MY JOURNEY TO GHANA
Following nineteen years of active service at sea, I left an amazing job onboard cruise ships at the end of 2017. I decided to move on to something new, stimulating and motivating by working on my own in order to contribute to the world in a positive way. When I made this change in my life, I had already visited 99 countries and all 7 seven continents. I was totally open, relaxed and at ease as to where this new exciting road might take me. I was looking forward to seeing which country would be the 100th visited on my list. Cyprus is my home base and even though I have been traveling to different destinations every couple of months for the last two years, I have not yet visited a new country.
Earlier this year I met Hendrik, fairafric’s founder and CEO, at his office in Munich and had participated in crowd funding a year earlier and volunteered to help in any way. Hendrik suggested that it would be awesome for me to get first-hand personal experience with the product, the country, and the people. What better way to experience another culture than by being there? The 100th country for me to visit was going to be Ghana!
In order to visit Ghana as a EU citizen, I needed a tourist visa and a yellow fever vaccination. Arriving at Ghana’s airport in Accra I felt peace and calmness: The airport is brand new, the hardware is modern yet simple, toilets and public areas are kept immaculately clean and neat, and there is no congestion and stress. Uplifting live music and singing at the arrival hall was welcoming for me. This festive atmosphere really impressed me with the country’s vibrant, friendly and lively tone. The first officials I met were the officers sitting behind their thermal cameras with their smiling faces, and friendlier and more welcoming people; wow, everyone seems to be happy in this country!
ON THE ROAD IN ACCRA
The best way to explore Ghana is by car and most visitors tend to hire one with a local driver. The hotel I stayed at was kind enough to provide a driver for me during my stay. Felix was patiently waiting for me at the airport for hours since our flight from Cairo got diverted following an upheaval in Sudan. Felix is a professional driver and also a German trained car mechanic with a genuine hospitality that comes effortlessly. He became my companion, buddy and guide for my 8-days stay. I soon realized that most Ghanaians speak English quite well. Once your ears get used to their Ghanaian English accent, communication becomes very easy.
Heavy traffic is common in Accra: Morning and evening rush hours can be hectic. There seems to be a lot of road work happening especially around the suburbs, building bridge motorways, and widening existing roads for more traffic lanes. However, it gets pretty quiet once you leave the city and you soon see African nature spread around you in all its grandness and beauty. A conspicuously uneven distribution of wealth is soon noticed: The massive mansions on the hill of the city are neighboring with shanty towns which are built with any available material and dirt roads. Uneven wealth and gender inequality are long standing pervasive issues even though Ghana is considered one of the strongest economies and the powerhouse of Western Africa. Women are much poorer than men and have fewer assets: They are subsequently easier to be unfairly exploited in the work and social area.
Food can be a challenge in Ghana. Restaurants, supermarkets or grocery stores are limited. Imported food items, mostly available at the malls, are pricey and the variety is not comparable to the Western world. I personally was buying fresh food every couple of days from the local farmers market and cooked my own meals at my accommodation.
The climate in Ghana is tropical with a dry season in winter and a rainy season in summer; I was there in April, which is one of the hottest months and temperatures reached a maximum of 33°C during the day and around 24°C during the night.
THE COCOA FARMS IN SUHUM
During my stay I spent time at the organic cocoa farms in Suhum and learned a great deal about this magical fruit; yes, it is a fruit and the cocoa beans actually taste very sweet!
The hot and humid climate along with the tropical monsoon period is perfect for growing cocoa trees. Ghana, being blessed with these ideal conditions for producing cocoa beans of excellent quality, is the second largest producer in the world with cocoa production accounting for 56% of the country’s GDP. At least 80% of the country’s cocoa exports are in raw form and this is where fairafric is coming into play to change the current system by producing end product chocolate from their crop and thereby increasing the value of the cocoa crop fivefold for the country and the farmers.
Here in Suhum I met Yayra Glover who is the founder of the farmers’ cooperative. Yayra has spent many years in Switzerland where he studied and worked and is now back assisting his country and especially the farmers with the assimilation of modern and efficient processes, training, education and facilitating and expanding business with fair trade companies like fairafric that pay bonusses for cocoa and wages and have a genuine interest in supporting the people of Ghana. Yayra has myriads of ideas, projects and investment plans like that which would help boost progress, expansion and modernization, all valid and ethical with potentially high returns on investment. Yayra is a catalyst in blending western business principles and having them materialize in an African country.
7 Questions about Marios’ Farm Visit:
- How did what you see compare to what you expected? Any surprises?
I came with no expectations so I had no surprises, but I really learned a lot and I was fascinated how the cocoa trees can thrive so fast and be so productive in terms of quality of fruit and volume and the co-dependency they have with other trees, providing shadow for them and a cool shade for ideal growth conditions.
- What are your biggest take-aways from the visit?
The massive potential that lies ahead in terms of growth for the country, people and product.
- What did you learn about organic farming?
Mostly about the challenges in relation to pollutants carried in water, rain and air and the ways they are dealing with those.
- Did you visit communities? What do you think they are lacking most today?
I think the biggest issue is that there are no jobs available and most people are on survival mode; the young people are so eager to learn and work, but the infrastructure and possibilities are not there.
- How did your picture of small-scale farming change during your trip?
It’s amazing how entire families are out in the bush and their whole world and living revolves around that. If there is a way to centralize manpower and product it will have better, more concentrated results.
- Can you share a short story about a personal encounter on the farm?
As I was walking on the farm, I saw a couple of massive snails and picked them up. I had never seen such humongous land snails before, but the guys were surprised and laughed and explained to me that that’s the Ghanaian snail, it’s normal and very tasty apparently; saving my appetite for my next visit.
- What was your favorite moment on the farm?
To taste the cocoa beans, they are so sweet and tasty, have a really amazing flavor.
IN THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Visiting the chocolate factory in Tema was a new experience for me and extremely interesting. Chocolate is a product that requires complex procedures, silos, large machinery, laboratories and strict quality control. I was welcomed by Mary, who is the Production Manager, and Henry, the Quality Assurance Manager: They showed me around, explaining every aspect of the processes and patiently responding a whole lot of the questions I had 😊. Although it seemed complicated at first, the process is actually easy to understand. During my cruise ship career health, safety and procedural audits were crucial. I was extremely satisfied and impressed to see a very organized, well-oiled machine in full swing. But beyond that, I met people that truly love, respect, enjoy and take pride in what they do.
7 Questions about Marios’ Factory Visit:
- What was your overall impression of the factory?
It was much bigger than I thought it would be, massive silos, roasters, grinders, etc. and many kilometers of pipes moving chocolate and beans around; it was impressive.
- What processes were you most interested in?
I always wanted to see how foreign objects are removed at the initial sifting and sorting of the beans and how these are loaded into the silos; I witnessed that and I was happy with what I saw.
- What did you learn about the challenges and opportunities of chocolate production in Ghana?
Opportunities are fathomless, challenges can be limited with funding, ethical government processes and forward-thinking modern management, all else needed is already there physically.
- What were your observations in terms of hygiene and safety standards?
All within acceptable standards, ISO and HACCP plans are in full swing.
- How did you experience the atmosphere in the factory and among the employees?
Ghanaians are innately happy, friendly, smiley people, same at the factory.
- Can you share a short story about a personal encounter in the factory?
We had a lot of laughs with the security guard at the gate that wanted to see our trunk and we were joking that we had hidden the chocolate too well for him to find.
- What was your favorite moment in the factory?
To enter the cool warehouse with mountains of chocolate boxes ready to be shipped worldwide.
IMPRESSIONS FROM TEMA
Tema is in close proximity to Accra and with its huge international harbor directly located in the free trade zone, the shipping of the chocolate to Europe is comparatively easy.
Tourism has started to grow in Ghana the last few years. Apart from the usual Europeans and Asians visiting regularly, there is a new wave of Americans on heritage tourism, mostly drawn back to the roots of their ancestors who arrived from Africa to the new world hundreds of years ago. The castles at Cape Coast are part of the history of the slave market: It is eye opening and emotional. It is hard to grasp that this has been happening not too long ago, that for two centuries Western European countries enslaved approximately 10 million Africans, who were transported to the new world in the transatlantic slave trade under the most atrocious and inhumane conditions. The people of Ghana consider freedom and justice to be their most precious national aspirations, also visible on their coat of arms.
Fairafric is a revolutionary idea and a game changer for Africa’s chocolate tradition. To produce the chocolate in the country of origin and export a high quality and finished product is ground-breaking and makes total sense. But above all, I like and embrace their plan because it is ethical and extremely considerate of the local people involved, a true contributor to the country’s economy and its well-being in so many ways.
Ghana has been voted as the friendliest country in Africa, the people are very welcoming, outgoing and extremely happy with a healthy appetite for knowledge, work and expansion. Numbers of countries, 1 or 100, signify new beginnings and to me, personally, Ghana is a new one indeed. It is new in the way that we should be looking forward to changing this world for the better: I am proud, thankful and grateful to be a part of this endeavor and extend a heartfelt invitation to potential investors to visit a safe, promising, fulfilling, beautiful and friendly country.”