In the opposite direction: …A young lady’s determination to change the face of farming in Africa

Michael OTI & Melvina ODURO

It is not her alarm clock that jolts her out of bed at 2am. It is her dreams. While some of her mates from University still have a few more hours to enjoy their sleep, she is already wide awake—her day already begun and her mind racing with the one thousand things she has to do. Knowing the task ahead of her, she uses the next couple of hours to get herself ready, before getting out of her house. She has a long way to go and so it is important she leaves early. Every second counts.

This young mother of three beautiful girls is not on her way to the city centre, to an air-conditioned office snuggled in one of the many high rise buildings dotting the landscape of Ghana’s capital. This young lady, with lines of determination etched on her lovely face, is heading in the opposite direction. She prepares to start a journey that could last for as many as ten hours—a journey that would begin with a six-hour bus ride and end, in all probability, with a ride on a motorcycle.

Meet Marian Ofori Twumasi, the amazing young lady determined to stake a huge claim in the farming industry in Ghana. The former student of St. Roses Senior High School is the Chief Executive Officer of Mariseth Farms.

Marian could well have been rubbing shoulders with colleagues on the corridors of corporate Ghana. She holds a degree in Accounting from the Wisconsin International University College, Accra and a Diploma in Accounting from the University of Ghana. But while others, with her kind of qualifications, strive to join the legions of those fortunate few employed in the formal sector, Marian headed in the opposite direction—leaving a well-paying job as a premium administrator with an insurance company to venture into the tough, uncompromising world of farming.

It is interesting to note that this young farmer did not start out with farming as a future career objective. Growing up in a large family in rural Ghana with a cocoa and oil palm farmer for a father, one would have thought Marian would have picked up her love for the land from home. However, this was not the case. The closest she came to farming in the early days were the few times during school holidays when her father would take all his children to his farm. Marian’s father insisted that all his children focused on their education—not wanting any of them to follow in his footsteps.

“I never thought of farming. Growing up, if you ask me, I always said, I was going to be an international lawyer. That was what was on my lips every time,” Marian recalls amusingly.

Therefore, right after completing school in 2011, Marian was posted to the Controller and Accountant General’s Department for her National Service. From there, she went into insurance. She also completed a course in Investment from the Ghana Stock Exchange and began the process of acquiring an accounting qualification with the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Up till that point, Marian still did not see farming as something she was going to do as a full-time job. As far as she was concerned, her career path was in the finance, accounting and related fields.

It is interesting to note that Marian’s first attempts at farming was out of love, literally. Her chartered accountant boyfriend at the time, now husband, Seth Ofori Twumasi was the one with an interest in farming. He had a cocoa and plantain farm at Asamankese in the Eastern Region, where the two lovebirds occasionally visited. On those visits, Marian and Seth would bring back to Accra bunches of plantain to sell to market women in Accra. This was the genesis of Mariseth Farms.

Many of the market women she dealt with never knew they were dealing with a graduate from Ghana’s premier university. To them, she was just the lady who supplied plantains. After a while of doing this “side business” though, Marian and Seth realised that what they had had huge potential. The decision was then taken to put in a lot more work. This was when Marian took the bold step to quit her job in insurance to concentrate on growing the farming business.

But then came the obstacles.

The first was in 2014 when she finally decided to resign her job to go into full-time. Knowing the resistance she was going to face, with that very unpopular decision, Marian decided not to inform her father. She kept the information to just a few people she could trust. Having the unwavering support of her husband was enough for her to take the plunge.

It took the determined Marian the better part of four years before she was able to inform her father that she had resigned and was into farming full-time. By then she had tangible results to show to him. Her advice to those who want to follow her footsteps is for them to be careful who they share their vision with. Letting the wrong people in on the dream could result in such resistance that the dream might be aborted before it sees the light of day.

Her next obstacle was also at the nascent stages of her venture. However, this one almost made her throw in the towel. With the decision to go full-time into farming having settled, Marian was able to devote all her attention to her new venture. In time, Marian and Seth got married—and with that came the birth of their first child in 2014. With a new baby to cater for, Marian’s time became restricted. With no facilities in the hinterland to cater for the needs of a nursing mother, Marian had to stay in Accra and rely on her workers to keep the farm running.

Nevertheless, when she returned to the farm after about six months away, she could not believe what was before her. The farm had almost been run down to the ground. There was nothing to show for all the funds that she had been remitting into the venture. It was during that period that she began to have real doubts about whether farming was really for her. After all her efforts, she had nothing to show for it. Utterly broken and seriously considering closing down the farm, picking up her certificates and coming back to look for a job, it seemed all over for Marian’s farming dreams.

During that painful period, an advertisement for IGNITE, an agribusiness programme designed purposely for young women in agriculture, caught the attention of Seth Ofori Twumasi. Sensing the potential of the event to help his wife, Seth went ahead to register his wife on to the program.

Marian’s experience at the IGNITE 2018 Conference provided the spark she needed to revive her dreams. It was at that event that she realised the potential of what she had. Listening to the stories of all the participants from various African countries and comparing what she hearing to her own story, Marian realised that she was on the right path. With her confidence revived, Marian went back, picked up pieces of what was left and put in 101% into the enterprise.

In time, her efforts were rewarded. Then came the recognition and the awards—in quick succession.

The most favourite of all the awards she has won so far is the Best Oil Palm Farmer for the Bibiani–Anhwiaso-Bekwai Municipality in 2019. Ask her why and she would confidently say, “Because I put in the work for that Award.” Hard work comes naturally to Marian Ofori Twumasi but, as it often happens, there are the critics.

She recalls a comment passed by an elderly farmer at the ceremony when her name was mentioned for the Award. According to the man, how was it possible for a young lady to own and cultivate such a large farm—casting doubts on the fairness of the award process. That unwarranted criticism would have demoralised a lesser character.

But not Marian Ofori Twumasi.

She confidently walked up the stage to collect her well-deserved Award. But she was not done. She then approached the man. With the demeanour of someone with something important to say, Marian took her time to educate the man about the new means of farming that did not require her to do all the weeding herself. She also took the opportunity to teach the man what agribusiness was all about. When she finished schooling the man, she calmly walked away—her job done satisfactorily.

That encounter with the gentleman at the grounds of the Awards ceremony also served another purpose.

“That incident provoked me to visit the Agricultural Extension Office at my Municipality. I wanted to find out what I had to do if I wanted to be the Overall Best Farmer for the Municipality. It was based on their advice that I expanded my business and ventured into other areas,” Marian explains.

She holds that Best Oil Palm Farmer Award closer to her heart than the 2nd Overall Best Farmer Award for the entire Municipal area she won the year after. As much as Marian treasures these Awards, she has her eyes set on bigger things.

Mrs. Ofori Twumasi’s wants to change some wrong notions about farming as a means of employment. To her, Ghanaians need to disabuse their minds of the perception that farming is an enterprise for only the poor, the unschooled, village folks and for those who have nothing else to do with their lives.

According to the aspiring agri-preneur, one of the reasons why farming is not widely regarded by many able-bodied Ghanaian youths can be traced to our schools. She reckons that making farming and weeding a punishment for recalcitrant students creates a poor impression about the business of farming. When these students graduate, they have no love for farming and would thus seek employment elsewhere.

Currently, Mariseth Farms boasts of 6 acres of cocoa at Asamankese in the Eastern Region; another 30 acres of cocoa at Sefwi Fawokabra and 300 acres of oil palm at Sefwi Nkronua, both in the Western North Region. Sefwi Nkronua also holds Mariseth Farm’s catfish aquaculture, honey production, snail and poultry businesses.

But Marian Ofori Twumasi is far from done. She is not resting on her oars. There is still more work to be done. She is yet to develop even 50% percent of the one thousand acres available at Sefwi Nkronua.

She has plans to set up the Mariseth Farms Village. This is to be an agri-preneurial enclave that would serve not only as the base of her farming operations but also to have facilities to train upcoming farmers. To achieve this, however, would require strategic partnerships. Mariseth Farms wants to get into processing of oil palm and also expand its catfish and snail businesses. These would demand some major investments. Mariseth Farms also needs to have access to ready market, a challenge plaguing many farmers in the country. Marian is however convinced that at the right time, the right investor and partner will come along.

She is more than determined to change the face of farming. She wants the youth of the continent to know that farming is a very viable path to the financial freedom many seek. The feedback she got recently from students of the Presbyterian University College in Koforidua, after an entrepreneurial dialogue held in the school, has further convinced her that she is on the right track.

Marian’s story has also become an inspiration to the people of Sefwi Nkronua, Sefwi Fawokabra and surrounding environs. Seeing a young University-educated lady in their midst, working and living with them, has convinced many that perhaps there is something valuable in their community. With her story, Marian is slowly sending the rural-urban migration in the opposite direction.

Marian Ofori Twumasi has her heart and eyes set on making a difference—and who can bet against her? From where she has come from to where she is now, it would take a brave soul to bet against this dynamic young lady reaching the heights she has set for herself. It would not be a surprise if, in the not-too-distant future, the name Marian Ofori Twumasi is added to the illustrious list of those gallant female winners of the Overall National Best Farmer. That would be her just reward for daring to move in the opposite direction.

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