The Ghanaian Woman Breaking Gender Barriers And Setting The Pace In The Poultry Industry

Ms. Edith Wheatland is changing the image of poultry production in Ghana. She is leading the trend by her youthful exuberance, innovations and value system. She is a role model to young women and Ghanaians in the diaspora. Edith is the CEO of Rockland Farms.

The desire of most young women would be to stay and work in America when given the opportunity but hers was different. After working there with the uncle for a while, she decided to return to Ghana and start her own poultry project, and to contribute to the economic development of her country.

It was not surprising that just after five years in the business, her efforts have been rewarded. She was the Second Runner-Up Livestock Production in the Ashanti region in this year’s National Farmers and Fishermen Award held in Tamale, Ghana.

She was also one of the two awardees for the Feed the Future Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs Prize – Sub Saharan Africa, that awards empowering women -owned businesses in Africa to expand.

Edith started with 8000 birds and currently has on her own nucleus farm 60,000 layers and an outgrower system that also provides 40,000 birds. Nucleus-outgrower farming systems are common in the crop subsector but not in the livestock.

She is one of the few people who has this arrangement in Ghana, by providing inputs, technical support and quarterly capacity building workshops as well as market for the outgrowers.

She has an input shop located in the community to support the farmers and a delivery van that transports her products from the field to the markets.

Ms. Wheatland is currently about to set up a 1000 bird per hour integrated poultry processing plant in Agona that will involve developing a whole new broiler farm covering 4 million birds with a feed demand of 50,000mt and working with over 100 outgrowers.

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Her targeted markets are some of the big Quick Service Restaurant brands in Ghana.
Edith is simple and down to earth but has a unique way of managing her affairs.

You always see her smartly dressed and either looks like a banker or a beauty model. In fact, she is sexing farming. You do not need to be in shattered clothes to be a farmer.

Edith does not rely on her knowledge alone, she engages experts to support her activities. She is also training and mentoring a number of young women, mostly graduates on her farm.

She shared her story with the USAID.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background?
I was born and raised in Ghana, the ninth of ten siblings. I attended Effiduase Secondary School and Kumasi Polytechnic (now Kumasi Technical University) where I earned my diploma in business studies. When I was 22 years old and a single mom, I left Ghana for green pastures in the United Kingdom. While I was there, I studied at Peterborough Regional College and earned certificates in bookkeeping and accounting. I lived there for for six and a half years and worked for Thomas Cook and then for the UK Transportation Office. From there I came to America to work with my uncle in New York. He owns an African Bakery where we baked African bread — the name of the farm, Rockland, comes from Rockland County in New York.
After working with my uncle, I decided to come back to Ghana and start my own business in an area where I would be able to create impact for my people. I decided to go into the poultry industry, and started with 8,000 layers. I started the business with my own savings in a rural area. I realized that the poultry industry is a big, competitive industry. It’s not easy for a woman to be in the industry, but I wanted to make a difference.
I’ve been able to establish this business. I’m able to employ 35 people including myself, and most of them have families. It’s not been easy, but I have my family and friends helping me out. I started at 8,000 and now I’m at 60,000 layers. With this program through the AWE prize, I think I’ll be able to help more people and grow the business as well.

What inspired you to start and lead this business?
Poultry is one of the sectors that can create jobs. It’s also a male dominated industry, and so I wanted to take that challenge and enter into the industry and see what impact women could also do, what impact I could make in the rural areas that I’m in. What motivates me is having impact on people’s lives — the jobs that are created, the people who are able to feed their families and improve their livelihoods.
Since I entered the industry back in 2013, I’ve been able to make a change in people’s lives. That alone makes me happy. But I want to carry on, I want to help more. For Rockland Farm alone, I have 35 staff including myself who are able to take care of their families, take care of their children, and send their children to school because of the employment I’ve been able to give them. That alone inspires me to want to expand the business, create more employment for people in rural areas. Because where I am, it’s not easy to get a job.

Can you tell us more about your customers and the impact you see on them?
We produce eggs to sell in Accra and urban areas. We sell to wholesalers, quick-service restaurants, and schools. We sell feed to small poultry farmers, mostly women. What we do with some of the women in the poultry industry is give them feed on credit. Rockland is not able to meet the demand for eggs, so what I normally do is agree with some of the women to use eggs as payment for the feed. This way I can support demand, and the others pay me back with money. In Ghana, it is very difficult for farmers to get finance because they don’t have good credit histories and would be unable to get a credit line. So I help the smallholder farmers, the women, get the feed and they pay back weekly or they give me eggs so I can met the demand that I have.

Can you speak a bit more about that in terms of the availability of local financing and those key constraints that you’re facing? What are the strategies you’ve used so far to overcome financing constraints?
Here, local financing is very limited. Especially being a woman, it’s not been easy to get finance because the stereotype is that the poultry industry is a male dominated industry. Financial institutions are thus skeptical about a woman poultry producer. It’s not easy getting financing as a woman poultry farmer in Ghana. They always want collateral, and women here don’t have that much collateral to secure loans. So it makes it difficult for you to get the financing to do your business here.
When I started Rockland Farms, I managed to convince my suppliers to provide feed on credit. With a good repayment track record, I have been able to expand my business. Without building that good credit history, I wouldn’t have gotten enough feed for my birds or for smallholder farmers I work with. Farmers also have problems selling their eggs and so I also aggregate them for the farmers — I take their eggs, and give them the guarantee that their money will come back soon. People in this area who produce eggs bring them to me because they know with me they will get their money back. So that’s how I’ve been able to overcome these challenges.

What do you see as the future of your business in five to ten years?
In next five to ten years, I will push Rockland to be a fully integrated farm that’s able to produce quality and cheap poultry to feed the urban population but also to create jobs and maintain an impact in my community, especially women. I want to see the percentage of women-owned poultry businesses increase significantly and will support women farmers who are aspiring to be large commercial farmers.

What are the two-three recommendations you have for other women-owned SME’s who want to operate and manage profitable businesses?
Not to give up. Women-owned small and medium enterprises must take risk and always think as an entrepreneur who wants to bring about transformation. They must set targets for their businesses and strive to achieve them. They also need to endeavor to create a conducive working environment for their staff; this has been my hallmark. Finally, women-owned SMEs need to prove themselves creditworthy. When they get credit, it is important to quickly pay it back — it is what I needed to do when I got feed credit. I used it prudently and that pushed Rockland Farms to where it is now.