The life and work of Alhaji Abdul Salam Akate presents a real-life case study of persistence and resilience. The demise of his father in 1966 led to the truncation of his formal education. At that time, young Akate was in Class Two and lived in a village known as Bawiesibei, located in the Sisala East District of the Upper West Region.
Young Abdul Salam needed to grope his way through life; he had to figure out how to make ends meet. He did not resign himself to endless grief. He consequently relocated to the Ashanti Region. That was in 1969. He became an “any work” boy, embracing and harnessing every opportunity that came his way – small scale mining, laborer on cocoa farms and other jobs at the Cocoa Marketing Board (now Ghana Cocoa Board).
Being inherently entrepreneurial, he saved some of his income and started trading in bicycles, which he exchanged for cows back home in Bawiesibei. Each bike could earn him one or two cows. Over time, he cultivated an impressive stock of cattle. When his small-scale mining endeavor fell apart, he gathered some of his flock and transported them to Kumasi for sale, generating capital to commence a trading business. Eventually, he accumulated more capital to purchase a two-and-half acre land in Kumasi.
Alhaji Abdul Salam Akate has proved to be a relentless person over the course of his life. He built a small house on his land and started a poultry farm which he thought was better than trading. This was in 1983. Nonetheless, he soon realized that poultry too was not as rosy as he had imagined. The challenges were enormous. There were times when funds to feed the birds were so scarce. In spite of that, Alhaji has prevailed.
Figure 1Alhaji Abdul Salam Akate, Founder, Akate Farms
Alhaji Akate has grown his farm; in 1989, his farm had 800 broilers and 1,500 layers. Today, he has built his business into a complex farm enterprise across multiple locations (Nwamase, Bosare, Saaman and Akyease) with 500,000 layers and 200,000 breeders of chicken, guinea fowl, turkeys and ducks; crop production with a maize out-grower scheme of 1500 farmers cultivating 4,000 acres, and plots of soya, mango, pineapple, and orange; and a fish farm with tilapia and catfish. The company currently manages a permanent staff size of about 300.
Towards sustainable growth – working with Invest in Africa
Although the company has grown in leaps and bounds, it is not totally acquitted from the onslaught of challenges. The period between 2013 and 2017 turned out to be most challenging for the business so far. Regardless of the nationwide power crises that had bedeviled the country from 2013 to 2016, the company had bigger problems to grapple with – loss of birds as a result of disease outbreaks culminating in reduced sales, revenue and thus the ability to repay loans.
Having gone through these tough times, the company is determined that the growth it has experienced over the years is not marred by missteps of management. The company’s enrollment in March 2018 onto the Business Linkage Programme (BLP), an intervention funded by the African Development Bank and run by Invest in Africa (IIA), was timely. The BLP is a skills coaching and mentorship initiative designed to assist Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) scale-up and become globally competitive.
“You can grow but what will sustain the growth is efficiency. So, if you are growing and you are not efficient, then that growth will not help anybody,” says Francis Oppong, an executive of Akate Farms. According to him, the overarching impact gained from the BLP’s management and entrepreneurship courses was the skill it gave them in goal-setting – how to organize better, how to plan and set targets.
Beyond the training, a Business Diagnostic Consultant has been assigned to the company to help them design a comprehensive 5-year strategic plan. Furthermore, the Consultant is guiding Akate Farms to access grants and other less expensive funds using the strategic plan as the anchor. While they are at it, Mr. Oppong reveals that they have become more efficiency-minded – scrutinizing expenses more rigorously than they used to do.
A major signpost to watch out for as the company journeys on relates to the cost of doing business. According to Mr. Oppong, the cost of buying feed for the birds constitutes 80% of the firm’s variable cost, a situation aggravated by frequent increase in prices. Moreover, the flood of low-priced substitutes (chicken) imported from other markets makes them less competitive.
To deal with some of these challenges, Akate Farms is on course with a determination to procure or produce feed (usually with corn and soya bean as the base) in an effective and efficient manner. It is envisaged that when this approach comes to fruition, the company will reduce its feeding cost by 25%, boosting their drive for sustained growth.
It is also expected that the continuous success of the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) Programme launched in 2017 will help alleviate the plight of many poultry farmers and farms. PFJ offers subsidized input and agricultural extension services to help local farmers increase their yield while not incurring much cost. With this commitment, the future can only be brighter for Akate Farms.