In the agriculture sector, which investors consider particularly risky, women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) earn 25 percent less in sales and own 35 percent fewer assets than men-owned SMEs. Despite these challenges, Ghanaian entrepreneur Edith Wheatland was not deterred from starting her own poultry production company, Rockland Farms.
Since 2013, Ms. Wheatland catapulted Rockland Farms from a small startup with 8,000 layers to a competitive enterprise with over 60,000 layers and multiple revenue streams. In just the past two years, Ms. Wheatland doubled Rockland Farm’s profit margins and now employs 35 people and multiple women outgrowers, or contract farmers who ensure supply of specified quantities of eggs and also sales of affordable, quality feeds.
Given the support they need, women entrepreneurs like Ms. Wheatland play a significant role in contributing to economic development. The Feed the Future Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs Prize aims to do just that — award empowering women-owned businesses in Africa to expand. It also boosts job creation, economic growth, and gender equality. Investing in services to support the growth of women-owned businesses is essential to economic growth in any market.
Ms. Wheatland is one of the two Prize award winners, and she is looking forward to engaging in the business acceleration services. She shared her story with us.
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.