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John Nene-Osom Azu

Independent consultant and farmer

Ghana

What most impressed the professional colleagues who nominated this role model?

John Azu is an agronomist, horticulturist and management consultant with 32 years of post-doctoral experience in a wide variety of agricultural promotion efforts.  He has served as a national consultant for the Ghana Export Promotion Council and was responsible for the rapid development of fresh horticultural produce in the early 90s, when he worked extensively with outgrower farmers and lead farmers.  Earlier in his career, he was a full-time farmer of fruits and vegetables for export and consultant while at the same time serving as a part-time lecturer, thesis advisor and field trial collaborator in the Crop Science Department of the University of Ghana, Legon for over 15 years.  

Later, he became the Technical Advisor and Agronomist for Amex International, tasked with implementing the Ghana USAID-funded Trade and Investment Reform Programs, where he served for 6 years working with participants of various fruit and vegetables value chains to improve their organizational capacities, production and quality of produce for export markets.  During this period, Dr. Azu produced over 50 technical reports in the field of agronomy, export production, post-harvest management and international marketing.   

What motivated you to pursue a career in agriculture?

  • My farming life started in 1964.  My father, in addition to being in fulltime employment, was a horticulture farmer.  Working with him, I learned how to prepare nurseries.  When my father diversified into poultry (layers and broilers), he made me the manager.  With this exposure, I saw farming as a business not just a way of life. 
  • During graduate studies in Guelph, Canada, I was inspired by the way of life and success of the Dutch immigrants in the tobacco production industry who proved that with hard work farming was profitable. This reinforced my desire to pursue a career in farming.
  • I have a passion for plant breeding and obtained a PhD in plant breeding from Guelph.  After my return to Ghana, I followed this passion to be a farmer by going into pineapple production. 

How can agricultural education institutions more effectively prepare African students for successful agribusiness careers? 

  • Introduce agriculture and technology at primary and secondary school.  Agriculture should be a skill that is learnt at a young age. 
  • School curriculum should be designed to solve problems facing rural agricultural communities.  It must balance theory and practice. 
  • Teaching entrepreneurship will trigger business success.  Universities need to treat agriculture as a valued area for investment by students enrolled in the agricultural colleges. 
  • Every agriculture university or college should have a farm for students to put into practice what they learn. 
  • Colleges and universities should have functional internship placement offices where students will get the opportunity to develop the enterprise connections and support systems.
  • Universities need to ensure that students do research to solve real farmers’ and industry problems not just to complete their degrees. 
  • Mix formal teaching with field practices. Students need practical skills to appreciate agriculture and the relationship between what they learn in class and what happens in the field. 
  • Ministry of Agriculture’s extension department should have an office at major universities, so that they can bring problems of farmers to the universities to find practical solutions for them. This link is currently lacking.
  • Agriculture and agri-business Internships and mentoring programs should be strengthened. 

Career highlights

  • Independent consultant and farmer. 
  • Specialist in Value Chain Analysis and Training. Clients include TechnoServe Ghana, CARE International Ghana and USAID-funded Private Public Partnership for Food Industry Development (PPFID).
  • Crops/Agronomy Technical Advisor, AMEX International.
  • Part-time Lecturer  at Crop Science Department of the University of Ghana.

Educational background

  • University:  
    • B.Sc. Honors (Agriculture), University of Ghana, Legon.
    • MSc (Agronomy).  University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
    • PhD (Crop Physiology) - University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.