By Dede Amanor-Wilks
Asare Odometa Plantations are run by Neneyo Mate-Kole, a trained accountant. But the skills that Mate-Kole brings to the field are far from two a penny. He is after all a former managing director of Benso Oil Plantation in the Western Region, a Unilever enterprise, and Asare Odometa Plantations is his retirement project.
The farm at Odometa belonged to his father, Samuel Asare Mate-Kole, one of the heirs of migrant Krobo farmers who during the cocoa revolution at the turn of the twentieth century bought land from Akwapim farmers. These enterprising Krobo farmers spontaneously planted cocoa and helped in spectacular fashion to turn Ghana into the world’s leading producer of cocoa within the space of 20 years.
The senior Mate-Kole was among farmers who diversified their crop as the cocoa frontier shifted to Asante and later to the virgin forests of the Western Region. A survey officer in the Cocoa Services Division of the colonial government who farmed cocoa in his spare time, upon his retirement Asare Sam Mate-Kole introduced oil palm and won prizes for grafting different citrus plants to produce new varieties. He also won the equivalent of today’s Farmers Day prize for producing a giant ginger crop.
Like father like son, and Neneyo Mate-Kole has transformed the farm into a shining example of the wonders that technology can perform, just as the switch to an innovative new crop, cocoa, transformed the country’s fortunes in days gone by.
Where the cocoa trees once flourished, there are now oil palm plantations, intercropped with food crops such as maize and plantain. Neneyo Mate-Kole also has a thriving piggery that supplies pork to a supermarket in Accra, and he has leased additional non-family land near Lake Volta, where he uses both sprinkler and tube irrigation to draw water for his latest enterprise, a pepper farm.
But it is the oil palm operations that currently hold the greatest lessons for the One District One Factory programme. In addition to some 10-12 hectares of family land under oil palm, Mate-Kole works with 98 outgrowers, each with farms of one to six hectares, providing a steady supply of palm fruits for factory production of palm oil.
Under a €168,000 German economic cooperation loan disbursed through Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau in 2014, Mate-Kole acquired machinery to mill the palm fruits harvested from the plantations and process them into palm oil. The factory will soon start producing a second by-product of the nutritious palm fruits, kernel oil.
Last year, Germany’s Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Friedrich Kitschelt, visited the farm to see how the funds had been spent. So impressed were the Germans with Mate-Kole’s performance and projections, that they offered a top-up grant to bring three kilometres of electricity wires from Asesewa, one of Ghana’s largest market centres, to the factory site, and construct 24 kilometres of farm tracks and a few culverts.
Neneyo Mate-Kole’s outstanding work has caught the attention of not just the Germans. Some district officials have approached him to discuss the government’s One District One Factory programme. But the outlines of the programme remain unclear. What will be the precise relationship between the state and the private sector in running these projects? How will the land be acquired, who will pay for equipment and maintain it, who will run the operations, and how will the profits be shared?
It seems unlikely that a one-size-fits-all approach will be found and this is the time to know whether Government has looked at different possible scenarios and sketched out plans appropriate to each situation.
Asare Odometa Plantations can probably not be replicated by many farmers in Ghana, given the capital-intensive and costly nature of the operations, including machinery to sterilise, strip, digest and press the fruits, and clarify the oil, along with tractors, pick-ups and trucks to prepare the land and transport the crop to the factory, not to mention the cost of electricity. But a determined and transparent partnership between the state and developmentally-minded private sector entrepreneurs could help create a new sustainable model of industrialisation for Ghana and Africa.
Dr. Dede Amanor-Wilks is ACET’s Director of Communications & External Relations and a specialist in economic development.