‘Passion, not profit, drives me’ -Woman exporter of the year
Mrs Juliana Opuni’s entry into the export business was not a pre-determined one; it was more of a knee-jerk reaction to the need to diversify from her existing business which was operating in a challenging environment.
But even when she decided to venture into the export of Asian vegetables to help meet that pressing challenge , the usual Ghanaian attitude of ‘women can’t do it’ haunted her from scratch.
She told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS in Accra that most people told her at the beginning that she would not be able to successfully run an export company simply because of her status as a woman.
“They were like ‘how can you a woman do this?’. It was discouraging but I didn’t give up,” Mrs Opuni, the founder and now Chief Executive Officer of Joekopan Enterprise said.
I rather pushed on and when I finally did my first shipment (of Asian vegetables) around 2001, I was very excited,” she reminisced amidst smiles.
That excitement, together with a passion to succeed, spurred Mrs Opuni, a trained midwife on to grow her export business from its maiden shipment of 50 boxes to its current state where she exports an average of 4,000 boxes of assorted Asian vegetables to the European market on a weekly basis.
The company repatriated over US$600,000 in export receipts back last year to help boost the foreign exchange levels of the country.
That feat subsequently won her the coveted Woman Exporter of the Year award at the 23rd National Awards for Export Achievement held on September 27.
Asian vegetables are a variety of green plants commonly eaten in the Asian region. Some of them include the long and round Marrow, curry leaves, chilli peppers, tinda, the green pawpaw among others.
Although the majority of these vegetables are widely grown in the country, they are primarily aimed at the export market, with minimal local consumption. This is because in Ghana, it is mainly consumed by vegetarians and expatriates from the Asian region.
The export of Asian vegetables, despite its stressful nature, is not as lucrative as many will think.
Returns on the shipments can be meagre, says Mrs Opuni, who said passion, rather than profit, kept her going.
“There isn’t much profit in it. You can do a whole shipment and get a very small amount, depending on the quantity,” she said.
“But the good thing is that I’m able to get in touch with many people – the farmers, agents and the workers – and through this, I’m able to help them in my own small way,” she explained.
The company employs about 40 people and has groups of farmers in the Volta and Central regions who supply the company with the vegetables.
In addition to this, Mrs Opuni said she also used the opportunity to spread the word of God, hoping many more people would accept the word and turn to the Lord for the betterment of themselves and society in general.
She added that she had a group of street children at Newtown, a suburb in Accra, with whom she usually shared the word of God on a weekly basis. She supports them in many other ways which encourages them to shun social vices and live worthy lives.
No business entity in Ghana survives without having to overcome challenges. Mrs Opuni’s Joekopan Enterprise is not an exception.
She told the paper that beyond the personal stress that came with the job, access to the vegetables and the right facilities to store them prior to export remained a challenge that the company continued to battle with.
“We also have challenges with transport. Because of the nature of the roads and where the farms are situated, we sometimes miss our flights and that affects business. When that happens, we are force to discard them because remember not many people in Ghana eat these vegetables when you can take them to the local market for sale,” she explained.
She was, however, optimistic things will normalise into the future for the company to be able to increase the quantity it exports.
Mrs Opuni believed her desire to export Asian vegetables would have amounted to nothing if the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) had not assisted her.
“GEPA is very helpful. Some of the staff there are sometimes even willing to follow us to the farms to see what we are doing and that is encouraging” she added.
She also mentioned the authority’s regular training for exporters as another initiative that had aided in the growth of export companies, including Joekopan Enterprise.
Mrs Opuni was particularly impressed that the authority, which was the non-traditional export (NTE) arm of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), had intensified efforts to get exporters the Global Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) certificate.
This is an international quality standard for agricultural, horticultural and aquaculture products.
Up-close and vision
Mrs Opuni’s vision for Joekopan is for it to explore new markets that her products can be exported to.
She is also working at establishing a processing plant that will add value to the vegetables before they are exported.
On a personal side, Joekopan’s CEO is the president of the Ghana Association of Vegetable Exporters (GAVEX), the umbrella body of vegetable exporters in the country. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of the GHACOE Women’s Ministry, an institution she headed for five years.
Mrs Opuni is a native of Ashanti-Akyem in the Ashanti Region and married to Dr Emmanuel Kingsley Opuni, the owner and CEO of Picador Agencies Ltd, a pest control and fumigation company.
By Maxwell Adombila Akalaare/Graphic Business/Ghana
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