world.

 

TVM: what genre of music do you like?

ASF: Generally, I like cool music. I also like cool jazz as well as modern music because I’ve children. I know what Busta Rhymes sounds like. Not that I like it much but I follow what is happening and of course I’ve seen the trends and the genres of new music coming.

 

TVM: If you had the opportunity to right a wrong, what would it be?

ASF: I am somebody who has always moved on. My attitude has not always been not to cry over spilt milk and that is one of the things my foster parents built in me. My frame of mind really is always getting on with the present and the future, so I don’t like to dwell too much on the past.

TVM: A lot of Ghanaians know you as a politician, an agribusiness entrepreneur, an agronomist, what else do you do?

ASF: That’s more or less the sum total of my life. If I’m in consultancy, it’s an agricultural and development consultancy. If I’m in politics, yes it’s about society but I would like to drive the emphasis on the role agriculture can play in shaping the country because I never let go of that part of my life. I don’t try to be something that I am not, you know, I think I have a fairly broad education that allows me to integrate sources of different knowledge and use it but when I want specialized knowledge, I go to the person who has it if I don’t have it.

 

TVM: In your lifetime now, what would you want to be remembered for, as your legacy?

ASF: My legacy would not be complete without being successful in agribusiness. Because, the intellectual and development part  of my career have been done. But I want it to be punctuated with tangible success in agribusiness as an entrepreneur. I want to leave that as my flagship of an intergenerational wealth creation industry. I want to be remembered for taking a successful risk with my own resources and savings  legacy to create not just a production industry but a processing industry that is sustainable over time. I want to be remembered for putting my money where my mouth was. I hope it will be successful, if it is it will be a real legacy. As you know it is important because we can decide that from today, we’re not wearing any make-up, we’re not buying any Brazilian hair anymore. We can even decide not to buy Lexus cars or not to wear expensive suits any more, BUT we can never say we won’t eat!

 

TVM:  Interesting, now with everything that you said, I would want you to advise the government, especially, on what to do to make agriculture more productive and make the economy benefit more from agriculture, make the sector more valuable.

ASF: The real issue about agriculture is that we must walk the talk. If I would give advise to anybody, I’d say walk the talk. Let’s not talk and we don’t walk. If you walk the talk, we know what we need to do and it’ll be done. But we cannot leave it for one person to do it because that person needs help and we have to make sacrifices in other areas for it to happen.

 

TVM: How about advice for the youth and your parting message for Ghanaians?

ASF: To the youth, they should decide what they want to do; decide where their passion is, cultivate their skill set and the relevant industry experience. Rise to the zenith of their profession and then get into policy making to expand their impact. Also, they shouldn’t believe that certain things are not achievable either because they don’t have money or they come from a certain background; the human potential is vast.

The opportunity to change, the opportunity to adapt, the opportunity to overcome are always there for the taking for the person who has the courage to dare. So be somebody who dares. Don’t accept the status-quo. Push the boundaries and I’ll say for African youth that is very important because our societies are changing but not necessarily in the way we want them to change. We are subject to so many influences and we’re copying many things we shouldn’t copy, but find out who you are. Interrogate yourself: who am I? You cannot be who you are separate from your cultural identity. Put faith in your character not your degree. Don’t be rude and arrogant because it is fashionable. So just build your identity, character and passion.

 

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