Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ghana has another Yaa Asantewaa: A powerful lady cassava producers and community leader sets up shop in rural Ghana

The best part of my job is meeting, talking with and interviewing some of the remarkable people who have benefitted from an IFAD-funded project and programme.

Yesterday, at the 2010 West and Central Africa Implementation workshop,  I attended the Rural Entrepreneurship session where I met an extraordinary lady by the name of Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. This morning, thanks to Moses’  facilitation, I interviewed Agyeiwaa – an extraordinary Ghanaian community and woman leader.

Agyeiwaa, 42 years old, lives in Techiman municipality in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana.  She is married with three children of 12, 9 and 3 years old.

“When I was eight years old, I remember seeing my mother spending her days processing cassava by hand”, says Agyeiwaa.  “We were so poor that everyone had to help or else we would not be able to make ends meet”.

When Agyeiwaa finished primary school she benefitted from vocational training. But she had to stop going to school and start working.  For two years she became a seamstress.

“I am a cassava processor at heart. It is in my blood. So being a seamstress was not really my vocation”, explains Agyeiwaa.

When she got married she decided it was time to fulfil her dream of becoming a leading cassava processor. After consulting with her husband, Agyeiwaa, a head-strong and strong-willed lady, decided to set up her rural business.

In 1998, she managed to mobilize 250 Ghana Cedi and bought a cassava processing machine. A leader that she is, Agyeiwaa, took it upon herself to visit the ladies in her village. She went door to door offering the ladies who had little or no income an employment opportunity.  She managed to mobilize 36 ladies who joined her newly born business.

In 2003, she requested a rural bank for a loan of 3,800 GhCedi and received 3,400. Agyeiwaa used this money to help the 36 ladies to plant and process cassava.

“I was lucky enough, because the ladies already owned land, so I did not need to worry about renting or buying land”, says Agyeiwaa.

“I gave 1 GhCedi to those with 2 acres of land and 0.5 Cedi to those with less than 2 acres.” 

The women used this money to hire labourers to do the heavy work on the land. The remaining money was used to buy the necessary inputs for planting, harvesting and processing the cassava. Agyeiwaa visited the ladies on a monthly basis to buy their produce and collect money due to her. 

This great entrepreneur adopted a “win-win” business model. She created a situation whereby the women had both a secure source of employment and income and she, herself, had a secure source of processed cassava. 

Agyeiwaa proves to be not only a charismatic leader, but also an excellent book-keeper. She kept track of who had given what, and having a business flair, she knew what was produced and how much each women owed her. This way she made sure that everyone was treated equally and no one paid more than what they had to.

“I take pride of what I’ve managed to do. You know, some of the women who worked with me, now have gone independent and together we have formed an association with 12 members!”, says Sakyi with a big smile on her face.

This remarkable entrepreneur who firmly believed in her vision, in 1998 bought her factory’s land from the village head for 80 GhCedi and paid 40 GhCedi to the village chief to start her business. Today she processes, packages and stores  her cassava products in her  factory and her factory  is recognized as a “good practice centre”. 

“I produce gari – which is processed cassava. The processing stages are peeling, washing, grating, fermenting, pressing, roasting, sieving and finally storing what we’ve produced”, explains Agyeiwaa.

“I have 12 people peeling who are paid 1.5 Cedi per day, 1 person in charge of washing who earns 2 GhCedi a day and 1 person who does the grating. I pay 16 GhCedi for 5.2 tonnes”.

“Afterwards, we proceed with the storage routine. The gari is stored in transparent polyethen bags. This type of bag acts like a preserving agent. This way the cassava keeps its taste and freshness. The bags are then put in a juke bag”.

Every week, Agyeiwaa produces 20.8 tonnes of different types of cassava.  “I produce both normal and a more sour version of processed cassava, which is achieved by a more prolonged fermentation period.”

“I package the processed cassave in bags of 150 kilos which I sell them for 90GhCedi. My factory makes on average 40 bags a week. If the quality is not too good, then I earn 20 GhCedi. What is great is that I often manage to sell everything I produce, when I do not, these remain in storage”, concludes Agyeiwaa. 

Agyeiwaa spirit of “rural entrepreneurship” has made her  a successful businesswoman. Her business is flourishing. As a child, she did not have money to go to school and back then, she promised herself that she would not allow her own children go through the same hardship. “I want my children to go to university and lead a much better life”, says Agyeiwaa – the mother!

Thanks to her cassava processing business, today her three children go to private schools, she owns her home, she has a pick-up truck and every year she makes approximately 187,200 GhCedi.

When the IFAD-funded Root and Tuber Improvement and Marketing Programme started its work in 2005, one of the first things the programme did, was to scout for local talents. And they identified Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. The programme was so impressed by Agyeiwaa’s achievement that they started inviting her to meetings, workshops and events, so that she could share her story and experience. Today she is one of the two ladies who sit on the steering committee of the programme.

Recognizing her remarkable achievements and the high quality of her products, Agyeiwaa ‘sfactory was awarded as a “Good Practice Centre”.

“Since I’ve received this reputable award, my name is on the list of certified sellers”, says Agyeiwaa proudly. “This means, I do not have to go market, rather customers to me. At the same time, I am selling my products higher than the market price, because I produce better quality!”

In 2008, Techiman municipality  awarded Agyeiwaa as the Best Cassava Famer. The municipality has now nominated her for the 2010 best processor award.

“These awards are very important, because I not only get some money, new equipment, but most importantly I get a seal which are like Royal Warrants that the Queen awards!!!”  

“I am very proud of the what I’ve achieved, it is very satisfying to see that I’ve managed to provide a viable and sustained employment opportunity to the women of my village and to see them become independent and join our association!”

I ask this amazing lady, if she were to close her eyes and project herself in 5 years, where would she like to be. Without any hesitation, she said: “I want to be the big and best cassava processor in Ghana”.  I am sure this will happen SOONER rather than later.

The world has many more Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. We just need to find them, provide them that “little push” so that they can get going and as you can see, the sky will be the limit!

Dear Faustina GOOD LUCK. I am sure you’ll soon be awarded as Ghana’s best cassava processor.

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