Leading and Succeeding in Ghana’s Agribusiness Sector with Esther Asante
“I believe that the many problems that our Continent is facing must be solved by Africans”.
~ Esther Asante, Managing Director of Organic Trade & Investments
Esther Asante is the founder and Managing Director of Organic Trade and Investments (OTI), a Ghanaian agribusiness and e-commerce company focused on making raw and semi-finished products from Africa accessible to the rest of the world while improving the livelihood of local farmers and producers.
Since its establishment in 2017, OTI has built a value chain that works with over 12,000 farmers, 300 small-scale manufacturers, and producers around Africa and distributes goods to 42 countries with representatives in the US, the UK, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.
Esther’s entrepreneurial journey started in 2009 when she decided to chart her own course and venture into entrepreneurship, launching her first company Virtual Linguistic Solutions after working as a Relocation Manager for a multinational manufacturing company. In her 8th year as an entrepreneur building thriving businesses in the agriculture industry, we had this conversation with Esther to get the ins and outs of building and sustaining a business within Ghana’s agribusiness sector.
Who is Esther and how did she venture into tech entrepreneurship?
I was precocious and a very curious child who has always been thirsty to understand how things work and learn how to use them to solve problems. My dad always told me that ‘machines are built by Men for Men’ and that I could become anything that I wanted to be. I was lucky to be brought up in a family that allowed me to be myself.
About my journey into entrepreneurship, I believe everyone around me knew it was bound to happen at some point because of my tendency to always follow my own drive and passion for helping people to improve themselves. The tech space has always fascinated me and I see endless possibilities.
What problem is OTI solving in the agriculture sector?
The problems in Ghana’s agriculture sector are multi-faceted; limited access to capital, poor infrastructure, low mechanization, and limited access to markets. At OTI we focus on enabling farmers and other value chain players to get access to reliable markets and financing.
“55% of local farmers rely on middlemen for access to the market, while 39% of crops go to waste”.
~ Esther Asante, Managing Director of OTI
We provide comprehensive data and market accessibility. We facilitate business integration by building the capacity of our beneficiaries, providing a better work environment in order to increase profitability and build trust. Using tech solutions, we ensure easy access to reliable markets and finance to allow our farmers and producers to increase productivity and profits.
How do you spot great talent for your team?
At OTI, we do not go by the qualifications of a candidate but rather look out for the values they share with the company. Of course, we also follow a set of recruitment processes; and once we identify other requirements for the job, we make an offer and bring them onboard.
What are some tips you can share on maintaining momentum as a business in Ghana?
First and foremost, you have to set clear expectations and rules for your workers, business partners, and customers.
It’s also important, as a business operating in Ghana, to think without a box, anticipate market trends and find solutions to deal with potential market challenges. It is also very important to understand the cultural, political, and economic context in which you are operating.
At OTI, one important attribute that allows us to outperform our competitors is to practice coopetition.
If you were to do this all over again, what would you do differently?
I am a very spontaneous and authentic person and I believe that whatever decision I made was based on my understanding of the circumstances in which I found myself.
I think I would not have achieved all these without the experiences, mistakes, and risks I took because life is all about experiencing, trying over and over again, adopting new ways, and finding strategies to achieve your goals.
Failures are part of successes so I wouldn’t add or take anything from my journey.
What are some myths about leadership you think are important to kill?
That as a leader;
- You should know it all,
- You should endure and carry all the burdens instead of learning to trust and delegate
- You’re always in the spotlight because you are the head of the company
Also, the assumption that a leader does not break down and; nor make mistakes.
What excites you about the future of agribusiness and the role OTI will play in it?
The integration of modern technologies like blockchain and AI will bring a lot of transparency, increase access and drive rapid growth in the industry.
As one of the pioneers in the agri-tech industry, we are looking forward to scaling our ability to use technology to create more market and product access to farmers, consumers and others along the agriculture value chain while also changing the narrative around locally manufactured products.
In the celebration of women this month, who are some of the female industry legends you look up to in the ecosystem?
I have read about Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) whose story and career path inspire me as an African, a woman, and an entrepreneur. Sarah is known as the first female self-made millionaire in the United States. Out of ‘nothing’ she created and built a business empire in the beauty industry and managed to successfully turn her life and that of many African Americans around. This female entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist-led the way for other entrepreneurs. She was ahead of her time; she remains a pioneer, and her resilience propelled her to become the legend she is today.
Esther and her team at Organic Trade and Investments are participants of MEST’s inaugural cohort of the MEST Scale venture accelerator for Ghanaian SMEs. Learn more about Esther Asante and Organic Trade and Investments!