Let us introduce to you: Michael Oppong Manu. As the Sourcing Manager at Safisana, he is responsible for monitoring the quantities and quality of the waste brought into the Safisana plant for recycling. In this role, he is the main contact person for Safisana’s suppliers, being the toilet operators in the community, the Market Queens from the local food markets, and increasingly large international and Ghanaian food processing industries like Promasidor, Olam, and Nestlé, who supply us with large quantities of industrial waste to be turned into renewable energy.
Michael Oppong Manu, born in the Ashanti region and now living in Accra, is one of the employees who has been working at Safisana since the very start of the company almost ten years ago. After pursuing his degree at Cape Coast University in Ghana and his first job at the NGO Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), he joined Safisana in 2014 as a research assistant. Throughout the years, he has developed himself both professionally and personally.
“When I joined Safisana in 2014, we did not even have a plant yet. We were doing the piloting at a very small-scale testing site in a neighbouring community to see if we could start our official first recycling plant in Ashaiman. We had to find out how to acquire raw materials, assess their quality, and figure out the best way to generate biogas out of waste. At that same time, we tried testing the efficacy of the compost we were trying to produce. It was a try-out period.”
Looking back, how did you develop personally and professionally?
“Well, it has been an enormous change! The difference between the plant then and now is huge. We figured a lot of things out along the way, over the years production processes have become more mechanized, more efficient, and professionalized. For myself, I have learned a lot throughout those years. I feel much more confident about myself than when I started this job. At that time, I needed to be guided. Now in my role as the sourcing manager, I can make decisions independently. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to do training courses and obtain official certificates. I followed an administration and management course at the GIMPA University in Ghana. I have also attended training about teamwork and organizational development that was organized by MDF between Ghana and the Netherlands. When I started, the Safisana model of converting waste into energy was a new thing to me, now I am the one who is educating the community about our model and the value of waste and recycling.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
“Well, I am religious, and I like church things. I like to help, advise, listen, and encourage people. I can actually connect my passion for religion with my job at Safisana. With the skills that I have and the kind of work that we do with Safisana, we are helping the community with improved health, and sanitation services, clean energy, and food security. And I believe in serving and helping others. I also believe that what we do with Safisana, is contributing to a greater good, which I find really important.”
What was your upbringing like and how did you become the person that you are today?
“Education was very important to my parents. They always told me that when I would study hard, I could become anything I wanted to be in the future. I come from a big family, we were ten in total, five boys and five girls. Both of my parents worked. My mom was a businesswoman, and my father was a purchasing clerk at COCOBOD, in the rural communities. COCOBOD is Ghana’s largest controller in the cocoa industry, they purchase, market, and export cocoa beans produced in Ghana. Unfortunately, my parents could not pursue a higher education themselves, but we were able to attend a junior school, senior high, and university. I always wanted to become a medical doctor when I was young. But as time went by, my ideas changed. I got my Bachelor's degree in Water and Sanitation at the University of Cape Coast which is an engineering course. I worked as a mathematics teacher at some schools for a while in Ghana and a few months in South Africa in 2013 but eventually, I found myself working in the water and sanitation area which in a way also is very much related to people’s health.’’
“The majority of all the food waste is still dumped in landfills where it produces a lot of methane and carbon emission”
Besides community waste, you also source more and more waste from large food processing industries, do you see an increase in interest in recycling?
“Definitely, we are gradually approaching more large food processing industries to work together, such as Promasidor, Nutrifoods, GB fruits, and Blue Skies. The majority of all the food waste is still dumped in landfills where it produces a lot of methane and carbon emission. We see a growing demand among these large food and beverage companies for waste recycling, as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and zero waste to landfill. Did you know that rotten or otherwise wasted food accounts for around 50% of all global food system emissions. Some of these industries are also interested in greening their business and reducing the carbon footprint of their operations even more by using biogas instead of fossil fuels and promoting the use of organic fertilizer to the farmers in their supply chain. That is when food production is becoming a circular system. Food waste is produced to grow food again.”
What challenges do you encounter in your work?
“Suppliers are becoming more and more aware of the fact that waste actually holds value. Once that value became known among the market queens, for instance, they wanted us to pay to collect the waste from them. But our model is not based on purchasing the waste, if we would do so, the Safisana model would not be economically viable. Safisana is not here to make money. We are here to make a social, economic, and environmental impact. It took us quite some time to explain to them that, in contrast with other waste collecting services, we offer this service for free and that in return they experience health benefits from a cleaner and safer working environment with less exposure to waste, fewer rodents, and risks of spreading communicable diseases. Another important thing we had to teach the community was that we are only interested in organic waste, and not in waste like rubber and plastic. This means that we needed to educate them on how to properly separate the waste.’’
Click here to watch Safisana's festive opening of the market.
Lastly, where do you see yourself in the future, do you have any dreams you are still aspiring?
“Over the past year, besides sourcing for our plant in Ashaiman, I have been also involved in the start-up of the new pilot plant in Kumasi, where we also collect waste from the market and the communities for composting. It is very exciting to be part of the expansion of Safisana and to build relationships with new suppliers. What types of waste are best to use, what types of waste are available in the community, and how much do you need to become an economically viable business? I would love for Safisana to grow more so that I can manage more plants at different locations within Ghana. I believe that the work for Safisana is very important, and it should be known throughout the whole of Ghana and the rest of the world. In terms of education, if I could get to the doctorate level, I would be very happy. So, these are dreams I am still chasing for the future.”