Afua Nkulenu was born at Dzake-Peki, in the Volta Region to George Nkulenu, a blacksmith, and his wife Georgina, a potter and farmer. Sent by her grandmother to a Presbyterian primary school, she proceeded to a coeducational boarding school at Peki Blengo.
Poverty forced her to travel to Dzake weekly for food supplies which she cooked herself. She won a Cadbury Scholarship to Achimota School, travelling there on money provided by an aunt, and studied there from 1936 to 1941, and obtained the Cambridge School Certificate.
The first chairman to start a formal food processing business in the Gold Coast, she built up a business supplying marmalade and orange juice to Achimota School and the RWAFF (Royal West Africa Fronter Force).
Sponsored by Brirish Council to visit England from 1949 to 1951, she was the first African person to obtain a Cooking Diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London and to take the post-graduate Food Preservation Course at Long Ashton Research Station, Department of Horticulture, Bristol University.
Expanding her business after coming back home, she again visited England in 1956 to develop recipes for commercial canning. To face down prejudice against locally produced goods in Ghana, she founded the Federation of Ghana Industries now Association of Ghana Industries and helped organize the first Made-in-Ghana goods exhibition in 1958. It was this exhibition that gave Nkrumah the idea to construct the Trade Fair/site. She was elected the first President of the Federation- from 1959 to 1961. In 1964 she was appointed the first Ghanaian woman to be Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana.
In the mid-1960s she introduced colors into the tie and dye textile business. From the 1970s onwards she was involved at a national and international level in the economic empowerment of women. She was an adviser to the Council of Women and Development from 1976 to 1986, a member of Ghana's national Economic Advisory Committee from 1978 to 1979 and a member of the Council of State in the Third Republic of Ghana from 1979 to 1981.
A Resource Consultant to the first World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975, she promoted the need of credit to women. She was a founding member/chairman of the Board of Directors of Women World Banking International from 1979 to 1985
Esther was married to Mr. Stephen Ocloo and they have four children, Vincentia her daughter, and her three sons Vincent, Christian and Steven Junior.
Esther died in Accra, Ghana after she developed pneumonia in 2002. She received a state funeral in Accra, and was buried at her hometown, Peki Dzake.
Honored by Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana for meritorious Service to Church – 1982
Honored by all women association of Ghana (AWAG) for meritous service (1985)
Recognized and certified by the editorials board of Biographical publication, England, as one of the Foremost Women of the twentieth Century
As co-winner (with Olusengun Obasanjo) the first woman to win the African leadership prize for sustainable end of hunger by the hunger project, New York - 1990
Honored by International Federation of Business and Professional Women – 1991
National Arts and Culture Award (By Ghana National Commission On Culture 1992)
The first woman laureate of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize, Switzerland, 1993.
Hounded by Junior Achievement (Global leadership Award, 1995)
Honored by First Global Women Investment Exhibition by Ghana Association of Women entrepreneurs (GAWE)-July 1996
Honored by Peki Union for tremendous contribution and dedication to the welfare of her hometown Peki, Ghana
Honored by Women World Banking Ghana in May 1995
IT Honored by Women World Banking International in Beijing, September 1995. Hounered by Beijing Women of Rochester New York ASA as one of 100 Heroines for cause of women in the 20th century, October 1998
Ghana’s Millennium Excellence Awards for Women and Gender Balance Development- 1999