Abena Mamle Abedi, Project and Technical Support Manager of Sustainable Agro Ltd, was born on 22nd March 1985 at Akosombo to Agnes Abedi and Francise Adamson Abedi, both deceased now. She is the last of five children. Her parents were both educationists. She started her education at PTC Demonstration Primary School and continued at Nana Ankobea Takyiwaa JSS in Mampong Akuapem. She then furthered to the Achimota School and completed in 2003. She proceeded to the University of Ghana where she graduated with a degree in Soil Science.
From infancy, her father wanted her to become a lawyer. But Abena had an entirely different career in mind. She wanted to take a profession many youngsters consider unattractive—farming.
But why and how did a young lady develop such a keen interest in agriculture when all her colleagues were interested in pursuing courses which would land them the supposed ‘white colour jobs’. Let’s find out.
She loved agriculture
Abena’s love for agricultural began in the junior high level when one day in class, during her agric-science lessons, they treated a topic on types of farming. That was when she heard the term ‘Commercial Farming’ for the first time.
She narrates: “I remember when we were treating types of farming in JSS, I heard the term commercial farming for the first time. I never knew about it. So right there, I developed interest in it and decided that I would be a commercial farmer in future.
So when I went to the secondary school I wanted to do agric-science but my senior sisters didn’t agree. They were with the opinion that my grades were too good for agriculture and so I should study General Science. So I acquiesced and studied General Science in Achimota College.”
However, after her secondary education, she was bent on pursuing her interest in agriculture. She therefore, applied for Agricultural Science at the University of Ghana and subsequently graduated with a degree in Soil Science.
After university she did her national service with a mining company in Wassa in the Western Region. However, even before she completed her national service, she applied for an advertised job by an American NGO who were looking for field officers to carry out a survey. That trip became the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.
“We went to the Volta region to take data from some rice farmers. During the survey, the farmers shared their challenges with us and I really developed some passion for them. They told me if they get a thresher machine, their business will boom.
So I decided that after my national service I would follow up and see how best I can help those farmers. I made enquiries about how I could get a threshing machine so I know whether I could buy one or not.
So I used all the money I saved from national service allowance to buy the machine and transport it to Wli Dzogbega in the Volta Region for the farmers to use it to work and pay me,” she related.
The rice business begins
The threshing machine business sparked interest in Abena to engage in rice farming herself. The arrangement with the farmers was that, each time a farmer threshed one bag of rice, he would either pay GHc3 or compensate with one bowl of rice if he can’t afford to pay the amount.
But eventually, the machine broke down and Abena had it repaired. The farming season was over by then and so she decided to secure a land for herself and begin her own rice farm and use the threshing machine in the next season.
Interestingly, she raised funds for the project through sourcing financial assistance from friends and promising them big returns in advance.
But something unexpected happened.
“I lost all my investments due to poor weather condition. A heavy down pour during the harvest caused me to lose all that I invested. And since I had already promised my friends their returns, I had to find some money to pay them. That was in the year 2012.”
Just like any serious business person, she didn’t abandon her dreams but picked up her pieces together and still raised some money from friends to continue the project.
Apart from the most common challenge faced by every entrepreneur—funding, Abena grappled with marketing of her products. After the harvest, she was confronted with how to get her products selling. Then an idea came to mind. She contacted her former roommate in the university, Princess Mary Adjei to come to her rescue.
“Marketing of the rice became a challenge because I had no knowledge in marketing. But I remembered I had a roommate in the university who was in the business school. So I called her to come and work with me to handle the marketing aspect so I pay her.
But I could not sustain the payment for some time. But I needed her services too. So I suggested to her that she should work for equity. She understood and so we agreed she takes 20 percent shares in the business. And I can see that her strengths have complemented my weaknesses.”
As the business grew, Abena and her partner Mary—now the Marketing Manager of the company, decided to expand their business by adding value to it. So they decided to package the rice. They contacted a local designer who designed the package for them. The designer was inspired by the sight of young women who were desperate to see their company grow. So he did the design free of charge. They took the design to China and printed it.
But after the heavy investment in that, there was another hurdle to jump.
“The next challenge was that we were now locked up with funds and so we didn’t have money to buy fertilizers for the farmers we support to provide us with the rice to package. So I went to Chemico, a company that sells agro-chemicals, and walked into the Managing Director’s office and told him I want to borrow fertilizer from their company.
Initially he expressed some surprise at my request but someway somehow, he decided to listen to me. After listening to me he felt we were serious about the whole thing and so he told me to go and write a proposal and bring it. So my partner and I went to put down a proposal and we presented it to the company. They were convinced that we could pay and so they gave us some of the fertilizer and outlined a payment plan for us.”
Even though things stabilized after they entered into the pact with the company, things have not been rosy for Abena and Mary as they constantly have to look for funds to buy rice from the farmers to ensure constant supply.
Another thing that Abena personally rues is some mistakes she committed in the business due to her little knowledge in entrepreneurship. She is therefore advising all young entrepreneurs to take courses in entrepreneurship in order to improve their knowledge on how to manage a business.
“Our vision is to transform agriculture from the basic things we do to something exceptional using more sustainable approaches through strategic partnerships and alliances with people who have the natural, financial and human resources.
We also want to break into all the ten regions of Ghana in the next five years.”