Back to Africa: Article by Andy McCormick, The Hershey Company's World Cocoa Foundation Board Member
Entry: Bill Guyton
We wanted to share a recent article written by Andy McCormick, The Hershey Company representative on the World Cocoa Foundation Board. Andy's background is very interesting, as he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana several years ago. I hope you enjoy reading the artcile as much as I did.
BACK TO AFRICA
A Peace Corps reunion Sunday News
Jan 10, 2010 00:08 EST
By ANDY McCORMICK, Special to the Sunday News Media Center
Adjei's farm stood at the end of a red dirt road, framed by mango trees. Beside a small, tin-roofed house, his elderly mother, wife and young daughter pounded cassava and plantain into a peanut-soup stew for dinner.
Adjei and I shook hands and greeted one other for the first time in 25 years.
"Akwaba," he said, using the Fante word for welcome.
It was great to see my friend John Kweku Adjei in such a peaceful setting. Like Ghana, Adjei has faced and overcome many obstacles over the past three decades.
I served in Ghana from 1982-84 in the Peace Corps where Adjei was my student at the St. Augustine's Secondary School along the Atlantic Coast in West Africa. I taught seventh-grade science, high-school English and coached the basketball team.
During my service, I wrote monthly articles for the Sunday News. From fetching water and firewood for daily living to attending funerals for chiefs or drinking palm wine in the forest with hunters, I tried to convey the big differences between life in Lancaster County and West Africa.
In the early 1980s, Ghana experienced its equivalent of our Great Depression. My school operated only half the time because of a lack of food. Electricity was irregular, gasoline scarce, medical clinics shuttered and the government threatened by coups. There were hungry children everywhere. Yet the Ghanaians, deeply optimistic and religious, were always gracious and warm, especially to an outsider, even during the worst times.
Back then, Adjei was living in a small student room with his brother, Mensah. The boys struggled to balance finding food and completing their studies.
When my second year of service ended, I was eager to get home. Beheld from an impoverished city in rural Africa, the United States was truly a blessed land. I knew how lucky I was to leave while Adjei and his family remained, struggling to make ends meet.
For the past quarter-century, Adjei and I have maintained a steady correspondence. No Internet here — simply letters on blue air-mail stationery arriving several times a year with updates about his life in Ghana, the growth of his five children and the family's need for shoes, clothes and farm tools.
So when a recent business trip for my employer, The Hershey Co., allowed me to visit Ghana again, I made arrangements to see Adjei and his family at the farm, his home for 20 years.
When we landed in November, the sweeping changes in Ghana were immediately apparent. The airport was modern and air-conditioned; a new Holiday Inn had just opened across the street.
Today, Ghana is on the move. Its economy is diversified and its democracy strengthened and stable. Aggressive vendors race between cars stalled in traffic jams, selling everything from coconut chips to mobile phones. International business investment is growing despite the global recession. Cell towers top the high hills; the Chinese are funding huge highway projects and oil companies have found major fields just off Ghana's coast.
One night, we ate dinner at a fancy sushi restaurant. It's a far cry from the past.
Adjei's fortunes have also taken a turn for the better.
While many educated Ghanaians move from rural areas to seek their fortunes in cities, Adjei wisely chose to become become a skilled rice farmer. He lives hand to mouth, but there is always enough to eat. He employs several hands to help with planting, weeding and harvesting his five acres.
Regular breezes and shade cool his land, but Adjei still wakes early to farm before the tropical sun becomes too intense. His hard work has made him healthy, lean and strong. With no car or bicycle, he and the family walk miles each day. He grows most of his food, including the potato-like cassava, plantains, mangoes, pine nuts and, a main cash crop, okra. A big tree produces prized breadfruit, similar to eggplant. From several ponds he raises tilapia (like catfish), a great source of protein.
His house is solid, well-screened against mosquitoes and the malaria they can carry. While he has no electricity, his children attend school in the village and enjoy computer games.
"God will provide," is a favorite Ghanaian saying.
Cocoa beans to chocolate bars
Ghana's cocoa-growing regions lie near Adjei's coastal home. The chocolate bars we eat start as "super-fruit" harvested from cocoa trees that grow close the equator around the world. Most of the world's supply comes from Ghana and other West African nations. Hershey does not own any cocoa farms, but buys from cocoa processing companies.
About 3 million small farmers grow cocoa, West Africa's major agricultural export and income source for about 20 million people. Unlike coffee beans, mostly grown on large plantations, cocoa is farmed in thousands of rural villages where land is controlled by local chiefs and village elders. Global chocolate consumption grows about 3 percent annually.
Because of cocoa's importance, the Ghana Cocoa Board, U.S. and European development agencies, and chocolate and processing industries are working together to raise the incomes of cocoa farmers through better planting, pruning and disease-control measures. In some cases, adoption of modern methods has helped farmers increase output 40 percent.
Over the past decade, Hershey has helped fund and support the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative to establish farmer- and family-support programs in West Africa. We also provide mosquito netting to fight malaria through Family Health International. During my trip, we visited villages, schools and met with government agencies to assess development programs and ways to improve them.
At cocoa-farming villages, we greeted chiefs and elders and sought permission to visit their land. As a small gift, we gave them Hershey Golden Almond Bars, a treat because the cocoa farmers rarely see the end-product of their labor. We were given fresh coconut juice to drink.
Village leaders told us their main priorities, often building schools nearby so children would not have to walk miles each way in the heat or rain.
Our trip leader, Patience Dapaah, made a special point of asking village women to give their views — typically, they don't speak in public. Much of the community work aims at educating children, making farm work safer and providing much-needed health care.
Shared, simple farming knowledge can have a real and immediate impact.
For example, a certain insect bores into cocoa trees, causing water to leak from the holes. Assuming afflicted trees will die, farmers usually cut them down. However, if the holes are simply patched and sealed, the insect dies and the tree survives. Because new cocoa trees take up to eight years to bear fruit, this solution can preserve not just trees, but a family's income.
We walked forest paths to cocoa farms where yellow cocoa pods were gathered in great heaps ready to be split open. Beans were pulled from the pulpy fruits and piled onto banana leaves to ferment for several days. They would then be carried to a common drying area and spread in the hot sun, regularly raked and shifted for consistency. At one station, we watched as a small taxi, wobbling under the weight of heavy bean sacks, carried a farmer's yearly crop to be weighed for payment. Current world cocoa prices are at historic highs; the farmers are in a good mood.
Eventually, beans will fill 125-pound burlap bags stamped "Ghana Cocoa" and be hauled by tractor-trailers from the forest to a huge warehouse near the Atlantic port. Bare-backed laborers, sweating in the heat, unload the haul, balancing the bags on their heads.
Carefully recording each transaction on paper, quality inspectors slice open sample beans checking for health, color and classifying them by size. Over the last 20 years, Ghana's focus on improving the quality and marketing of its cocoa has earned the country's product a premium status on the world market.
From the ports, beans are processed in nearby factories or shipped to the U.S., Europe or Asia, where they are roasted and made into a wide variety of chocolate products by companies such as Hershey.
A connected world
As Ghana moves forward in cocoa and other sectors, its people stand proud of their progress and the history they have overcome.
This was nowhere more evident than the coastal city of Elmina, where, for nearly 400 years, slave traders held West Africans in the equivalent of tropical concentration camps. We saw the dungeons and dank quarters where the slaves were chained for months in sweltering heat. The slave castles of Ghana were the last sight of Africa for millions, soon to be forced onto ships bound for the Americas or Europe. (President Obama, hugely popular in Ghana, visited the slave castle at Cape Coast in July.)
Today, the castles are a popular tourist destination and fine hotels and resorts line Ghana's coast. While many locals still fish with nets in traditional dug-out canoes, the area around the castles is becoming modern.
For Adjei and many Ghanaians, the last quarter-century has brought many positive changes. More people today see a brighter future for Ghana, although the challenges of low incomes and rural poverty remain complex.
The fact that most people in remote villages are raising large families on less than $400 a year is a reminder of how much most people take for granted.
At the same time, when a chief interrupts the conversation to talk on his mobile phone, you understand the possibilities presented by a connected world where ideas from anywhere can instantly reach villages once divided by deep rivers or bad roads.
One truism about Peace Corps service is that the people you meet, such as Adjei, end up giving back more to you than you could possibly give them.
I found that to be as true in 1984 as it is today.
Andy McCormick, a Lititz resident who attended Manheim Township schools, is vice president, public affairs, for Hershey Co.