From Ghanaian cashew farmers to healthcare in Nigeria, initiative looks at strengthening entrepreneurial ties between Canada and Africa

A person holding cashews
A collaboration between a U of T Scarborough researcher and The BRIDGE will work to ensure that Ghanaian cashew farmers receive equitable wages for their valuable export (Shutterstock photo)
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Tina Adamopoulos

An early-stage collaboration between a U of T Scarborough researcher and The BRIDGE will work to ensure that Ghanaian cashew farmers receive equitable wages for their valuable export.

The partnership was initiated by Edwina Apaw, a UTSC staff member whose PhD research 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 disparities inflicted by multinational companies. About 2.5 million Africans are employed through 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,” says Apaw, a PhD candidate at the Henley Business School and manager in the Office of the Vice Principal Academic & Dean. 

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

In February 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. These companies spiked the price of raw cashew nuts in order to destroy local competition.

With 85 per cent of African cashews being exported for processing, multinational companies then dropped the price of cashews on the market, leaving farmers at a disadvantage.

“Because multinationals are buying cashews at such a minimal price, they are then able to sell it with a phenomenal profit,” Apaw says.

Edwina Apaw

Edwina Apaw's research highlights how Indigenous knowledge is used by African entrepreneurs in various industries, specifically in the Ashanti Region of Ghana (Photo by Ken Jones)

The World Bank has indicated that Africa loses about $200 million in revenue per year as a result. In 2018, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated a price disparity of about 250 per cent.

Last summer, Apaw teamed up with Dave Fenton, industry partnerships, innovation, and work-integrated learning lead in the 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 farmers receive fair wages for their exports.

“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 an 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 was discussed in the spirit of the Scarborough Charter, a concrete 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.”

An initiative bridging Canada and Africa is the African Impact Initiative. Founded by Efosa Obano and launched with the university’s fund-matching program, the True Blue Fund, its mission is to empower and invest in African youth driven to create sustainable, local solutions to challenges through community engagement, development and entrepreneurship.

The initiative started in Nigeria to fund a small healthcare 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 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.”