Ghanaian entrepreneur talks agribusiness and overcoming challenges

Kosi Yankey is the founder of Nuba Foods and Commodities, a Ghanaian-based business that sources commodities from local farmers and supplies them to industries in West Africa. The company also processes and markets a range of speciality foods and works with over 100 local women and farmers. Agricultural produce is mostly sourced from farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast but Yankey said she is also looking at Burkina Faso as a source for some of their products.

Kosi Yankey is the founder of Nuba Foods.

Yankey has been selected as one of five finalists for BiD Network’s 2012 Women in Business Challenge that focuses on women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. How we made it in Africa asked Yankey about the agricultural environment in Ghana and the importance of reinvesting back into local communities.

What do you think defines you as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, I think I am defined by how I approach everything in life and the way my mind works. I constantly have an urge to understand situations and find solutions for most problems I encounter. In my mind this quickly translates into ways to have impact – start a business that will employ people, develop valuable products, and provide profit for the entrepreneur and investors. I have come to realise that I do enjoy the thought process and I am constantly bombarded in my imagination with ideas. Everyone can have the same thoughts, however, the difference is I know to focus on the most important idea, implement it and ensure that the outcome is or will be desirable. If not, I walk away from the idea and move on.

Drawing from your work experience with farmers in the area, how would you describe the agricultural environment in Ghana today?

The agricultural environment still has a long way to go with regards to growth. Many governments, non-profits and social enterprises have made an effort at sustaining it, and I think with the right focus the impact will lead to a more robust environment.

In Ghana, agriculture is limited because:

  • Most of the lands are under-utilised by the smallholder farmers.
  • Many farmers do not use the right farming practices to ensure high yields.
  • The lack of understanding of the agricultural value chains has led to the underdevelopment of markets causing major waste in the sector.
  • Unlike the highly subsidised farms of richer countries our farmers hardly have access to any form of subsidy.
  • Last but not least, the majority of farmers choose to farm because they have fewer options.

Although there are many challenges, I believe that smallholder farmers should be commended as with their limited resources they have continuously produced beyond their personal consumption to support food security in the country. Various initiatives have been put in place for farmers to access more finance and equipment’s needed to assist them grow more crops. Also, farmers are better understanding the use and need for contracts between themselves and future buyers.

As a woman entrepreneur, what obstacles do you feel you face when conducting business in Africa? How do you overcome these obstacles?

Focusing on Ghana, I believe the country has a culture that has always promoted entrepreneurship amongst women. However, there are other obstacles one faces which include: lack of information and bureaucratic processes that consistently prevent growth of businesses. I have overcome this obstacle by being more proactive and actively seeking answers to questions that will positively impact my business. Secondly, inadequate access to the right capital to develop businesses does not allow for business continuity or profitable ventures. I have learned to overcome this obstacle by tapping into my network and that of others and build a better relationship with my bankers to ensure the growth of my business.

You reinvest 10% of your profits into the communities you work with. Tell us where this money goes and why?

Education is very important to me because I believe it is the tool to drive development and change in our communities. My own example is the story of my grandmother, the only one out of 14 children to attend school which eventually impacted not only her family but others around her. Had she not been educated, there is no doubt that my life would be a lot different.

My second focus is health – maternal health and child nutrition. This is because I believe good quality of life is impossible without good health. In particular, Nuba will focus on improving health outcomes for women and children – providing better information about health risks and available treatments – that can significantly reduce maternal mortality and child malnutrition.

Where would you like to see Nuba Foods in five years time?

In five years time, I would like Nuba to be profitable, able to achieve its development impact goals which will lead to an unprecedented ripple effect in our agricultural economy and be the brand of choice for West African families no matter where they live.