Saturday, April 19, 2008

How the 2007 National Best Farmer rose to fame

Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi
March 27, 2008
THE reigning national best farmer, Alhaji Abdul-Salaam Akate, is someone who always seeks for fresh challenges in his chosen career.
The award, conferred on him in December, 2007, seems to have gingered him to enter into other bigger activities in his farming business.
Just three months after being crowned the best farmer, 54-year-old Ahaji Akate has taken a giant step to enter into serious mechanised farming to widen his production base.
He has ordered a combine harvester and more tractors from Europe to beef up the company’s stock to facilitate a major mechanised crop farming on a three-mile square land he has acquired at Amantin in the Brong Ahafo Region.
“I am not resting at all. This award (best farmer), which I received, has re-ignited my spirit and I am going to work even harder to improve agriculture in this country,” Alhaji Akate stated.
“I have encouraged my workers to see the award as theirs so that the company will grow from strength to strength,” he said.
When this reporter visited the main offices of the Akate Farms in Kumasi, Alhaji Akate, in the company of his wife, Mariam, a journalist by profession and now an administrator of the company, was busily putting heads together on the new initiatives of the company.
He recalled that momentous day, Friday, December 7, 2007, when he won the coveted award at Wa, and stressed that “when my name was mentioned, I became emotional, especially as everybody on the dias wanted to touch me”.
“It was a proud moment for me, as it happened in my home region before a huge assembly of dignitaries, including the Vice-President and some respected citizens of my region”, Alhaji Akate said.
Alhaji Akate hails from Bawiesibe in the Upper West Region.
His prize was a fully-furnished three-bedroom house to be constructed at a place of his choice. Alhaji Akate has decided that the building, to be financed by the Agricultural Development Bank, be put up in Kumasi for use by some of his workers.
The decision is borne by the fact that it was in Kumasi that it all started and it is also appropriate that the workers who have supported him in building the company enjoy the fruits.
Tracing the history behind his successful story as a farmer, Alhaji Akate said some people erronously thought that he received the prestigious prize on a silver platter.
“It is a long history of a terrible beginning, tough and hard,” he stressed.
Alhaji Akate, who lost his father when he was in primary two, had to abandon his education to join his aunt at Asante Bekwai. He could not continue schooling anywhere, neither could he learn any trade.
Between 1973 and 1974 he joined the then Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) as a labourer at Bekwai and was later transferred to Obuasi.
While with CMB, Alhaji Akate was doing some petty trading in cigarretes but later his employment with the CMB was cut short and he had to concentrate on his private business.
Eager to venture into other areas of business, Alhaji Akate said he bought the land where the main company yard is located in Kumasi, in 1981, at a cost of GH¢700 and started his poultry business with 1,500 layers, whilst continuing with his cigarrete business.
Today the poultry section of the farms has as many as 450,000 birds.
Despite his little knowledge in formal education, the fledgling poultry farmer kept records of his operations and later realised that he could take poultry farming as a full-time business.
“A brother of mine introduced me to the Social Security Bank, which advanced ¢1 million (now GH¢100) loan to me, and I paid off the loan in ten months after which the bank gave a further ¢2.5 million (GH¢250) and then ¢5.5 million (GH¢ 550),” he said.
According to him, even though he remained a committed customer, he had problems with his bankers and was later introduced to the Barclays Bank by a friend who had since 1988 given him all the neccesary assistance to progress.
Even though Barclays Bank is not into mainstream agriculture financing, Alhaji Akate says they have remained failthful partners in development which he thinks other banks should emulate.
The national best farmer said the selection of the award winners was very transparent and until the age of the first runner-up was mentioned, he did not know he was the winner. “When the members of the selection committee came to my office to interview me, they refused to take even water and this tells you the seriousness and openess which they attached to the job assigned them,” Aljaji Akate emphasised.
On what must be done to improve agriculture in the country, Alhaji Akate said even though the government was doing its best, there was still a problem with land acquisition.
He, therefore, suggested that the land bank issue that the government hinted some time past, must be pursued with all seriousness to enable farmers to acquire land at a reasonable cost.
Alhaji Akate was also concerned about the high lending rates and said that was preventing many farmers from accessing credit from the banks, and therefore, suggested that a special interest rate on agricultural borrowing must be introduced in the country.
Alhaji Akate further called on the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to take steps to support mechanised farming because it was only through it that people could take up agriculture as a business venture.
Notwithstanding his deficiency in formal education, the best farmer knows how important education is.
Alhaji Akate has taken keen interest in the education of his children. Currently, three of them are in universities in Malaysia and China, undertaking Information Technology, Business Administration and medicine. A fourth child is about to enter the university.
Mariam, his wife, known as Mary Dimbie in his days with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), also said she had never regretted abandoning his employment with the GBC in 1989 to support her husband in his business.

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