Outgrower produced pineapples ready for juicing
Pineapple crowns are replanted. After castration each plant will produce five or six viable suckers which are given to smallholders as initial seed
The factory farm will produce its first commercial pineapple crop in March 2011
A small sample of organic peppers from one outgrower being assessed for quality. It is vital that local farmers do not become over-dependent on a single cash crop.
In my first overseas job I had the agriculrture brief at the British High Commission in Lagos for four years. Being me, I threw myself into it and the enthusiasm has never left me. The passages in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo on African agriculture are among my most passionately felt writings.
I remain immersed in the policy questions of the impact of colonialism on land ownership patterns, and the destruction of African agriculture by first world agricultural protectionism and dumping. But there is still no work that makes me happier than practical involvement with African farming communities. My main work in Ghana is in the energy sector, but I have been helping on a voluntary basis with a number of agricultural projects. This one is led by my old friend Felix Semavor.
How do I help? Well, I help to access development funding – in this case, the US government is helping with a feeder road, and the Dutch and Danish governments have helped provide agro-processing equipment. I spent Monday morning working with outgrowers to finalise their business development plans for startup loan applications. I have been advising on meeting the requirements for fairtrade certification, right down to details like methods of latrine construction.
I have also been able to help a little in dealing with potential UK and European customers.
This particular project involves production of flash frozen coconut, pineapple and mango pieces and of juices – primarily mango and pineapple, but we are also looking at pineapple and papaya and other mixes.
The project is primarily aimed at the export market, and I believe will be very succesful. The factory will ultimately support some 10,000 outgrowers. Once an outgrower cooperative has a total of 100 hectares, the economics comfortably support a communal tractor and pickup.
All is not entirely straightforward. There has been a widespread failure of the mango crop this year. probably because of exceptionally heavy early rains during the flowering period. Growers are establishing large pineapple fields. These have to be sloped, as retained water can quickly lead to Phytophthora infestation – something we have largely eliminated. But the result is of course the danger of soil erosion in the rainy season. There is no sign of a real problem yet, but these are early days and we are looking at bunds and intercropping.
I have tried very hard to affect my country’s foreign policy, both from the inside and the outside of the political establishment, to improve respect for human rights. I have achieved a small amount and been personally hurt by the attempt. I will still keep trying. But nothing is better for the soul than working to help people in poverty improve their lives, and to produce crops from the earth. Voltaire was right. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
I do hope that you will buy and read The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, which I hope is a profound text on the condition of Africa disguised as a series of anecdotal romps. That was what I was trying to do, anyway.
Apart from which, I am moving house on Thursday and am somewhat strapped for cash. If you too are strapped for cash, there is an option to read it free on line. If you have already read it, buy a copy for someone else as a present. If you think its rubbish, buy a copy for someone you don’t like as a present!