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“I had to survive”: How Ghanaian woman fearlessly built successful agribusiness from scratch [Pulse Contributor]

Elizabeth Eva Dwamena strides through her warehouse inspecting bags of fertilizers neatly stacked.

Elizabeth Eva Dwamena

She moves in the company of her warehouse manager, making plans for the rainy season.

In Mrs Dwamena’s home country, Ghana, the rains will begin soon, that means, sales of agro inputs are about to go up and she has to be ready to meet the demand.

At 72 years old, she is the managing director of Northgate Agro Product Enterprise, dealers of all kinds of farming inputs.

She has come far with her business which she started very late in life.

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In 2000 when Mrs Dwamena begun her business, it was fueled by an urgent need to survive after an early retirement from being a nurse.

She began with just 50 bags of fertilizer and today, she sells in metric tonnes.

“When there is the need and you are pushed to survive, you think through things that can make you survive with integrity.” She says.

Over the course of 18 years, Northgate Agro Products Enterprise has grown exponentially-- bridging the gap between input suppliers and farmers in Techiman and other parts of Bono East region of Ghana.

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From a small stall in the year 2000, the company now has a huge warehouse stocked by Yara, seventy-five agro input retailers one third of which are women, six permanent employees and others on an as-needed basis.

This feat has not come about on a silver platter. Mrs Dwamena, like many women on the continent had to contend with the difficulties of starting a business.

Research shows Africa has a huge number of women entrepreneurs but no country has achieved parity in business ownership.

SCORE, a non-profit organization helping small businesses to grow discovered that, women are less likely to get loans or equity financing than men.

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In Mrs Dwamena’s case she had to prove herself over and over again that she could be trusted- before she got access to credit from banks, and agro companies.

“Once you build it {trust}, every one of them wants you to be their customer,” she says. “But initially they were unsure of a woman’s ability to manage.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, women make up 50% of the agricultural labour force in Sub Saharan Africa. Research also indicates any transformation in agriculture will depend on equal participation of women along the chain, as empowering women eventually leads to a multiplier effect.

This is why supporting women such as Mrs Dwamena is very important to the Africa Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership, AFAP.

“In all of AFAP’s interventions we place a huge emphasis on the involvement of women’s participation as we make sure that any woman who benefits from AFAP interventions succeeds.” Says Nana-Aisha Mohammed, Country director of AFAP.

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Key among the support Mrs Dwamena has received from AFAP to expand her business is the $39,895 USD to roof her warehouse which she describes as perfect timing and a game changer.

She also receives credit guarantee from Yara, which supplies her with more fertilizer on an extended period of repayment terms. The capacity building training she continues to get has been instrumental in sustaining her business and that of her retailers.

Mohammed explains the goal behind supporting businesses like Mrs Dwamena’s is to “increase access to fertilizer across Africa and also help build private sector involvement in the agric space using a bottom up value chain approach.”

This initiative falls under the Smallholder Inclusivity and Productivity for Market Access (SIPMA) which is a three-year project under the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa, PIATA, seeking to unlock the maize and soya bean value chains to improve yields and livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

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From the support she has received, Mrs Dwamena is now in a position to help other women in her network by giving them products with an extended period to pay back. She tells them about the benefits of agriculture, shifting their impressions of it from small scale retail shops and farms to big agribusinesses.

Author: Betty Kankam-Boadu

Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf

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