Helping cashew farmers in Ghana: Entrepreneurship initiative to strengthen ties between Canada and Africa

Edwina Apaw, a U of T Scarborough staff member and PhD researcher at the University of Reading, is working with The BRIDGE innovation hub to help cashew farmers in Ghana draw more money from their exports (photo by Ken Jones)

An early-stage collaboration between The BRIDGE innovation hub at the University of Toronto Scarborough and a researcher and will work to ensure that Ghanaian cashew farmers receive equitable wages for their valuable export: cashews.

The partnership was initiated by Edwina Apaw, manager in U of T Scarborough's Office of the Vice Principal Academic & Dean whose PhD research at the University of Reading's Henley Business School highlights how Indigenous knowledge is utilized by African entrepreneurs in various industries, specifically in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.

While Africa is the world's largest producer of cashews - providing 54 per cent of the global supply - cashew farmers still live below the poverty line due to a lack of processing capacity and competition from multinational companies. About 2.5 million Africans are employed by the industry.

"When you consider the whole process of nurturing the cashew trees and all the money that the farmers put into it, it should be profitable for them. It's outrageous that it's not," Apaw says.

"We have multinational companies disrupting the value chain to take control of it."

Last summer, Apaw teamed up with Dave Fenton, industry partnerships, innovation, and work-integrated learning lead in U of T Scarborough's department of management, and Stephen Opoku-Anokye, a business intelligence architect based in the U.K., and cashew farmer himself, to redesign the cashew value chain in order to ensure cashew farmers receive fair value for their exports.

In 2017, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) reported that 11 out of 12 cashew processing plants had closed down as a result of stiff competition from multinational companies.

"Our strategy is simple: to give back the opportunity to the farmers to access the market themselves so that they can get proper profits for their products," Apaw says.

Apaw was one of several entrepreneurs, government officials and institutional leaders to engage in a recent online event that explored how to forge stronger economic relationships between Africa and Canada through entrepreneurship.

The role of higher education to foster entrepreneurship partnerships with Africa is captured by the spirit of the Scarborough Charter, a framework signed by more than 50 Canadian universities and colleges to promote Black inclusion and address anti-Black racism.

Professor Wisdom Tettey, U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, highlighted the duty of higher education institutions to sustain, grow and support global communities.

"For us in the higher-education sector, we need to be able to support the creation of the kinds of talent that reflect the diversity of our communities," Tettey said. "We need to ensure that we are building the assets that allow people to flourish in respect to where they come from."

Efosa Obano (photo by Ken Jones)

The African Impact Initiative is another example of how entrepreneurial bridges between Canada and Africa are being built. Founded by Efosa Obano and launched with the university's True Blue Fund matching program, the initiative's mission is to empower and invest in African youth who are driven to create sustainable, local solutions to challenges through community engagement, development and entrepreneurship. The initiative started in Nigeria to fund a small health-care project, and has since launched projects in Ghana and Kenya, earning global recognition by the United Nations last year.

Apaw notes that international projects not only provide faculty with research opportunities and students' experiential learning opportunities, but initiates valuable cultural exchanges. Much like her own research goals and The BRIDGE partnership, it also opens avenues to establish longstanding, honest and positive impacts in Africa through knowledge sharing.

"The knowledge that is contained in a university is extremely valuable to business and will allow farmers access to resources they otherwise couldn't afford," Apaw says.

"My goal as a Canadian and an African is to ensure real partnerships, where both sides can benefit."

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