01.01.2019 Opinion

Taking the poultry industry by storm - The success story of Edith Wheatland

By Yussif Ibrahim
Taking the poultry industry by storm - The success story of Edith Wheatland
01.01.2019 LISTEN

A young Ghanaian lady is gradually taking the poultry industry by storm. Her exploits in the male dominated industry is one that deserves recognition, applause and encouragement.

Ms. Edith Wheatland, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Rockland Farms located at Ankamadoa, a deprived community in the Sekyere Central District in the Ashanti Region, is already flying the flag of Ghana high - recently won the Accelerated Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) prize for Sub-Saharan Africa for her business initiatives, empowering women entrepreneurs.

She picked the Feed the Future AWE prize together with Affiong Williams, CEO of ReelFruit, a dried fruits and nuts packaging and distribution business based in Lagos, Nigeria. They are the first winners of the prestigious award since its inception in 2017.

She was nominated alongside other accomplished candidates across Africa by a panel of development and business experts who reviewed and selected two finalists for the award.

Through the guidance of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Ghana Poultry Project (GPP), her story was heard.

The AWE Award

The Feed the Future AWE Prize, launched last November, at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the USA, aims to empower women-owned businesses in Africa to expand, boost job creation and gender equality.

It is meant to help women to take their businesses to the next level by providing the winners with acceleration services, including investment readiness consulting, investor matchmaking support, and business analysis.

Acknowledging the several challenges women face in doing business across different value chains globally, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development

(USAID), Mark Green said during the launch that the award was meant to pay tribute to women with businesses driving change in rural economies and at the same time help them with tools and the opportunities that will give these women a real chance to thrive.

The Award Package

Edith's Rockland Farms would receive technical assistance packages worth US$50,000 as part of the award. The package also includes among other things an investment readiness assessment and co-development of a five-year business strategy. Additionally, her business is going to get investor readiness and matchmaking services.

Supporting Smallholder Poultry Farms to Be More Profitable

Rockland began operation in 2013 with 8,000 layers and has grown into a competitive enterprise with over 60,000 layers.

Its primary activity is egg production with plans to expand into other aspects of the poultry value chain.

Rockland's larger end market enables the business to provide reliable market outlet for small-scale farmers, especially women through an out-grower scheme that includes access to feed and vaccines on flexible payment terms.

Her business has supported women-owned smallholder poultry farms with equipment and technical training to help them scale up and improve their productivity and efficiency.

Daring beginning

Edith lived outside Ghana for some time after her education in Ghana. She attended Effiduase Secondary School and Kumasi Polytechnic (now Kumasi Technical University) and earned a diploma in business studies.

She began her working life in the United Kingdom, where she also studied at Peterborough Regional College and obtained certificates in bookkeeping and accounting. Thereafter, she joined an uncle in the United States to run an African Bakery Business where they made African bread in Rockland County, New York.

During that time, Edith took interest in starting up her own business and as a result decided to return to Ghana to look for business opportunities.

In the thick bushes of her rural hometown close to Asante Mampong, she contemplated the potentials of a poultry business.

With all her savings from abroad, Edith started a poultry farm with 8,000 layers. 'I knew from my search that the poultry industry comes with lots of risks, particularly for women but I challenged myself to be the difference' she told the Ghana News Agency during a visit to the farm.

Edith's vision of a thriving poultry enterprise that could provide support and a reference point for several other women in the community drove her to shun materialistic values of a 'Burger' (local parlance for someone who has travelled abroad) and moved to live fulltime on her small farm in order to give it maximum attention.

She recounts how she and the few farm hands she employed had to sleep in makeshift structures and in constant struggle with reptiles and soldier ants. Seeing the results of her hard work and dedication today, Edith says she deeply treasures those difficult times in her life.

Sustainable Business Models

Developing a poultry business from 8,000 birds to an enterprise of over 60,000 birds with 35 employees and multiple income sources including sale of eggs, veterinary and feed inputs was achieved through deliberate efforts, planning, commitment, efficiency and good management practices. Rockland Farms maintains an impressive production standard and enviable attention to flock health.

As someone, who studied accounting, Edith focuses priority on record keeping - production and financial records, on the farm.

'For your poultry business to thrive, accountability is vital. You must ensure that every egg laid counts. Building employee trust is essential but most importantly, putting in measures that protect your investment is a life saver' she said.

One of the turning points of her business, she added, was when she joined the USDA GPP's series of capacity building programs.

The USDA Ghana Poultry Project (GPP)

Edith's mantra is, 'I don't know everything'. This humility and honesty drives her to constantly upgrade not only her skills and knowledge but that of her workers.

She credits the USDA GPP for improving Rockland Farms' efficiency. GPP, she said, offered technical assistance, grants and free capacity building trainings for her and her staff in such areas as brooding, branding and marketing as well as financial literacy, record keeping and contract agreements.

She says it is now easier to make sound business decisions based on farm records. At the same time, GPP's business advisory facilitations helped her to access funding.

'Rockland Farm's collaboration with GPP has really shaped the way we conduct business with other entities and has given us amazing leverage' she added.

Rethinking Inclusion of Women

Edith is the Vice President of the Ashanti Regional Chapter of Women in Poultry (WIP), formed with the support of GPP, a group of women poultry farmers who are now into a cooperative.

She dedicates time and resources to supporting other female poultry entrepreneurs. She currently supports about a dozen female farmers through the provision of a ready market for their products, helping them to access Rockland's larger outlets through, out-grower models, and also extending credit to them with flexible payment terms.

'Rockland supported my farm with a GH¢9,000.00 feed mill to assist improve the quality of feed used for the birds on my farm. With the machine, feed preparation is less stressful, we no longer mix the feed on the floor which affected the feed quality and the mixing is now uniformly done.

As a result, the egg production rate has significantly gone up and I am reinvesting the extra income from the sales to expand production from 9,000 birds to 15,000 birds' - Akosua Ntiwaa, Owner, Osi-Nhyira Farms, testified.

Edith Wheatland remains focused on improving the efficiency and mentoring more women entrepreneurs to drive their economic fortunes.

'My joy, is to see other women-owned businesses grow - thrive, creating opportunities for several families that depend on jobs created by those businesses.'

'I am most excited if am privileged to be part of their success stories.'

Edith adds that she is eager to relentlessly push the frontiers of rural economic empowerment in Ghana, one woman-led enterprise at a time.