After an absence of a number of years, Agriterra once again has a local presence in the West African countries of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Business advisor Habiba Nyarko Agyemang on her poultry farm with 13,000 chickens.
As part of the reorganisation in 2015, Agriterra opted to operate in fewer countries, but with a more prominent local presence. That choice led to the end of Agriterra’s presence in West Africa. But strong growth in recent years has enabled us to expand the number of countries. We visited various cooperatives, relevant networks and partners in different countries to explore the opportunities and options. This revealed a high demand for Agriterra’s services in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Business advisor Willem Paulus has been based in Ghana since the start of this year. He received assistance locally from business advisor Habiba Nyarko Agyemang. “You provide far more added value by being based locally. You can easily visit a cooperative and follow-up on plans with them too. That is very important in the development of cooperatives. Many other organisations or companies operate from abroad”, Paulus says.
The cooperatives are relatively small in Ghana, but there is a great need for farmers to be well-organised. Not just according to trade and industry, but farmers themselves. “If they keep operating individually, there will be few growth opportunities”, Paulus continues. The challenge is to ensure cooperatives are discerning in respect of their membership, so only farmers who really want to invest and contribute are accepted as members. “You primarily see a ‘top-down’ structure at present: cooperatives are established by the government or companies and are therefore very dependent. Agriterra would like to see them investing in their own cooperatives themselves rather than waiting for the government or an NGO to come along and help them.”
My.Coop training is often implemented first. This training is intended to bolster the management of agricultural cooperatives so they can offer their members high quality, efficient and effective services. Many cooperatives do have plans but need help in executing them. Agriterra helps with establishing a clear strategy, identifying financing needs and developing a business plan.
According to Paulus, huge strides can still be made in West Africa in terms of productivity. “The tomato yield in Nigeria was 5.8 tonnes per hectare in 2013. It was 483.6 tonnes in the Netherlands. That is a huge difference and something that can be changed. Many vegetables are imported into Ghana from the Netherlands, amongst others. That is unfortunate because Ghanaians generally eat relatively few vegetables due to the high prices. They could produce more themselves and even export if desired. So there is still plenty of room for improvement.”
At present, the cooperatives have many older people on the board and in management positions. Agriterra would like to involve young people in this. However, young people in Ghana are moving away from the agricultural sector on a massive scale. They try to find jobs in the large cities, but that is not easy. Many have few prospects for the future. In fact, there is a great deal of unemployment in rural areas.
Willem Paulus: “They could produce more themselves and even export”
Agriterra wants to work towards creating jobs in West Africa. If farmers organise themselves well, they are capable of adding value to a product. You need people for this. A cooperative can also offer its members paid services, such as how to grow or produce better products. This also creates opportunities for young farmers. Earning a good income from farming motivates young people to go into that field.
Along with her husband, Management Consultant Agyemang, previously a successful banker, established a poultry farm with 13,000 chickens. Their ambition is to have 60,000 chickens in four years. So there are opportunities for farming professionally, but these are often only open to people with money. Paulus: “It is difficult for young, ambitious farmers to access capital and land so they can earn a really good salary. Cooperatives can play a role in this by offering financing to young farmers. And by offering a higher price for the products supplied. But they do need to be well-organised to do that.”
“The introductory phase is now over”, says Paulus. “We know what the network looks like and what the opportunities and options are. Our goal is to double our client portfolio annually. We would also like to be known as a service provider to trade and industry here. Ghana is a stable and safe country. I regard it as a central point from which we can serve other countries in West Africa. Including countries in which we are not yet active.”