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Personality Profile: Dr Kwabena Agyei

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“Business people are like vultures. We always look at where the money is. So, if everybody is doing alcoholic beverage in Ghana at the time, we all tried our luck.”

– Dr. Kwabena Adjei, Group Chairman, Kasapreko Group of Companies.

Ghana’s industrial sector has been on a decline for the better part of four decades. Despite the heavy advocacy and lobbying to salvage the sector led the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), the challenges continue to mount.

But with the new government seeking to revive the fortunes of the sector, which creates hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled labour, there is indeed light at the end of every tunnel. Players are patiently waiting for the best of policies to be put in place so that the much touted growth in the sector will start to manifest.

Despite the challenges, there has been a ray of hope with some companies battling the high taxes, currency instability, high inflation, high interest rates and energy challenges which have all contributed significantly to high cost of production.

One of such companies that have stood the test of time is Kasapreko Company Limited (KCL), the total beverage manufacturing company, led by Dr. Kwabena Adjei, who is currently the Executive Chairman. Kasapreko started with a small distiller but today employs thousands and exports its products to the West African market, Africa, Europe, USA and Asia.

The Vaultz Magazine (TVM) caught up with the ultra-busy Dr Kwabena Adjei (DKA) for a wide ranging interview that covered industrialisation, doing business in Ghana, and how he, as a person, made it and built such a fast growing global empire.

Industrialization

TVM: How will you describe Ghana’s industrial sector?

DKA: The industrial sector globally has been on the rise with millions of jobs being created in fast growing economies like China, Malaysia, Philippines, Mexico and other emerging economies. But over the past few years, Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown steadily but the industrial sector has played and continues to play a minimal role. To add to that the manufacturing segment has been experiencing a continuous decline and as such contributes negatively to the economy. The services sector has been the backbone of the economy and that’s quite pitiful because in every economy it’s the manufacturing sector that stimulates the needed growth. We just hope there’ll be new policies that the government will put in place to enhance the activities of the sector.

TVM: What do you think is the cause for this?

Dr. Kwabena Agyei

DKA: I think one major cause to this is sometimes the difficulty in running a factory, which is a major component of any manufacturing company. Another is also putting up such a huge investment. It’s difficult to get the necessary support from the government and that gives the service industry the edge because it’s easy to operate i.e. buy and sell.

The banks on the other hand also contribute to the situation: rather than support the industries, they choose to support the services sector or trade because they feel it’s less risky. All these, I suppose, are causing the declining state of the industrial sector, most especially the manufacturing. Moreover, some policies, especially increment in taxes on raw materials for operations and excessive taxes on sales, do not also favour a lot of the manufacturing companies and as such affect their operations.

TVM: There have been many calls for Ghana to industrialize as a matter of urgency. What is your position on this?

DKA: No country in the world has developed without industrialisation. Whether it is the USA, China, European countries or Latin America countries, none of them have seen sustained progress only on the back of imports, services or agriculture. Industry is crucial in creating jobs, goods and services.

I strongly concur to this call. This country is blessed with numerous resources. We should be able to turn these resources into finished goods by manufacturing our own products. By doing this we limit the amount of imports that come into the country. A lot of benefits are accrued such as checking the foreign currency imbalance, creating more jobs and above all more skills are generated over time.

TVM: You are one of the few successful industrialists Ghana can boast of. How do you suggest we start the journey to industrialization considering its impact on economic growth?

DKA: Two of the biggest impediments to rapid economic growth in Ghana are lack of funds and adequate skills. But when you get the capital, you can train the skills.

Therefore, to successfully launch into an industrialized nation, the government needs to set aside huge funds to be made available to companies that are willing to manufacture some of the basic products imported. If funding is made available at a cheaper rate as compared to that of commercial banks, it will certainly encourage investors to take the risk in manufacturing.

The government can also grant some tax breaks or reduce taxes for the manufacturing companies or put high taxes on imported products that can be produced in the country to deter importers. If the government makes such policies towards importation into the country a bit stricter it will certainly  help industrialize the nation. Also more businessmen should be encouraged to take more risks instead of just going into trades or the service industry.

TVM: What policies would you recommend to the government to get the country’s industrial sector become a beacon of hope for growth and development?

DKA: There are already some good policies in place. But enforcing them is the problem. Government should find a way of tracking imitators and deal with them adequately as they tend to destroy the quality of good products and harm genuine investors by churning out inferior products at lesser prices. The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) should be able to do more in such areas to enforce such policies and it should be able to help the manufacturing companies wither out the bad ones. Putting in place policies, government shouldn’t only focus on the manufacturing sector but needs to even go deeper into the education sector because if manufacturing companies are not getting the right human resources, investors may not even be encouraged to invest.

TVM: The government has implemented its ‘One District, One Factory’ initiative as a means of industrializing the country.What is your view on this?

DKA: Any policy that seeks to industrialise the economy is a good one and I think it’s a good course because with this initiative, we are looking at over 200 factories established all over the country and that will spur development.
But for it to be successful, I think the government should partner with private businessmen that will certainly make the project more viable. These factories should be managed by experienced persons or industrialists and not by political appointment to avoid the factories suffering ill-fate after there’s change in government.

TVM: Is the pursuant of this initiative an ideal way of revamping industrialization in the country?

DKA: Yes: provided we don’t repeat past experiences. If the factories are not put in place for political motives, then this initiative should be able to help revamp industrializing the economy.

TVM: You have successfully manufactured products that have become internationally recognized and as such have made your brand accepted in the global market. What did you do differently that other industrialists in the country have not?

DKA: Kasapreko Company Ltd. is currently exporting a lot of its products not only to West African countries but to South Africa, the United States, Europe, and other places in Southern America. In the West African zone we export to Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and these are our strongest markets.

What have we done differently? The question begs asking. It is all about quality. One thing we don’t compromise is the quality of our product. We ensure it’s always better than what is on the market and meets the global standard. In order to compete with products in developed countries such as the UK or U.S, the quality will need to match-up to the quality of the manufacturers in such countries and as such we make sure our quality is always top notched.

One of our policies has always been “a step beyond excellence” and that’s what we’ve been doing since inception, about 28years ago. Currently, we’re in the process of implementing the ISO 22000 and this makes us the first beverage firm in Ghana to acquire such a certification. When we acquire such a certification, we will be able to penetrate the global renowned marts such as Walmart in the U.S. etc. So quality has been very key to our success on the global stage.

TVM: How can other Ghanaian industrialists also move beyond the shores of Ghana to play in the international market?

DKA: For Ghanaian industrialists to get their products outside the shores of this country they need to visit the countries they intend to do business, study their laws and policies. Afterwards, they need to register the product in that country and skew their marketing strategy to suit the country’s terrain. The quality of the product also plays a key role in the quest to penetrate that country.

The quality should be made to meet the global standard. If all these requirements are met, then the products are ready for the export market. Industrialists should also recognize that countries have their unique needs; so they should be willing to tailor their products to suit the needs of that country.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei in his factory: Kasapreko

TVM: But do you think there are specific products and or services that thrive outside the shores of this country?

DKA: No. I think every single product that is manufactured in this country is worth exporting so far as the quality is of the global standard. A lot of the times, industrialists can even consider smaller countries where industrialization is at the barest minimum and almost everything seems to be imported for use. With such countries, a Ghanaian industrialist can decide to tailor his manufacturing strategy in Ghana to meet that kind of market.

TVM: What do you feel is the most important characteristic in order to be successful with an Industrial Revolution in Ghana?

DKA: Cost cutting and efficiency are the two main things for industries to thrive. We need to ensure things are not taking for granted. Manufacturers must be disciplined to make sure their workers are also disciplined. Work should be conducted as structured and everybody must be committed to the growth of the company. Every worker should see himself/ herself as part of the growth process of the company. To revolutionize the industrial sector in Ghana, everyone has a role to play from government to employers to employees.

TVM: Electricity plays a significant role in the industrialization of a country. Ghana has in recent years faced supply challenges in terms of availability and price of electricity. How can industrialists deal with this major limitation?

DKA: Electricity is very key to any manufacturing company. Over the past years we’ve seen electricity cost jump over 100 percent which has certainly affected our cash flows. It has affected our margins on some of our products. With the fluctuations of the power it does certainly affect productions, machines break down etc.

Unfortunately, there are some products that, even in their preparation when electricity goes off, you may need to discard; so that affects efficiency and cost as well. When the power goes down, some machines generally will have to stop before the generator-set will come on and with this sometimes you  lose out precious time because some machines take time to power up and that certainly affects efficiency. Companies just have to make sure they put in place substantive back up powers like generators, solar etc.

TVM: Some proponent say that using a generator set is cost effective than normal electricity. What’s your take on this?

DKA: I’ve heard such assertions but I bet to defer. I still believe the power from the government is cheaper than the generator set. Because with the generator set, it has a life-span and running it 24/7, the fuel consumption may be equated to that of the electricity from the government but we shouldn’t lose sight of maintenance and its life-span that will be shortened as a result of its continuous usage.

Doing business in Ghana

TVM: You currently play in the international market. How will you describe doing business in Ghana relative to other jurisdictions?

DKA: Doing business in Ghana differs from other jurisdictions as the terrains differ from one another. Doing business in other jurisdictions as an international player requires a lot of more commitment to quality, right certification and abiding with the laws and policies of that country. So you play by the rules. Going outside is good but there are rules to comply with.

TVM: Is the conduciveness of the business environment the sole responsibility of the government?

DKA: No! The government’s role is to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and businesses must make good use of that environment to boost their markets. I don’t believe in government interfering in businesses.

What I say to those in politics is simple: they should focus on their politics and do it well; farmers should focus on their farming and do it well and businessmen should focus on their businesses and do it well while government rather encourages the parties to prosper for them [government] to be able to collect their taxes. So, to build the country does not only rely on the government. Everyone has a role to play.

TVM: What role can the business community play to support the government to ensuring such?

DKA: Businesses should dream big, create more jobs, employ more of the youths etc. Above all, businesses should pay their taxes because out of these taxes the basic amenities such as roads, hospitals etc. needed to enhance the livelihood of the people shall be provided.

TVM: Many entrepreneurs claim that the main challenge with setting up a business in Ghana is the lack of suitable funds required. What is your position on this?

DKA: This is true. The cost of money is high in this country. Unfortunately as a startup business, banks find it difficult to finance your business because the money is also not for them. Banks only take deposits from people and as such need to be responsible for its usage. Because you are a startup and have no structured evidence of pay back, they find it difficult to give you the funds as your risk for defaulting is high.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei and son Richard  Agyei in factory gear

I encourage startups to source for their own funds themselves either through starting small and growing big or borrowing from friends and family. Once you become big, these same banks will queue at your doorstep begging to give you the loan.

Personality Profile

TVM: Many people have seen your achievements through the brand you have successfully built. Who is Dr. Kwabena Adjei?

DKA: Dr. Kwabena Adjei comes from the Western Region from a village called Bronyiama. I was born some six decades ago and was raised by a single parent. The highest education level I attained was elementary Form 4 at the time. I had a very difficult beginning but I have been able to overcome it. For me, I don’t see difficulties as an excuse not to move on but see them as hurdles to overcome.

After going through various challenges in life, I tried to move on and did some courses; GCE O’ Levels. At a point in time I did a course at Institute of Adult Education and at the same time, I was also having a one-on-one study at Workers’ College in Accra while I was working.

My first job was at Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO). It was after VALCO that I started my business.

When I started my business, I realized my education was not the best to help me build a business empire so I set a target for myself. I studied about three different courses in a year and that’s how far I have come. The last course I did was at Harvard Business School, called Owner, President, Management (OPM) programme. It was a three-year program and I finished it about a year ago.

TVM: What was your aspiration while growing up?

DKA: Well, I didn’t have any particular aspiration whiles growing. I saw myself as an ordinary person but growing up a bit I realized if I didn’t think, I’ll end up the ordinary way. In order not to end that way, I said to myself “I need to take steps” and those steps are what we’re seeing today. It’s been a very challenging journey that I embarked on some years ago and I’m still moving on.

TVM: You were involved in merchandizing a wide range of products in the country including alcoholic beverages. What ignited the spark in you to formalize the business venture?

DKA: That’s true. Growing up, I was just navigating the business circles until I joined the masses to vend this alcoholic beverage as a hobby. I traded this as a hobby for five years using crude machines until one day when I came back from an outing and was informed we had sold 25 cartons of the beverage.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei showcasing Choco Malt brand

That day has been a very memorable day in my life and that’s how it started. But, it’s been through creativity that we’ve been able to move it from 25 cartons to now millions of cartons a day.

TVM: How did the idea for the manufacturing come about?

DKA: Business people are like vultures. We always look at where the money is. So, if everybody is doing alcoholic beverage in Ghana at the time, we all tried our luck. It wasn’t my intention to grow the empire as it is. It started small. I was doing everything in bits and pieces until I saw there was potential in the industry. I then abandoned all other things and focused on what I thought had the prospects. That was how I entered into the manufacturing space.

TVM: “Kasapreko began on a small note of producing Alomo Bitters. We have been able to build what was seemingly impossible to what we have become today,” you revealed. Can you brief us on the past, the present and the future you envision for the company?

DKA: When I entered the industry at the time, about 90percent of us were putting our products in ‘Key Soap Boxes’ and then we were also all using one flavour called ‘Ducworth’. I began to question the processes of the industry regarding why we were all using one flavour and packaging in ‘Key Soap Boxes’ which apparently wasn’t hygienic for consumption.

So, I tried to turn the situation around. I engaged some few friends, made my own boxes, went to Germany, made my own customized bottles then the thing started growing. After a while I made some few researches and travelled to London to acquire some few things to be added to my flavour (Ducworth) to give it a new sensation and made it a bit distinctive.

That’s how people started buying our gin. Having experienced the rural life and realized how my forefathers chop roots of trees into bottle and added the local spirit ‘akpketeshie’ and consumed it over and over again, I picked a cue from there and decided to implement.

But to be able to conduct that without harming my consumers i.e. to know what kind of roots to use and the quantity, I needed people with expertise. That was why I approached the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine to explain my idea to them.

Initially the idea was declined. Knowing the kind of person I am, I persisted until I succeeded and we started the research process. I funded them to provide me with the right formulation to make the Alomo Bitters. From sources, I still remain the only beverage industry to have conducted such a feat in the whole of the country till date.

Currently, the company has added more products to its product line spanning alcoholic beverages to soft drinks to mineral water. Innovation and continuous investment in technology keeps the brand ahead of its competitors. Recently, we decided to commercialize the locally made hibiscus drink called ‘Sobolo’ which shall be well packaged under hygienic conditions for various outlets such as schools, shops, restaurants, offices etc.

The future of this company considers the hygienic nature of its products very paramount. To avoid any human interaction with the processes, the company commissioned about  US$2.6million machine last year which shall be blending all sections of the drinks at the press of the button. We still have a lot more to churn out. So as the time approaches, we shall unveil them. It’s marketing creativity and that’s what we do. We are going to do more, we haven’t finished at all.

TVM: You mentioned earlier that as of then, the beverage players were using ‘Key Soap Boxes’ for packaging the beverages. Was that what inspired you to establish Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd.?

DKA: Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd. came about as a result of our tradition in the group which is anchored on the 3Ms. The 3Ms which denotes: Quality Materials, Quality Manpower and Quality Machinery. As a result of this mantra, we buy our machines from Germany. We have one of the fastest alcoholic beverages manufacturing line in Africa doing about 40,000 bottles per hour. To be effective in our operations, we considered having all relating activities under one umbrella and that’s what led to the establishment of Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd. to provide the best quality of packaging.

Dr. K. Agyei

It’s been one and half years now and we are the third in the market and we have the best machines one can get in Ghana and the fifth of its kind in Africa. We’re all about quality!

TVM: “The business world is a journey which has got its ups and downs, and you need to keep going,” you averred. What were some of the daunting challenges you experienced at the earlier stages of the business?

DKA: There have been a lot of ups and downs in the business since we started. We encountered two pertinent challenges along the way which were: accessing funds and market penetration. I didn’t start with any huge capital. In trying to accessing a loan, I went to about three banks and they all turned me down.

Then I attended a course organized by EMPRETEC, a United Nations programme established by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to promote the creation of sustainable, innovative, and internationally competitive small- and medium-sized enterprises.

There I met Hon. Alan Kyerematen, who was also a resource person at the event. After the course I explained my situation, and then he advised me that as a small business entity, I shouldn’t go to the foreign banks to secure a loan because they won’t grant it to me.

He then advised I go to a local bank and that I did. That’s how I accessed the loan. I used my house as collateral. So accessing funds is a one core challenge I encountered which was then followed by market penetration. I remember going out with some samples to some retailers and my products were rejected. That led me to strategize on how to penetrate the market. And today here we are.

TVM: You are the first and sole Ghanaian business tycoon to have been inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurs Hall of fame. How does it feel to have achieved such a feat?

DKA: I am very humbled to receive such an award and be inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame. I was elated when I got to Monaco and I saw my name on the screens on the streets and my name being mentioned alongside a Ghanaian music being played to the hearing of the whole world.

Such an achievement is very humbling. It propels one to do more especially coming from such a humble beginning. Though I like awards, the best award I can give to myself and recommend for every Ghanaian is the award of “Success”.

TVM: Considering all these awards you have won, the best of them all is the one you’ve given yourself, because from all indications you’ve succeeded.

DKA: Yes and I’m proud of myself because I didn’t inherit any money from anyone. That notwithstanding, I am doing more to ensure this continues. I am currently going through a succession phase and as such I’ve trained and equipped my children to be able to take over and they are currently in charge of the various firms.

This I believe will soon be a national celebration for business owners in the country as they shall see successful transition from first generation to second generation as practiced in developed countries.

TVM: “No excuses in business! Once you set your mind to do something, yours is to go ahead,” you professed. Should this always be the case as a business man?

DKA: Business is like driving a car. When driving, you constantly look forward but you look at the rear mirrors to guide you. So with your passion going forward, at times you have to pause and look around and assess if what you’re doing is right before you continue going.

I have a philosophy that when I set my mind on doing something I do it but that does not mean that if I’m falling into a ditch, I have to go on. Wisdom demands I take calculated risk and not all risks and that’s what I do. I dreamt and then gave my dream legs.

TVM: What are your ideals in business?

DKA: Good question! Every businessman need to have ideals which will constantly guide you along the way. Mine include perseverance, focus and flair for success.

TVM: What would you say are the top three skills (values) needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

DKA: These three ideals I professed above can aptly be for any desiring entrepreneur who wants to be successful; perseverance, focus and flair for success.

But to be a successful entrepreneur one needs to be financially literate as well. Every successful entrepreneur should know how to grow money, trim fat costs in their business, and know how to plug holes where there are leakages. They should also understand their business models other than that, they’ll be making money and it’ll be going away.

TVM: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? Why?

DKA: I think I have and am still enjoying my life. God has been kind to me. If I have the chance to come back to life again I will come back to the same life but probably a bit refined because of my age and my experience but to depart from what I’m doing I don’t think I will.

I have my own philosophy in life which is respect yourself, your neighbor, and your staff. The mere fact that he/she is a staff doesn’t mean the person is a nuisance or something else. So, I make friends with those who are close especially my staff. I am very happy with my life because when I sleep, I sleep well; I sleep with my eyes closed.

TVM: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

DKA: In Ghana, I will say Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He was a visionary person. Within a short span of his leadership he achieved a lot for the country. I see him as my role model probably because he is from Nkroful in the Western Region and I’m also from that region.

TVM: What motivates you to keep doing what you do?

DKA: Currently, coming to work every day for me now is not about money but about empowerment. Empowering the youth to show them that what they intend to do can be done is my motivation. I want to serve as an inspiration to the upcoming generation.

TVM: What book(s) has inspired you the most and influenced your personality?

DKA: I have read a lot of books but the one that has inspired me a lot is the book titled “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. It is very simple but detailed and very inspirational.

TVM: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your journey of entrepreneurship?

DKA: Probably some alliances with other companies that didn’t go on well. I burnt my fingers few times trying to work with others but didn’t augur well.

TVM: Describe how a typical day in your life looks like?

DKA: For the first 10 years in business, I worked like crazy. I never took a break or holiday; no leave. I operated the business and sacrificed all. But now, especially when my children are on board, I’m more relaxed. During this period I’ve learnt to play golf, learnt to fish etc., so I don’t come to work as I used to because my children have now taken over. I try to respect my new owners [my children] and not try to disrupt their operations. I seek their views and consents on any decision to be made in regards to the business operations.

TVM: So, would you say fishing and golfing are your hobbies?

DKA: Yes and relaxing. I swim as well. I go for massages from time to time.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

DKA: I love a typical Ghanaian music more especially a highlife song. At times I listen to funky but highlife is my best. Papa Yankson was my favorite artist.

TVM: What is your favorite delicacy?

DKA: As a descendant of Wasa Amenfi, my favourite food is Fufu and palm nut soup.

TVM: And also your favorite wine?

DKA: I love Alomo Root Wine a lot because the root wine is very medicinal. It’s the lower version of Alomo Bitters but people don’t know much about it. If I want to go for stronger spirit, I go for Alomo Bitters but if I want to go low, I go for the root wine. Alomo is such that as you’re drinking, you are also healing yourself in a way because it’s medicinal.

TVM: In your assertion, you seem to have passion for the youth. What three pieces of advice would you give to the youths who want to become entrepreneurs?

DKA: It is said that Rome was not built in a day. It’s taken me over 30 years to be who I am today. I would say that whatever dreams they have, they should give their dreams legs. They should always aspire to do something for themselves and not be idle. They should not always think of somebody coming to their aid and should take responsibilities.

God has given us brains for us to use. So my advice to the youth, with all due respect and no insults, is that they should use their brains to achieve their aim and once they do that, the God that they pray to will also give them the fortitude to achieve their results.

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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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