WAIDH Part 3.1: Anibirds Farm

As mentioned earlier, one of the side projects I have been involved with here has been as a coach for the Mobile Business Clinic Tamale Edition. This has been an immensely satisfying and eye-opening experience and I am grateful to have had the chance to work with the lads from Anibirds Farm and see them progress.

The Mobile Business Clinic (MBC) is an initiative of EWB, the Canadian Government (DFAIT), and the Lundin Foundation. It is part of a larger multi-country, multi-year project to aid small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the agricultural sector and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout West Africa. The MBC had previously held successful clinics in the southern cities of Accra and Tema, and Tamale was selected for the third iteration from November 2013 to January 2014. The SMEs were selected from a pool of applicants from the surrounding areas and asked to send two mangers to enroll in the program. The clinic itself was broken into two main components: six full-day training sessions over the course of the first month, followed by a two month implementation period supported by an outside coach. The sessions were focused on management topics such as leadership, finances, and project management and were presented by a mix of MBC staff and Ghanaian business leaders. While the training was very well done and practical, the trainees benefited greatly from the opportunity to immediately apply their new skills directly on their businesses during the coaching period.

Issifu Basideen (Photo credit: Mark Brown, Kulemela)
Issifu Basideen (Photo credit: Mark Brown, Kulemela)

I had the great privilege of being matched with Eric and Issifu Basideen of Anibirds Farm Annexe (ANImals and BIRDS) based in Tamale. After a slow start through December, due to increased demand for holiday fowl, we were able to meet several times in January and February and I was blown away by the progress they were able to make. Anibirds is full spectrum guinea fowl rearing, training, sales and consulting business that has capitalized on the resurgent popularity of the bird in Ghana over the past decade. Guinea fowl look a bit like large, long-necked chickens and taste a bit like gamey, dark-meat turkey. They are endemic to West Africa and are apparently healthier than chicken, likely due to their leanness. Basideen not only raises guinea fowl keets and (chicken) fowl chicks, but builds incubator equipment, sells live birds, formulates feed, consults and gives training to other farmers, and raises a few turkeys, sheep and goats on the side. Anibirds is also an investee of the EWB spin-off, Kulemela Investments, and has used debt-financing to successfully expand its business over the past year. Below is a video from January 2013 where Basideen explains his plans for a new brooding building, which is now underway:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSiaydmgTzY

The approach taken by Kulemela has its merits and drawbacks as mentioned in this article last year in the Toronto Star, but I can attest to catalytic affect this has had on Anibirds’ business. However, with many small businesses, both in North America and Africa, financial capital only goes so far without sufficient “managerial capital”. This is was what the MBC program was designed to address and I feel that, although much work remains, the limited interaction we had with Anibirds produced some tangible, positive results. For instance we were able to implement some basic recordkeeping and inventory management systems, get a first draft of a business plan and budget complete and take a crack at developing an “elevator pitch” (concise mission statement and vision) for the company. My actual technical knowledge inputs were minimal, but through some very open conversations I was able to help provide context and perspective around how good organization and recordkeeping set the foundation for informed and prudent business decisions which is the ultimate point of any of this management training.

Management consulting has been an important part of the ongoing efficiency improvements in developed world businesses and the developing world is beginning to seek out the same expertise. Whether or not it truly works as advertised hasn’t been established, but that hasn’t stopped major firms such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, MacKinsey and others from setting up offices in African countries. As this article states, there is a lot of work yet to be done to better understand which interventions produce measureable impact and which do not. It is my hope that through rapid, iterative approaches such as the MBC, these assumptions and methods can be checked quickly and the lessons learned therein shared broadly.

I hope to continue an informal relationship with Anibirds over the rest of my time in Ghana and check in on their progress every few months. Seeing the tenacity, care, and passion Eric and Issifu put into their business and the positive effects it can have on the community has been a definite highlight for me so far and I have no doubt that they will have continued success.

What am I Doing Here? Part III.I: Taimako Enterprises

I’ve talked about how impact investing, socially-motivated businesses and technical assistance are supposed to work together to improve the lives of people in a community, why EWB Canada is involved in this area and why we suspect it to be a powerful leverage point for large-scale impact, and how this connects upstream to larger patterns in the development world. This time around I’ll finally get into the details of what I have been up to.  In short, I’m currently involved with three main projects and partially involved with a few others:

  1. My main focus is as a technical advisor and embedded business consultant within Taimako Enterprises based in Tamale, Ghana. My role here is to work closely with the ownership and management of this growing, second generation family business to catalyze change and to help them realize their plans for the future .
  2. Through another Business Development Services program, the Mobile Business Clinic, I am coaching a small poultry and animal farming business with their growth as a post-investment, early-stage start-up. (I’ll turn this into its own post once the program wraps up at the end of the month)
  3. Within BDS I am looking at Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) frameworks and internationally recognized social and environmental metrics. The goal is to understand how the social, environmental and economic impacts of many small businesses aggregate to form a lasting positive change in communities and beyond. (This is definitely another post, or even a completely separate blog!)

Taimako Enterprises

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Taimako is where I spend most of my time and where I live. The story of the Taimako’s history, especially as told by the founder, CEO and family matriarch, Madam, Dr. Taimako, is one of the most captivating and inspiring I’ve ever heard. I wish I had a tape recorder with me the last few times she’s told it, but I’ll try to do it some justice here while keeping it brief.

Madam Taimako began as a healer, mid-wife and traditional medicine gatherer in the Northern regions of Ghana. This business soon morphed into the cultivation of traditional herbal plants and shrubs. After losing her husband, the mother of nine faced innumerable odds her, but was able to slowly grow the medicinal/herbal garden and break into the relatively new market for tree seedlings (trees after all have many important medicinal properties). With small steps she was able to expand this seedling business and, in the past decade, Taimako has grown into one of the largest suppliers of timber and fuit tree seedlings in Northern Ghana.

As the tree seedling business was growing, the Taimakos maintained their traditional medicine training and cultivation business, branched into ornamental plants and landscaping, and acquired a large parcel of land from the local chieftaincy to establish a 250 acre Mango plantation (one of the most popular seedlings they produce is mango). Furthermore, in the early 2000s a pronounced need for more senior high level schooling was noticed in the community, especially for those students left behind in the lottery based public school system. This led the Taimakos to establish a low-cost, private senior high school on their property. This school has since grown to an overall enrollment of over 500 students and plans are being formed to build a primary feeder school in the coming years. Finally, as if there wasn’t already a lot happening, the Taimakos are in the middle of establishing a food processing business to capitalize on the eventual output from their mango plantation and the seasonal gluts of produce and grain crops.

Through the years, the business has operated in a fairly informal manner with limited record keeping and management systems in place to track employees, costs and revenues. Taimako was introduced to EWB and BDS through a chance meeting several years ago and a relationship was built after a series of discussions. About a year ago, BDS was brought onboard to help address their self-identified need for improved business systems and overall organizational structure. So, this is where I’ve been working for the past four months as an embedded business consultant.

Below is a quick overview of what I am working on within each of Taimako’s business units with some pictures to bring things into focus.

Seedling Nursery

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This is still by far the largest aspect of the Taimako’s business and produces the most revenue as well as the most challenges. There are three seedling nurseries located in the same general area just outside of town where a dam reservoir provides a year round water source. These nurseries collectively produced well over 1 million seedlings last year (!), with the primary contracts going to the government afforestation program known as SADA. Local mango farmers, municipalities and private businesses make up for the rest of the sales. The varieties of trees currently being cultivated include:

  • Mango: These trees are sold in large quantities to established mango farmers and government initiatives to develop the mango industry in Northern Ghana.
  • Mahogany: These trees are sold to farmers and land owners for land stabilization. They are also sold to government agencies as part of reforestation programs. Mahogany is also vastly used in the timber industry.
  • Shea: Shea trees are sold to farmers for income generation and to reforestation programs.
  • Ceiba, Kpalga, Ebony, Kacia, Albasia, Luccina, Eucalyptus: These trees are sold for reforestation programs and land stabilization. They are not produced in as large quantities as Mango, Mahogany or Shea.

The main challenges involved with this business are organizing the nurseries and work so that better records can be kept and waste and seedling attrition reduced. I am currently looking into ways of tracking the inputs and outputs and how the overall process can be improved and made more reliable.

Mango Plantation

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As a way of diversifying their business (if you haven’t noticed, they really like diversity) and using the output from their seedling operation, Taimako establish a 250 acre plantation near Pong-Tamale in 2011. Since the trees are still growing and have not yet started fruiting, the work on the plantation is mostly pruning, manuring, mulching and watering. The latter process is accomplished via a tractor filling a large water tank from a nearby reservoir and laboriously hand watering each of the trees [~100 trees/acre x 250 acres = 25,000 trees x 4L of water /tree, every third day in the dry season (Nov-Feb) – it adds up quickly!]. There was an estimate done by another company for a large-scale irrigation system, but it was prohibitively expensive. What I am currently looking into is how such a system could be implemented piece by piece over the next several years, and what sort of farm record keeping would help facilitate this kind of ROI decision-making (i.e. cost of tractor fuel vs. irrigation system over 10 years).

Processing Plant

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This is where I’ve spent most of my time so far. From a previous grant, Taimako established a medium scale food processing facility on their property complete with a solar tunnel food dryer. Though this business has been operational for a few years, it hasn’t really taken off as hoped do other priorities. Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that a steady flow of cash from this business unit would add much need stability to the overall enterprise. Furthermore, local food production, post-harvest losses, food security and rising transportation costs have been hot topics of conversation in Ghana and around the world lately. This food processing facility should be a win-win for Taimako and the local community if it can smooth out the large peaks and valleys of seasonal food production (mangos, tomatoes, groundnuts, etc.) by extending the shelf life through solar drying, juicing, and other preservation methods. It should also, reduce transport costs and dependence on imported foods (why are we eating tomato sauce from Italy?!), provide a number of relatively well-paying, stable jobs and provide a guaranteed market for local farmers to sell their products.

The building is currently being renovated to meet the latest health and safety codes (tiling, glass windows, A/C) and should be fully operational later this spring. I have been doing market research on the peak season of various crops, looking into the production line design of the plant, and doing some research into solar drying and other preservation methods.

The plant is currently slated to produce the following products:

  • Unimix Tombrown (mixed ground corn, soya, rice and groundnuts – used as a sort of morning porridge)
  • Dried mango, pineapple, banana, and coconut chips
  • Ground ginger and chili powder
  • Roasted groundnuts and groundnut paste (peanuts and peanut butter) and roasted sesame
  • Cassava, yam and plantain flour

So there you have it, Taimako in a nut shell! There is quite a bit going on and I’m constantly learning some new thing or another which is a blast. Beyond the more technical work on the business units themselves I am also working with the Taimakos to establish the accounting and record keeping systems befitting of an operation this size. We are also discussing company culture and philosophy in the way they organize their policies towards the community, the environment and their workers (they are already way ahead of what most businesses are doing, but want to be more deliberate about it).

I want to write a lot more about the role of a technical advisor and embedded consultant and some of the advantages and challenges with this approach, but I’ll save that for a future entry. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to question, comment, challenge or suggest a new topic.

Here are some more photos:

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Eats For a Week

I know it’s recently become terribly uncool to post “instagramed” pictures of your food online, but I figure food is one of the main cultural expressions that is unique to each country and at least of some passing interest to those from elsewhere.

For the most part Ghana is not known for its culinary exports (other than raw materials like cocoa and fruit), but I’ve found the food more than satisfactory and have very few complaints, if at all. In fact, I’ve really needed to dwell on it to be able to dream up any major food cravings (broccoli and coffee are the two main ones). In Tamale, there is very little one can’t find in the way of western food (hamburgers, pizza, indian, ice cream, cheese, cake, etc.). In Accra, moreover, you’d be hard pressed to come up with anything under the sun that’s not available if you’re willing to fork over the cedis for it.

As a general rule, traditional Ghanaian food is centred around the ever present starch ball (either rice, yam, corn, or cassava or a combination) along with a saucy soup and/or meat vegetable dish. What it lacks in flavour and diversity, it makes up for with enormous quantities and tongue numbing saltiness. There are definitely some standout dishes (not featured herein, unfortunately), these included deep fried yams and hot pepper sauces, deep fried plantains and spice mix (Kelliwelli), banku (slightly sour, fermented maize starch ball) with groundnut (peanut) soup, and pavla sauce (cocoa yam leaves, the main green vegetable).

Overall, I’ve been surprised by how much fish is eaten, even though Tamale is quite a few sweltering, unrefrigerated kilometres away from any water bodies. Another, important fact is just how much of the food is imported from elsewhere. The traditional staples (cassava, yam, maize) are locally grown, but a lot of the chicken, rice, dairy, canned goods, and even fruit juices are imported from Asia, South America or Europe. This obviously has major implications for food security, trade balances, and local agriculture development as I’ll hopefully address more fully in a future post.

Below is a typical week’s worth of food (f0r my family at least).  I missed one dinner and one breakfast and went out to eat once. At this stage all the cooking is done by the two live-in nieces who are highly incredulous of my offers to help in the kitchen. So far I have been regulated to chopping vegetables and stirring pots, but with time I hope to take a more active role.

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