One of the drivers behind the success of Hortifresh and the preceding GhanaVeg programme is Sheila Assibey-Yeboah. As programme manager, she is responsible for the day-to-day operation of Hortifresh.
The HortiFresh programme in West Africa, led by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, aims to improve the commercial fruit and vegetable sector in Ghana and Ivory Coast by improving the availability and quality of fruits and vegetables in these countries.
An important factor to meet the national demand for fruits and vegetables in Ghana is an improved business climate. To establish lasting results, the programme works together with market parties on a 50-50 basis. Hortifresh builds upon GhanaVeg (2014-2017); this project focused on the high-end domestic and export markets of vegetables.
Value chain specialist
Assibey-Yeboah joined GhanaVeg in 2014 as deputy programme manager. She is a value chain specialist, with broad experience in management of development projects in Ghana. "I've worked for a wide range of organisations. But right from the start I enjoyed working with the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation staff. They also want to see you grow as a professional; you are not dictated to, but have a voice. I'm given opportunities, feel trusted. This keeps me going and motivates me to work hard to achieve the goals."
With her knowledge, contacts and drive, Assibey-Yeboah contributed to the successful establishment of a business platform for the GhanaVeg project. The platform is still active and important for the current Hortifresh programme and attracts many private parties. "Programmes generally organise stakeholder meetings before, during and after the project. We took a different approach and initiated regular informative meetings. Recently, for example we organised a mini exhibition of all the projects. Every quarter about 200 stakeholders meet up, even though they don't receive anything towards transport costs, etc., as is normal for platforms like these. But the meetings offer an opportunity to chit-chat, before and after. And this kind of informal contact is crucial for the necessary business development. It motivates the stakeholders to keep coming."
Another important factor for the strength of the current Hortifresh programme is that it has gained traction with policy makers. This is also partly due to Assibey-Yeboah. "In October 2015 the European Union closed its borders to Ghanaian vegetables for phytosanitary reasons. We led the coalition to remove Ghana from this list, for example by arranging training for producers and exporters to supply vegetables free from quarantine organisms. And we succeeded. It brought us respect in the circle of policymakers and created an enabling environment. We now have high-level consultations and can work more effectively towards our goals."
Learning to invest
Assibey-Yeboah recognises that the construction of 50-50 public-private financial contribution can be a hurdle for companies to become engaged in Hortifresh. "I've listened to our companies, heard their doubts, but I have to tell them this is how you build a resilient company. You have to learn to invest. To lower the hurdle, we introduced the option to make a partial cash investment, at least 20% of their share, the rest being in kind. The companies gradually accepted. What helps here is that they've seen the results. We dispense the money in tranches, so the companies have to pre-finance. They are hesitant to invest and hold on to their current status. But after six months, a year, they generally see they can manage. In this way the companies in Hortifresh also gain important investment experience."
Special fund for young entrepreneurs
Her personal drive and challenge for this year is to give small companies more support. "I've got a soft spot for small companies," she admits. "They often operate in a niche and need opportunities to grow as well. For these companies a contribution of 3,000 to 5,000 euros could serve as a tipping point, enabling them to buy equipment, for example. But although they are faithful members of the business platform, they do not qualify for the programme, they don't get a penny. We tend to work with investments of 50,000 euros, as we aim at big innovations. As a first step, we've now set up a special fund for young people, aged under 35, who often own these small company start-ups. This helps stimulate entrepreneurship."
Role of Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation
The Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation has a twofold role in the four-year Hortifresh programme (2018-2021). Firstly, as the overall co-ordinator, it aims to align the partners involved: in addition to Wageningen University & Research, this means SNV, Resilience B.V., Advance Consulting, and SENSE. Assibey-Yeboah: "They succeed in making the programme a brand in its own right, strengthening its position and effectiveness."
Secondly, it serves as a linking pin to other Wageningen University & Research experts, when specialist knowledge is needed. "We can contact a Wageningen greenhouse expert if necessary," says Assibey Yeboah as an example.
Hortifresh is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals 'Zero hunger' and 'Partnerships for sustainable development'.