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Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani – A member of Council of State in the republic of Ghana

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“THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE IN MY BUSINESS LIFE IS ONE WORD: INTEGRITY! TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, YOU NEED INTEGRITY,”

reveals Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani, one of Ghana’s leading and successful entrepreneurs and a member of Council of State in the Republic of Ghana. A man who upholds great reverence for God in all facets, he recounts the story of his life in an enthralling interview with The Vaultz.

GHANA’S ECONOMY @60

TVM: Ghana is 60 years. What’s your general assessment of the economy?

NKD: At 60, we have indeed come far as a nation. A nation that does not acknowledge its struggles will not appreciate its achievements. First and foremost, we have a lot to be thankful for. God has been faithful to us as a country. The foremost reason to celebrate this anniversary, it should be because of the PEACE we are enjoying as a nation.

Despite the prevailing peace and tranquility, I think we could have been better, economically. Our economy at 60 years can be easily compared to a 20 year old natural resource deprived nation looking to strategize without any resource to fall on.Despite the decades of digging the earth and the seas for gold, cocoa, bauxite, diamond and oil, we have been unable to improve lives appreciably- our education, health and agricultural systems can best be described as stagnated. But I have hope. Hope in the sense that things will change for the better.

As an optimist, even though I cringe at where we are now when compared to other countries with whom we attained political independence, I am a believer that everything will fall into place at the right time for our dear mother Ghana.

TVM: At 60, If you are to rate the economy, how would you score its performance and why?

Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani

NKD: I cannot rate the economy. I am not in a position to score its performance.

TVM: Can we, as a nation, claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence? If not, how can we achieve a Ghanaian owned economy going forward?

NKD: No! Not at any point or anywhere or any sector in this country can we claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence. I am an entrepreneur with varying interests in finance, oil and gas, trade, media, and several others. Let us take banking as an example. Of the 35 banks and counting in this country, half of that number are foreign.

What is more worrying is that the local players are mostly tier three and four banks: very small banks that control a minority share of the market. More than 60percent of the banking market share are in the hands of foreigners. Let’s not talk of mining, oil and gas, and even retail trade, where by law, foreigners are not supposed to operate in.

Our markets are being taken over by foreigners who import cheaper products with capital borrowed at cheaper rates from their originating countries. The six telecom companies in the country are all foreign owned: not even a single one is majority owned by the government or any local institution or individual. Clearly, we have failed! This failure is as a result of a lack of direction in terms of government policy.

This has led to individuals, businesses and even sometimes government itself sponsoring foreigners to compete with our locals. So, until government desists from such acts, our economy will continue to be in the hands of foreigners. We have a local content law that can easily be tossed out of the window for political and personal gain.

For me, until we support indigenous businesses to compete effectively with the foreign counterparts and above all go beyond the shores of the country to compete with other businesses and bring in the profit, the economy has no future. When the trend is reversed then we can be confident of achieving a Ghanaian-owned economy.

TVM: “Our economic transformation as a country is more certain than before” you professed. How certain is this compared to previous economic transformation agenda embarked upon by previous governments?

NKD: I strongly believe that our economic transformation is more certain than ever. Like I said earlier, I am an optimistic entrepreneur.

Traveling the length and breadth of this country ignites a sense of hope- hope in the youth who are seeing things differently and they are the ones I am referring to, not government policies. These are young, passionate and energetic men and women ready to tackle the challenge of economic transformation. That’s what I’m referring to.

Dr. N. K. Dzani in a native attire

TVM: What pragmatic steps would you suggest the government should take to reduce the country’s debt stock?

NKD: One thing we are missing out on the subject of debt is the perception that debt is the worst thing that can happen to an economy. That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Debt is good, only if you use it wisely. I was privileged to engage the Finance Minister and he did reveal some strategic measures he is deploying to reduce the debt stock.

But one critical factor to note is that, reducing the debt stock cannot happen out of thin air. Debt reduction must go hand in hand with increased local productivity. We need to understand that these debts are cumulative whereby each and every day, they are accruing interests. Continuous borrowing to service the debt, whether long term borrowing to reduce short term debt, still amounts to debt.

But, if we are able to increase our productivity as a nation, we can indeed go a long way to reducing the debt stock in a short while. What is causing government to borrow? Lack of revenues, i.e., taxes, duties, levies, and income from interest in institutions forces government to borrow to bridge the gap. It is that simple. An increase in productivity across all sectors will see more revenue accrue to government, thereby reducing its dependence on debt.

For example, if State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are functional and generate substantial revenue government will earn enough income from the profits they make. Secondly, if state institutions effect their services as expected then things will be better. Furthermore, some of these SOEs, I suggest, should be made independent.

This means that these institutions, though fully owned by the government, do not have to rely on government to pay salaries of their workers, as well as administrative and operational expenses. This is a drain on scarce national resources.

It also stifles development and undermines prudent government spending. Imagine how much government can save if all state enterprises that can be autonomous are made so and empowered with the right business models so they even pay dividends to government. Consider institutions like the Forestry Commission, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), Volta River Authority (VRA) and Ghana Water Company.

They depend on the government for payment of salaries of workers. No, that should not be encouraged. They should be able to generate their own revenue and make profit in order to pay dividend to government. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation is a leading example; it borrows on its own balance sheet to undertake projects. That is where we should be heading as a nation.

Another subject that needs to be looked at when borrowing is utilizing the money borrowed in such a way that it works to pay back that loan. For example, if you borrow money and use it in the construction of a road, that road must lead to increased productivity and bring valuable returns to the economy, so that with an increased activity on that road, the revenue can be used to out rightly pay off the debt.

So, there are various means we can employ to reduce our debt stock but that notwithstanding, I have confidence in the Finance Minister and his ministry to salvage the situation.

TVM: Carl Pope, the co-author of “Climate of Hope” in an interview on CNN said “we don’t plan an economy around presidential campaign but in 20 to 30 years”.

Ghana, under the previous government sought to implement such an act by implementing a 40-year developmental plan and this government is seeking to implement its own. Beyond the rhetoric, how can the nation achieve such act without partisan politics infiltrating?

NKD: This is simple and straight to the point. Unfortunately, we tend to see things differently in our side of the world. To speak to subjects of national development, one must look, think and speak through the lens of politics.

Dr. N. K. Dzani with his GUBA Award: Influencial Economist

The politicization of every subject, person or idea is what has stagnated, and sometime retrogressed development. Despite the gradual change in approach by some young and energetic men and women, we are still at a stage where only an abrupt and radical change can change our attitude to development.

There can never be any issue in this country without it being partisan twist either NDC or NPP. This is rather so unfortunate. It’s a very dicey situation but for those of us who believe in God, we know God will show us the way out of this conundrum.

TVM: After 60 years of independence, how can the nation shift from just mere economic policy formulation to productivity?

NKD: It is difficult for people to speak to issues and policies from government due to the fear of political party tagging. When you think you are contributing objectively to a discourse, others are busy tagging you to a particular political party.

So this makes it difficult for well-meaning thinkers in the country to comment on government policies. We should consider issues of national concern holistically and not on the lines of partisan politics.

The merits and demerits of issues should be looked at objectively without being biased. When this is done, government policies will be carefully analyzed holistically and when a consensual framework is created the whole nation will rally around to expedite its implementation. There are general issues which everyone can contribute to such as the tax regime, which we keep saying is not good, government not supporting indigenous businesses to thrive etc.

But for specific government policies, people abstain from them in order not to be labeled as a party loyalist. I prefer to be a patriot and that’s what I am. I prefer to talk about issues I think will promote national consensus rather than issues that tend to divide us on party lines.

I’m inclined to believe that this country will be great if we become honest with ourselves and not read politics into every move.

TVM: You asserted “Ghana has suddenly become a nation of talkers. We pay lip-service to challenges bedeviling the economy instead of adopting rigorous measures to put our economy on a sound footing”. What in your view can be done to reverse this situation of talkers to doers?

NKD: I do my part and you do your part! Entrepreneurship and Job Creation in Ghana

TVM: You are one of Africa’s ‘fast-rising entrepreneurs’ who is breaking new grounds in the various sectors of the economy in Ghana. How would you describe the country’s overall business enclave?

NKD: The local economy is bedeviled with countless challenges; but these are challenges that can easily be resolved with a resolute government in charge. The primary goal of transforming this nation dictates that we should not deviate from getting the economic fundamentals right. It is not easy to do business in this country. We live in a country that foreigners are sponsored by government to compete to do business with indigenes.

That’s sad! One of the most difficult things to do in this country is doing business as a Ghanaian. But the businessmen and entrepreneurs in the country have done so well to have risen up to the challenge. We are hard at work to position ourselves to compete with any business concerns anywhere in the world.

To recount why we are in this mess, Ghana, after independence, didn’t have Ghanaians with the capacity to establish businesses to support the government from the private sector. So government had to open its doors to foreigners and this is done in every country. So, the foreigners came in and took over all the major sectors of the economy.

From telecoms to the mines, the banking sector, and the oil and gas, we didn’t have Ghanaians at the top realm of businesses. But when Ghanaians started establishing such businesses, it became evident that it’s extremely difficult to compete with the foreign counterparts because they were and are still government sponsored.

These foreign counterparts receive two aspects of sponsorship– one from their country of origin and the other from the government of Ghana. The one from the Ghanaian government was meant to attract them to invest, meanwhile, the government was not offering the same support to growing local business and leaders.

This made it and still makes it extremely difficult for Ghanaian businesses to compete with their foreign counterparts. Until the late 1980s that government realized the trend and started moves to reverse it, this was the hard realities of the economy of Ghana.

Despite several moves to undo this trend, it is becoming increasingly difficult in an ever increasing global world to just take a drastic step to reverse the trend. What we need as a country is bold and courageous leadership to reversing the trend. If not, our economy has no future.

TVM: You are currently adjudged the “Overall Best Entrepreneur of the Year 2016” for your exceptional contributions towards the country’s socio-economic development. Considering your experience, how can the nation breed successful entrepreneurs who would contribute to the country’s socio-economic development as well?

NKD: This country only needs good economic fundamentals and a strong economic base. Entrepreneurship is talent! This is a Godgiven talent and so people have to take advantage of it. But if the environment doesn’t support it, you cannot do much.

So, what we should do as a country is to create the enabling environment so that people, either technocrats, academics or sports men and women will be able to unearth their God-given talents. That’s all that’s needed from government.

TVM: You averred you began your entrepreneurial journey with an amount of GHc 27, 000 and currently accrued it into an asset of almost GHc1billion. But you also stated “You don’t need capital to start a business. What you need is integrity”. How do you align these two statements?

NKD: Saying that I started my business with so little capital is very true. So does everyone start their businesses. No one start with GHc100million. Even the current President of the United States, Donald Trump did not start with a billion dollars, not to talk about the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets.

When I first said this most listeners misconstrued it but I still stand by it that “you don’t need capital to start business but integrity”. What it simply means is that no matter how much capital you have, if you lack simple integrity, your capital can’t make you succeed.

Of course, everyone needs money to start business because it doesn’t make sense to start business on an empty pocket. But with the minimum capital, coupled with integrity and the grace of God, you will succeed. I started my business at the same time with some friends and colleagues who had huge sums of monies as start-up capital but today, their businesses are not even up to 1 or 2percent of my business.

This may be because they failed to exercise and exhibit any integrity in their business dispensation. Through your integrity, you are able to prove to your customers, investors and other stakeholders, who later help build your business because of your integrity. That assertion was to disabuse a perception that without huge capital, you cannot start business.

So, what I meant was one does not need a huge capital to start business but with a little capital and integrity, one will succeed and not that one can start a business with no money at all. Capital itself can never translate into successful business; never!

TVM: The new government, as part of its campaign message, assured Ghanaians the establishment of one district, one factory. Is the establishment of this one district, one factory a sustainable agenda considering past experiences such as Komenda Sugar factory, etc.?

NKD: Every government has a vision and this particular one is to expand our economic base. This is a matter of truth and it must be done. Whether it is done rightly or wrongly, posterity will determine. When such an ideology is implemented the economic base becomes broadened to curb the high urban migration from the rural settlements.

Through this initiative, jobs will be taken to the door steps of the people and so they don’t need to come and over populate the urban settlements. Our urban areas are growing at such an alarming rate. Current studies show that the urban and rural population, which used to tilt in favor of rural areas, is now getting even. By 2030, it is estimated that there will be more people in urban areas than rural areas.

Do not forget that the more people flock to the urban areas, the more there is pressure on facilities such as roads, electricity and water. The one district, one factory model is a good initiative and it’s up to every Ghanaian to take advantage of this government policy and be able to improve their lives.

If a factory in a district can employ a 100 people, with each one of them having a wife and three children, that will be 500 people kept away from an already-choked urban area.

Personality Profile

TVM: There have been a lot of blabs as to who Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani is. How would you describe yourself?

NKD: I am Nii Kotei Dzani as you rightly said. I don’t see myself as a businessman but as an entrepreneur and an economist. I must state that there’s a clear difference between who an entrepreneur is and who a businessman is. Everyone can call himself an entrepreneur and a businessman as well but there’s a clear difference between the two. I see myself as an entrepreneur and not a businessman.

TVM: Why do you see yourself as that?

NKD: Take a tuber of cassava. A businessman will buy it for a cedi and sell it to you for a cedi and a half or two cedis, make money and walk away. But an entrepreneur will ask him or herself, what do I do with this cassava to not just make money but impact society in diverse ways? He or she takes that cassava, does a little research and proceeds to process it into gari, cassava chips, or any other product in order to derive more value.

Do not forget that while he or she is processing it, he or she has to seek the help of others, thereby creating jobs in the process. Entrepreneurs, therefore, are not necessarily profit minded people but create opportunities and businesses.

Entrepreneurs actually create businesses for businessmen and women. Entrepreneurs are more interested in expanding growth, creating jobs, improving lives and transforming societies while a businessman is more interested in the returns on his/ her investments.

TVM: So, did you always aspire to be an entrepreneur?

NKD: I think that the Lord directs our path and guides our steps. At every point in time in life, God directs you on what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. For instance, I wanted to be a footballer but… I believe God directed my path and planted me where I find myself today.

TVM: How was growing up as a child like? Do you think your growing up and the training you had contributed to what you are today?

NKD: I come from a very humble background and I never had the opportunity to be brought up by my father. I lost my father when I was just 10 years old. My mother was also not staying with us. I stayed with my late aunt who was close to 70years at the time. I think my whole life is a mystery. I think God in His own wisdom directs my path and I meet the right people at the right time and all those people contribute significantly to what I am.

TVM: Your success in business has been evident through the multiples of businesses established. What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your business life?

NKD: The underlying principle in my business life is one word: integrity. To succeed in business, you need integrity. To earn integrity, you have to work it out. You have to purge yourself because every human has a negative side in him or her so the need to purge oneself.

You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses and fear God because once you have the fear of God all other things follow. For instance, on one occasion, during my usual audit of the books, I realized that we overcharged a particular client to the tune of GHc36, 000, even though he had finished paying the facility more than six year ago.

 

It was direction from the Holy Spirit and we tried all means to locate the client and offered him his money with interest to the tune of GHc50, 000.00. This act surprised the client so much that today he is one of our biggest clients and a prominent ambassador to the firm, bringing other clients on board. Integrity is important but that move is done through the fear of God. For God gives riches and adds no sorrow to them.

When you love your staff and your customers, you’ll do the right thing. I think that these are the basic principles in business and then the rest will add up. I don’t believe, with all humility, that your knowledge alone can take you far in business.

This is because there are thousands of people out there who are more knowledgeable than you. Your staff, majority of them are more knowledgeable than you are. It is just a thin line that separates you from them– the grace of God.

TVM: What is your business management philosophy and motivation?

NKD: My motivation is seeing thousands of peoples’ lives being impacted positively. There are times I wake up in the morning and it’s difficult to go out because I am exhausted or worn out. Suddenly, I remember that there’s someone out there who is looking up to me for his or her life to be impacted and that gives me the energy to forge ahead. My philosophy is: I do my bit and God does the rest!

TVM: How will you describe your leadership style?

NKD: I have an open door policy. I do a lot of consultations. I want to emphasize that I was quite an autocratic leader. I always wanted things to be done my way. But I realized that I cannot succeed with that. So, I employ broad consultation before making a decision and this aids my decision making. At Groupe Ideal, there are no classes of employees; from the security to the Groupe President, we are all the same and we respect one another.

I make them understand that everyone is important. It’s rather unfortunate in this life that the most important people in society earn less than those at the top. That is divine formula and there’s nothing I can do about it neither can anyone else.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time?

NKD: Well, I don’t have enough leisure time for now but hope to create some in the near future. But, the slightest time available, I try to spend with my family; both nuclear and extended. I love spending time with my children even though I feel guilty I don’t spend enough time with them.

Also, I attend to a lot of visitors at the slightest time available outside of work schedule to address the needs of people and I use this to comfort myself.

TVM: What sporting activities or hobbies do you love most and engage in?

NKD: I love jet skiing. I love cruising with my speed boat. I love driving at top speed and I enjoy it a lot as a hobby.

TVM: What kinds of movies and books do you watch and read respectively?

NKD: I like to watch documentaries when it comes to motion pictures. I enjoy reading autobiographies of successful personalities. I also like the Pan African writers a lot, but above all, I also read the Bible every day. There are two things I do every night before I go to bed: I read the Bible and I listen to a Pan African fighter’s speech.

TVM: Is there any particular book(s) that has significantly influenced your life?

NKD: The Bible is the most influential book in my life. When you read the Bible you get the solution to everything in this life. It is the book of all wisdom and knowledge. I will encourage everyone to read the Bible.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

NKD: I love classical music.

TVM: You are a car enthusiast and have acquired fleet of them. Which is your most favorite and why?

NKD: Well, Hyundai i30 is my favorite car. I love that car.

TVM: What kind of a husband/ father are you?

NKD: This question should rather be directed to my wife but what I can say is I do my part as a husband and God does the rest. For my children, they appreciate the little time I spend with them. They look up to me as a leader. They appreciate my efforts a lot and that puts a lot of smiles on their faces and urges me to spend more time with them.

TVM: Due to your wealth of experience in life and business, do you intend to document it in a book (autobiography / biography) to benefit the younger generations?

NKD: Yes. I am currently working on that and hope to launch it soon. May be that’s what is influencing my consumption of autobiographies from which I gain a lot of knowledge.

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong. What would it be?

NKD: Well, there is one or two of them that I’ll want to keep confidential. Perhaps, joining my colleagues to take the Cape Coast University to court when I was a student is something I wish I could rewrite. I think I was the first person to take the university to court and challenged authorities and that’s something if I had an opportunity, I’ll rewrite. But why I wish I could rewrite this is very personal.

TVM: What should Ghanaians be looking forward to next from your table?

NKD: Each and every day of my life I do my best and God does the rest. For now, I don’t know what God has in stock for me. My whole life is directed by God. I have never planned anything for my life. So, if God calls me for another service tomorrow; Why Not! I don’t have any plan for anything.

TVM: How’s a day in your life like?

NKD: I wake in the morning, read the Bible and then pray to God. Then I dress and move out to the office to work and then come back home and receive visitors and then read the Bible again before I retire to bed.

TVM: You’ve received numerous awards this year. What significance do these awards portray to you?

NKD: It humbles me! When people and organizations are recognizing you, you need to respect them and accept their recognitions. But, this does not excite me at all. This portrays to me that a lot of expectations are demanded from me so I can’t afford to fail and disappoint them. It is rather a very highly uncomfortable situation one can find himself/ herself. But, notwithstanding, we depend on God for His unfailing love and protection.

TVM: Do you have any intention of running for presidency in the Republic of Ghana in the near future?

NKD: Recall I said initially that my whole life is a mystery and that there has never been any point in time I have decided on what I want to do. At every point in time God directs my path and gives me the opportunity to serve or to do something. For now, I don’t know what God will give to me to do tomorrow or next. Of course, if God wants me to be the next president of Ghana, why not! I will thank Him and embrace it with all my heart but I have no intentions for now. To be honest with you, I have no such intentions. But wherever God wants me to serve, if even as the governor of the Bank of Ghana, why not! For me, it’s not about ambition. It is about doing what is right, touching lives and transforming society.

TVM: In all your submission, you exhibited a great reverence for God. What accounts for this demonstrative attitude you’ve portrayed?

NKD: I mentioned earlier that my whole life is full of mysteries. It was only by God’s grace that I experienced a second cycle education. Then proceeded to the university on that same grace before graduating and started working with Barclays Bank Ghana Ltd.

My journey in life to date has witnessed God’s involvement in all stages including meeting and marrying my wife, so why will I not hold God in high esteem. This is my tale as Paul clearly accounts in the Bible; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” – Phil 1:21.

TVM: What advice would you give to the following?

– The Government

NKD: As a member of Council of State, my advice to government is private and not public and so when the need be I’ll effect as expected.

– Businesses

NKD: Businesses need to be focused. If you want to succeed in business, then you need to be focused and not be distracted. They must have God at the center of their lives. Once they have God, they’ll have integrity.

– Aspiring entrepreneurs& youths

NKD: The principles of the businesses are simply applicable to them.

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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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