An Obruni in Ghana
Finn studies business administration at IUBH Dual Studies. For a project with the company where he works, GEPA The Fair Trade Company , he was able to travel to Ghana for three weeks. A first-hand report.
As part of my dual studies at IUBH in Düsseldorf, I work for GEPA The Fair Trade Company in Wuppertal. GEPA is Europe’s largest importer of fair trade food and handicraft products. The company has very close ties with their trading partners in Africa, Asia and South America. GEPA and IUBH made it possible for me to travel to Ghana for three weeks to work on a project. The trading partner, Serendipalm, supplies GEPA with certified fair trade and organic palm oil, which is then used for the production of fair trade biscuits and fair trade chocolate. My task was to take a closer look, on-site, at the processes involved in the production of palm oil and to assess how they could be optimised.
Off to adventurous Africa
After a six-hour flight from London, I arrived in Ghana’s capital Accra late in the evening.
It was a very short night because a Serendipalm employee, who lives in the capital, picked me up early in the morning. The company is located in the village of Asuom, which lies between Accra and Kumasi. From Accra it is about 150km to Serendipalm and my navigation app promised that we should reach our destination within two hours. No way! Even while we were still sitting in the city’s Monday morning traffic, it became obvious that the estimated time was anything but realistic. After almost 3 hours and about 100km the asphalted road suddenly stopped – as did all traffic rules as well. My driver only drove in serpentines to dodge the numerous potholes as best as possible. In addition to swaying back and forth, there was a lot of dust. On the one hand, this reduced visibility and on the other hand, despite closed windows, the dust penetrated through all the cracks into the interior of the vehicle. After four adventurous hours by car we finally arrived in Asuom – and were greeted by a torrential rainstorm. What a journey!
Asuom: A bustling village with warm and friendly locals
Compared to a village in Germany, Asuom is very large and much busier. There is a hospital, two hotels, a primary school, a secondary school and countless churches. Motorcycles or the tricycle taxis known from the Bollywood movies are used for transportation. You can hardly see any cars here. From the outside, the hotel in which I stayed made a very well-kept, almost luxurious impression. The room was big, but very sparsely furnished and there was no window. On the small tube-TV there was only one channel with kitschy Indian films and heavy accents.
While in Ghana I didn’t get a single chance to shower with warm water. In all the hotel rooms the hot water boilers were broken. It soon became apparent why it wasn’t worth repairing them: Beside me, there was only one other guest staying in the hotel.
According to Google Maps, the Serendipalm oil mill was about a 20-minute walk from the hotel. This time estimate also turned out to be unrealistic: On my way to work, I was greeted and approached by all kinds of people. The villagers were curious about what an “Obruni” – the name for a white man in the national language Twi – was doing in a Ghanaian village. They were incredibly warm, they offered me food that they sold on the street, or they invited me to their home. On the second day, I calculated time for these interactions into the time I needed to walk to work.
Palm oil from fair and sustainable sources
Our trade partner Serendipalm also gave me a warm welcome. The well-known American natural soap brand Dr. Bronner’s started the project in 2005 to ensure its own supply of palm oil from fair and sustainable sources. Small-scale farmers from the surrounding area who plant the oil palms in sustainable mixed cultivations with, for example, cocoa plants, supply the palm fruits. I had the opportunity to visit and interview a few farmers in the rainforest. Getting there was very difficult. First we drove by motorbike over bad roads to a small settlement where the farmers and their families live. From there we had to go in a small boat over a lake, which forms in the rainy season, and then beat our way through thickets for another kilometre. One of the farmers told us that his health had improved enormously through fair trade because he was taught how to work without pesticides.
Another farmer spoke positively about the Fair Trade Premium investments in projects that make everyday life easier for them. For example, the boat used to transport the fruit was financed by fair trade money. A drinking water well and public toilets were also built for the farmers and their families. For the production of palm oil, Serendipalm concentrates above all on using manual labour in order to offer the women from the village a decent and regular income with which they can feed their children and send them to school. The women also benefit from various social services and a free lunch.
Hospitality and culinary specialties
During my stay in Ghana I was also privileged to visit the city of Kumasi and live with a Ghanaian family. I shared a room with their son, who kindly offered me his bed. He slept on the floor. The family was keen to serve me as many Ghanaian culinary specialties as possible in a short period of time. It was delicious!
When I asked for the toilet in the evening and realized that there was only one outhouse in the yard, I wished I hadn’t eaten so much. But it was of no use. Death defying and armed with a flashlight and mosquito spray, I made my way into the dark.
The next day we took the Tro-Tro – an often overcrowded minibus that serves as public transportation in the city – to other family members who had heard of my visit and wanted to meet me. Of course, they were also busy cooking. I was allowed to make myself useful and help with the preparation of the traditional dish Fufu. The male children of the family traditionally do the crushing of the manioc and the yams.
A unique opportunity
I learned a lot about Ghanaian culture and lifestyle, in both rural and urban areas, made new friends and enjoyed Ghanaian hospitality. At Serendipalm I met a young and motivated management team and was amazed by the numerous social projects that run alongside the actual production of palm oil. The farmers’ awareness of organic farming and fair trade was particularly inspiring. I was able to carry out my project effectively and make a few suggestions regarding process optimisation.
I would like to thank IUBH Dual Studies Düsseldorf and GEPA, who made this trip possible for me, as well as Serendipalm and Dr. Bronner’s, who organized everything locally and gave me their time. To everyone I can only recommend that you take advantage of such unique opportunities during your studies at IUBH.