In this week’s episode, we get to visit Ghana, a new country for us, and speak with Nii. We’re going to learn about the challenges of pork production in Ghana but also the unique opportunities and how he’s overcoming them within his system.
Casey: “Hello, Nii. How are you doing today?”
Nii: “Hello, I’m fine today. How is everything?”
C: “Good, good. Cold and winter-y.”
N: “Everybody’s getting on fine as well.”
C: “Good. Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your operation in Ghana?”
N: “Yeah. Me, I have a pig farm in Ghana. We have a 600-head pig farm started four years ago with about 25 to 27 head pigs; a couple of smaller ones. Initially, we started with a bit of unskilled labor, which we ended up with lots of problems. So later, we got some more skilled hands from the investee. And since then, we’ve been growing at 150 a year to 600 head at the moment, including sales of a few hundred over the years. So, we could have been a higher number.
“Currently, we have a sow, about 45 sows, and then about three boys. Now we are located in the, well, the fairly central part, the South central part of Ghana, in location called Gomorrah. We are less than two miles from the beach, so our nights are really cold. It makes a very good place for farming as well, because crops don’t do too well there, but livestock do okay.
“We started with indoor pigs. We thought we could be a bit more organic, move them outdoors, but at temperatures of 37 to 40, it was really challenging. So, we had to move them indoors to be able to control the temperature better, because it was affecting our production and the little animals and things like that, and, generally, the comfort of the animals. So, we decided to do that. We have very few pigs outdoors now depending on the breed basically, but most of them are indoors at the moment, which seemed to be to work well.
“We have a labor force of about three guys looking after these pigs. We don’t have too much mechanics in place, but our water is true a central preservation system. There are few pigs that we need to use buckets to fetch water for, but generally we have these things that we design ourselves. It is a first of this kind in the country. Nobody uses that. We also mix our own feed with local supplies apart from vitamins and pre-mixes that are imported. Everything is basically, it’s local, which helps us very much.
“That’s just a bit about the feeding. And then, in terms of sales, we rely on local sales. I will go into details later, but we allow local sales and local for tourists, but no exports or anything at the moment.”
C: “So, with your local sales, do you have local butcher shops, or do you have a large processing plant? How does it get sold, I guess?”
N: “Yeah, we have, we have the butcher room on the farm, which has a capacity of about one or two pigs every hour. It’s such a small one; just enough for ourselves, because we don’t do pigs from outside the farm. So, it’s just for individuals and people who probably are buying. Anything more than 10, we have to go to the main butcher, but anything less than that, we should be able to handle it on our farm.”
C: “And so, your staff takes care of the pigs, and they also butcher the pigs?”
N: “Yeah, they take care of the pigs, and they butcher the pigs. Anything less than 10, they would. If it’s more than that, we have to go to the butcher to do that. They are getting better at their job. Ha, ha. They started doing [00:05:00] maybe one pig every half an hour. They can now do that in 10, 15 minutes from kill to skin to slaughter, so it’s getting better.”
C: “Are you selling mostly fresh pork then? Are you curing any meats? The traditional meats?”
N: “At the moment we are doing fresh pork. We do, my brother has a cold store that we use. He comes for about a dozen pigs every few weeks for his cold store. So, we butcher a few pigs for him, as well. So that has really helped us over the years. We are trying to increase our stock, so that we can supply regularly to the butchers.”
C: “Well, that’s pretty cool. So, your brother buys the pork from you, and does that get sold to families then, or restaurants?”
N: “Yeah. Yeah. He sells to the general public. He buys from us and sells to the general public, which really helps us every month.”
C: “Yeah. So, how many kilometers area, I guess, are your consumers? Probably within very close, local?“
N: “The farm is located, as I said, in the South central of the country, the very South central of the country, and the market is usually in the capital. Yes. Apart from locals who come to buy now, and again, the market is usually in the capital, so we just have to transport it to his shop in the capital, which is about a one and a half hours drive from the farm on a very bad traffic day. [laughter]”
N: “Got to be careful with that. And it’s worked out fairly well for us over the years.”
C: “Now are you meeting demand, or is there more [00:07:00] demand for pork in your country?”
N: “I don’t think we can meet the demand. Recently, there’s been a price hike in, in maize, in soybean, and in rice bran. So, because of that, prices have gone up, and, if we bring our price down slightly, we will not be able to meet the demand. Just for last week, the first guy comes at the beginning of the week, “If you can reduce it to this much, we can take 200 pigs off your land.” And the second guy comes after four days, “If you can reduce it to this amount, we can take everything.”
“So that… the demand is there, but because of increasing in the imports, we just want to be a bit more… We just want to stick to our price, and we don’t want to go down too quickly, because it affects the other smaller farmers when you sell yours cheap, just because you have the bigger head. We’ve had meetings, and there’s the Great Accra or the National Pig Farmers Association. We realized that once the big producers — I know it’s only 600, but for Ghana it’s quite a big one — if you reduce your price too much, you affect the smaller producers because their production is more, it costs them more to produce their backyard pigs.”
C:“Now you mentioned a larger abattoir if you had to butcher more than 10 pigs. Is there any work being done in Ghana, so you have a centralized slaughter-house to grow that market at all and expand?”
N: “Yes, there, there is one private one and one national or one state public one; there’s one private and one public. They have a big capacity. They can take probably up to, probably about… [incomplete sentence] Ah, but they do other livestock as well. They do chickens…”
C: “Okay. So, it’s a multi-species thing?”
N: “Yes. Any number of pigs which that at the moment you present to them, they can take and deal with it. Yeah. We’ve sent at the maximum we’ve sent at a particular time has been about 50 and a hundred within a few hours. They have the big capacity to take on every. I say that, I want to dodge their charges, so we do the smaller ones on ourselves by ourselves so that we don’t get involved in paying too much a head.”
C: “So, you spoke of increased grain prices and soybean meal costs, which, I think the soybean meal cost and shortage is kinda ricocheting across the world. You said you source local ingredients. Is most of that grown in Ghana or are you importing that?
N: “Yeah, we are very lucky to have a good rice production in Ghana, across the country from North to South. So, we have rice bran, which is one of the main things that we use. [00:10:00] And then we have corn, which is also good right across the country from North to South, East to West. Every part, you can plant corn, for the corn to do very well. And then soybean was also started in the North of Ghana in the last, probably, the last 10 years by a lot of foreign companies who realized that they could do a lot of soybean in Ghana. So, we are getting our soybean from them. The prices at the moment, we are paying something like seven US, well, about eight, one-twenty-five. Yeah, maybe about $23 for 50 kilograms of soybean. Then we are paying something like 10, about 14, about $13 for 50 kilograms of maize.”
C: “Yeah, we’d love to have that price. [laughter] [00:11:00] Yeah, it’s at least double if not triple, depending on the markets. So, we see your challenges obviously with the feed cost. But what are some of the other challenges? Earlier we spoke on these massive swings in temperature. How does that really impact your production, and how are you guys working through that?”
N: “It’s the panting. You realize that they pant the whole day, like a dog racing in the park, but we’ve got pigs out really panting, which I thought is not good for pigs. And they do foam around the nostrils and they foam around they mouths, which is not really good for pig. But I think, before, the temperature is not really a problem in the country. We’ve been doing the large whites, mainly from Europe, for God knows, for almost 50, 60, 70 years in the country. So, the temperature it’s not really a problem, [00:12:00] as long as you can keep them under shades. It’s fine. They are okay with that. But it was just exposing them in the sun. That was the problem. Yeah.
“The main problem, number one, is the breed that we have. We purchased uh, primary stock from the investees. They import from Europe; they import the parent stock from Europe. And then we have to go for this parent stock, and we have to go for this first generation F1. We have to go for this first generation from the investees, and those are the ones we use to produce the table pigs. So, it’s like we are using the great-grandchildren of parent stock to… yeah, raising the great grandchildren of parent stock to actually produce commercial pigs.
“The growth is slow. It’s slightly [00:13:00] slow, but the fat is very less, because they are generations down the lines. And people also like less fat, so, it’s not too bad, but the growth is really, really slow. Um, we are talking about these pigs getting ready after eight, about eight months, instead of the average six months. You want them to get it by eight months; it takes about two months more. But they don’t eat as much as the first-generation ones, I must say, the original important ones, they don’t eat as much as they do, but the growth is really slow. So, at the moment, we are back-breeding trying to create our own parent stocks.
“We have some Durocs. We have some large blacks. We have some Worsteshire spots. We have the Hampshire. These are breeds that we selected [00:14:00] from various breeders. And then we even have a Tamworth. Like I said, we have about seven breeds. And what we are doing is to back-breed them to see if we can get something a bit more original, so that we can use that as our original stock.
“In other words, we have been trying breeding to get into something more original then to produce better pigs, basically. That’s what we are trying to do, because if we don’t do that, we have to import the parent stock from Europe and it’s not cheap.”
C: “Really interesting. The conversation you’re talking about is not having the same type of genetics that we have access to and the cost bringing them in. It’s very similar to the broiler operations in your country, as well as having that parent [00:15:00] stock and being able to bring in some good genetics and, yeah. So, my question for you, where do you see yourself in five years? Will you become that genetic supplier for your country?”
N: “I would think I’ll be doing both. I really love the…, because with the genetics, there is, we have, uh, we have somebody who is studying and going to help us in the next two years, we have two public school we are sponsoring. One that in veterinary school in Ghana and one in the veterinary school in Ukraine. We are trying to sponsor so that they can help us with the genetics. So that’s why they’re also very interested in, and they both worked on the farm before, before pursuing their veterinary courses in Ukraine and in Northern part of Ghana.
“So that’s is going to help us. But I still would like to be producing the table pigs for consumption. We have Iranian [00:16:00] pigs since I was probably about 10 years old. I’m 54 now. I decided to do, there’s been a break for a long time until four years ago, but I decided that we should do this again.
“So, I mean, we hope to have in five years’ time, probably be one of the biggest pig producers in the region. We’ll also diversify into producing the usual sausages, steaks, all the big products; that should be in within the next five years. So, there’s a good future for the industry.
“Yeah, so I’m sure it will be. I don’t think we’ll have any problems that we’ve not anticipated. Cause I think we’ve had our fair share of it in the last four years, and we know how to manage things now. Yeah.”
[sponsor break][00:17:00] We would like to take this break to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management, and Pig Progress. Without their support, this adventure would not be possible. So now back to our appisode.
C: “I am really inspired by this. Do you see food security and the economy and overall, I guess the GDP for Ghana improving in the next five to 10 years?”
N: “The GDP will probably go a bit higher because it’s been oil and gold production, mainly. Yeah, because of oil and gold production is going to be, it’s going to be up there for, much higher than most African countries, and people are going more into livestock production, but I don’t think we [00:18:00] can; I mean we are still importing more than we produce in terms of lifestyle to meat. We have cheap imports, so we shouldn’t really be doing that, that the inputs may seem expensive to us, but when I compare them internationally, I realized they are probably a bit cheaper than what people are paying, and we are selling probably a carcass weight, a kilo at the moment, is going for $2, 10 cents for a carcass weight, per kilo.”
C: “We’d love to have that too.”
N: “So, I know, because it’s selling for 18 cedis, and 18 cedis is equivalent to –actually, it’s $3 a kilo for the carcass weight because it’s six [00:19:00], at the moment.
C: “Now I see. So, what’s your limit to expand them with market prices like that? I know high input costs, but what’s the limiting you from expanding to be able to change that, where you’re producing most of your meat versus importing it?
N: “Exactly. The prices are so good, but I think the problem is the breed. You don’t want to be feeding them for a very long time. Yeah. You don’t feel that you want, you struggle with these slow growing ones. Although ,we have a small number of pigs that we actually breed, we raise slowly, like the Tamworth. There’s just about a couple of dozen. We’ve got people that like the quality of their meat. So, we do them slowly for specialized restaurants and things like that. They [00:20:00] bring in better money at the moment, but it’s just something really small, part of the big picture.
Yeah, which we want to produce, the idea is to produce cheap meat. And when I say cheap meat, I’m talking about $3, a kilo, at this moment. [laughter] I’m really serious. On Thursday, I was offered $3 a kilo live-weight, and I turned it down. [laughter] I’m serious. I’m telling you it costs me $3, 10 cents, for live-weight.”
C: “It sounds like I need to move to Africa and start raising pigs.”
N: “Honestly. These are this week’s numbers. These are not two weeks ago, these are current figures, so the industry has a [00:21:00] future, but, I don’t know, folks don’t know. That’s all. We don’t want them to know.”
C: “It has a future, but it’s not, as you said, easy, you’ve had to learn from your mistakes. You’re investing in labor and talent, which is important. And, obviously to me, it sounds like, you know, scaling up the National Swine Registry, understanding genetics there, maybe, you know, working together on that… seems like a national project that needs to be done.”
N: “We really need that. We do really need some good pigs for the investors. Because that is slowing everybody down, and it’s meaning you just spending too much, takes too long for these guys to get ready, to be ready for the market. So, you really need some good pigs, and we don’t even have a single breeding program. When I say breeding [00:22:00] program, we don’t have any; apart from South Africa, I think they have a breeding program there to produce parent stock. But, that is the only place. Egypt has, it’s mainly Muslim, so it’s not very popular in North Africa, because the North Africa is mainly Muslims. But the West, Southwest, Southeast, it’s all a large pork consumed place, even in Nigeria, which is such a big market for pork. They don’t have million; you’re talking about population about 200 million people, and they don’t even have a breeding program in Nigeria.”
C: “Let’s put that on the list of things we need to work on.”
N: “There are no breedings there; you can’t get livestock. They are all imported from Europe. You have to import them in cartons, and they are not cheap. So, these guy’s [00:23:00] bring in about 30, and then you, the farmer will have to go for the grandchildren of these ones and use them as your parent stock to produce your table pigs.
“And by that time the vigor in the genetic line, it’s really reduced that growth. Everything is just done because you are basically using grandchildren of parents stocks, and it’s really a problem. The feed, we can always lay out the stakes. The feed is not a problem. If you know where to look, right. I can literally just go on my phone if I’m in London and then buy feed across Ghana and it to be delivered to the farm.
“Maybe over 300 miles, 200 miles, a hundred miles. It’s not a problem. They will deliver it to the farm. It’s not a problem at all. And because you can just work on your phone, and they deliver everything just for the guys on the farm to, to mix everything and then give it to these guys. And yeah. [00:24:00] They’re quite good with what they’re doing at the moment.”
C: “Awesome. Before we go, I always give my guests an opportunity to turn the table and you could interview me, ask me any question you want – almost any question, I should say. So, do you have any questions?”
N: “Yeah, just out of interest, why you are interested in at the moment, if there’s any help that we can get, you can get both ways?”
C: “Yeah. I have a lot of projects going on and interest obviously. You know, from a swine perspective, I’m really focusing on lowering crude protein and diets and looking at nitrogen emissions. And that’s kinda my goal is to come up with a concept to effectively do that as a nutritionist in my lifetime yet. I have hopefully another 20, 30 years of my career.
“But the other thing I’ve been really working on, and I’m glad to connect with you, is because I’ve been thinking about creating a US-Ghana [00:25:00] coalition with my different connections and the students I’ve been working with to really see how we can bring expertise and connections and knowledge from the U.S. and work with people in Ghana to really help accelerate the livestock production; really help them but keep the governments out of it. So, I’m hoping to get that off the ground and, maybe not just Ghana, but like you said, Nigeria and other places. There’s really this need of knowledge and these students really wanting to do good and come back into their system and stuff. So, that’s what I’m wanting to work on in this next year of how I can form that and really bring this knowledge sharing and this opportunity to grow animal agriculture and food security in Africa.”
N: “Yeah. Yeah, that’s good to know. But did you have, I read a bit about the Sunswine. [00:26:00] I was going on over the Sunswine over the last couple of days. Yeah. Where are you at the moment in terms of your projects or your distribution or your…?”
C: “Yeah. So, The Sunswine Group is a little odd mix of… it’s a growing business, but I’m focusing a lot on coaching and mentoring, kind of my passion project with students and really working with them. Like I said earlier, I have a student that just started at the University of Arkansas that I was able to bring over from Ghana. So, he’s getting his PhD with Dr. Maxwell, my old professor, and doing very similar PhD work. So, he’s looking at lameness and cell longevity. I find it ironic a little bit.
“And so, I was really excited to get that done. The other initiatives I’ve been really working on are, at least in the US perspective, we really need a regional style research facility. I’m working with different producers and companies, and really trying to [00:27:00] accelerate some independent, commercially relevant research, at least for the sow perspective, and then, even wean to finish, and trying to help independent producers have, you know diversify their revenue stream, because market conditions aren’t that great here. A lot of independent producers are struggling, and so, if I can partner with some of them and diversify their revenue stream, I’m looking at that opportunity as well. Then, I’m also trying to start something up, too. I’m going to start a small producer group, a niche market producer group, hopefully here, help them with management, feed formulation, marketing and branding, and really help maybe support them a little bit more and give them the support they need as well.
“So that’s kinda the initiatives I’m working on. It’s a slow growth. I’m hoping to add to my team this year, because I found I can’t do it all [00:28:00] myself.” [laughter]
N: “Don’t count us out.”
C: “I’m not going to count you out. But, yeah. So, it’s that small producer groups global, that’s great. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been focusing on and it’s, I’m at a point in my career in life that it’s time to give back, but hopefully at the same time, I do have to make an income to support my family.”
N: “Exactly. That’s nice. I think that’s fair. In the meantime, we’ll have more information, whatever you want, any more information, but we’ll always send an email.”
C: “Yeah, definitely. We’re going to stay in touch. I really appreciate the interview and I’m really excited about the opportunities in Ghana pork production. You really inspired me. So, thank you.”
N: “Thank you very much for the time and everything as well.”
”We’d like [00:29:00] to thank our sponsors: The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management, and Pig Progress.”