AfricaLive: Please tell readers a bit about the DNA of Precious Premium Salt and your motivation for starting the enterprise.
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: Precious Premium Salt was born out of an inspired idea I had concerning our salt deposits in Ghana. Salt mining is usually heavily downplayed because it is seen largely as a cheap edible commodity that is quite abundant. I took it upon myself to look more into it and figure out what else salt was useful for other than just adding to food. As I went further into research, I realised that salt was very much an unearthed sector when it came to industrial uses. I also found out that Ghana and Senegal have some of the largest salt deposits in the sub-region, yet the industry wasn’t being talked about much.
We, therefore, exist to explore the sector and see how we can use salt to improve our industrial fortunes. In the long term, we want to go into salt exploration, mining and leasing of salt mines as well. In the short and medium-term, we are into packaging and export of natural salt. We also have a vision of adding value to the salt and coming up with by-products that we can also sell. We must change the current narrative of Ghana only exporting goods in their raw state.
AfricaLive: How can Ghana become a salt-producing industrial hub within the next few years in your opinion?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: We must focus on mining extensively. We have some land tenure issues that stand in the way of our fortunes that we must sort out. For one, chiefs and traditional rulers are the custodians of most lands. We will not make much progress unless we have frequent discussions between the government, business people and traditional rulers. The other issue is scalability. Our mining is done by locals who can only mine a few bags a day. We must invest adequately in this sector so that we scale production. Scaling can only be done if there are solid relations between the public sector and private investors such as ourselves.
We must take advantage of our 500-kilometre sea boundary towards the gulf, which presents a huge mining opportunity that we must start making use of immediately. Until our country sees salt as a renewable resource, our industrial exploits will be limited. Traditionally, we have seen our waters as a means of travel, fishing and recreational attractions. We must look at our seawater as a renewable resource where salt can be harvested and used for our consumption.
There is a lack of understanding here, that salt is an industrial chemical that can be used as a preservative, agrochemical additive, and pharmaceutical ingredient. There is a phrase that I use, which says, “If salt has fourteen thousand uses, it has fourteen thousand markets”. All the markets can be open for Ghana and Africa if we get it right. West Africa is a vast market with Nigeria alone having a population of two hundred million. Ghana and Benin have populations of thirty and ten million respectively, not to mention the other countries in the region.
AfricaLive: As the co-founder of the Ghana Chamber of Salt Producers and Exporters what are doing to help streamline processes and improve visibility for small miners?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: As I indicated before, about 60 per cent of salt producers here are traditional miners whom we don’t have any data on in terms of production and numbers. What our chamber seeks to do is get accurate data on these private or small scale miners. We must get accurate bio-data, and if these miners don’t have registered businesses, we can get them registered. The danger of having individual miners who are untrained and unregulated is that they don’t even care to iodise the salt properly. Our chamber, therefore, wants to sensitise them and regulate them, so that we can have things done properly as we seek to improve the industry. Ghana, unfortunately, imports a lot of salt. We need to have bodies like the Ghana Standard Authority and the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority ensure that the right standards are met before the salt comes to our shores.
AfricaLive: You work with a lot of small miners; do you regulate the quality of the salt and have certain criteria before packing?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: In the supply chain, I play the position of an exporter. I have to do all I can to ensure the salt I get is of top quality before sending it to another country for consumption. We collect samples of what we receive from miners and then send them to the Ghana Standard Authority. Our approach is more educative than commandeering when it comes to dealing with small miners. It is better to make them understand why quality is so important than to give blanket harsh restrictions. We would gladly partner with anyone who seeks to help these small miners improve their quality.
AfricaLive: The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be going ahead in early 2021, hopefully acting as a catalyst for driving Intra-African trade. What are your ambitions, both in the short term and long term, when it comes to trading internationally?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: The agreement will boost our international agenda. We see Nigeria as a major market that’s only forty-five minutes away by air, and eight hours by road. There is a need for us to work with countries outside our region as well. Egypt, for example, is very advanced when it comes to processes that improve salt quality. Ghana and many other countries depend on the solar evaporation system for production; while other countries with more sophisticated technologies are producing more. New technologies will enable us to scale up from seasonal output to a full twelve-month cycle of production.
AfricaLive: How are you looking to incorporate new technologies and innovations into your process, and what will it take to get that done?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: Employing the best technologies can be quite costly, and our local banks can’t finance such large scale endeavours. There is light at the end of the tunnel though with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement, because African businesses will have access to institutions like the Exim Bank and the Africa Development Bank. We can now approach such organisations to help fund large projects like the one we have in mind.
Companies that have developed advanced technologies when it comes to salt mining can also partner with institutions like us to scale up production. Synergies with advanced companies can help us gain from new salt uses like; water treatment, cleaning gas pipelines and as a building agent in infrastructure construction. Our government has a role to play in pushing small and medium enterprises towards success. Tax rebates and utility bill reform can help companies like ours scale up very quickly. Working with high-skilled foreign companies can also help a great deal in our process.
AfricaLive: Speaking of international companies and investors, how can the right balance be achieved when it comes to helping out indigenous enterprises while also catering to international players?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: Ghana has done well at opening up the country for international players. The best way to achieve balance is through long term partnerships. The Ghana Investment and Promotion Centre headed by Yofi Grant is doing a good job at opening the door for investors, while also encouraging partnerships with local players. Our government’s focus on a beyond aid agenda can only work if we find great ways to partner with good international players.
AfricaLive: What would you say is the future of salt mining in Ghana?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: Ghana has an opportunity to leapfrog major salt producers. We have vast salt deposits that can be exploited and an opportunity to add value for export. The promise of a borderless trade structure in Africa through the AfCFTA agreement will help open up markets and increase production.
AfricaLive: What is your company’s outlook for the next decade, and what would be your message of confidence to investors?
Kwame Agyei Apeaning Jnr: We envisage a company that has matured in its research and capacity. We also want to have added value with new product lines that are good enough for the international market. Becoming bigger and better will provide opportunities for partnership with international players and investors.