I just returned from visiting cocoa farms in Ghana with Kraft/Cadbury this morning.
We saw several farms, each at different stages of development along the sustainability path. We also stopped off at the British High Commission in Accra to meet a variety of people all working hard to help Ghana succeed.
It was a fascinating trip. I'm still marshalling my thoughts, podcasts and photos.
I met and spent time with farmers, co-op managers, NGOs, Kraft executives, and local and foreign government representatives. All in three days. I can't claim to know much about Ghana, but I did gain an impressive snapshot of how the sustainability agenda is taking hold in the country.
Some podcasts will be on ethicalcorp.com in the new few days. Then we'll publish a longer piece looking at the state of Cocoa supply in West Africa, or perhaps just in Ghana.
Overall I was very impressed by what I saw in Ghana. Despite visiting the end of a very vulnerable supply chain, the villages I saw appeared very positive about their future, and proud of the progress they have made in recent years.
Others I talked to, from politicians to NGOs, were also upbeat. Ghana is very aware, they said, of the dangers of the huge amounts of oil money that will soon pour into their treasury from Western oil firms, and what needs to be done to deal with that.
The press is among the most free in Africa, and the country has constant public debates about tackling corruption.
Ghana's people and government also understand the importance of their leading position in quality cocoa production, and seem determined to maintain their quality and stability advantage, with the odd inevitable mis-step along the way.
Cadbury (now Kraft) has taken what must be the most pro-active stance among large companies on cocoa sustainability, particularly with their support of Fair trade, which has a strong foothold in Ghana (the other certification systems appear largely absent so far. I'm sure they will correct me if I have got that wrong!).
Having seen what are probably among the most progressive cocoa farms/villages at end of the chain, some of which still lack electricity, I can only imagine what conditions on the farms and villages elsewhere in the country and in neighbouring Ivory Coast look like.
Ivory Coast in particular, and other countries around Ghana are a whole different story in terms of poverty and development, so I was told.
There are legitimate questions as to why it took large cocoa sourcing companies so long to understand where help was needed in cocoa farms and villages in West Africa. The ageing of farmers and their lack of modern equipment and knowledge, must have been obvious many years ago. And it does seem to have taken campaigns by NGOs and the likes of US politicians Harkin and Engel to kick-start action by most of the industry. (Although their laser-like focus on child labour alone may not be the most helpful use of resources given the complexity of the causes and solutions to the problem. More on that again soon on the blog)
Equally, however, it also seems clear that Cadbury, prior to the takeover by Kraft, has done more than any other large cocoa industry company over the years to help Ghana's cocoa farmers. It's also excellent news that Kraft is supporting Cadbury's thoughtful cocoa plan in the years to come.
Ghana is already looking, after a period of political and relative economic stability, like a successful model for other West African nations.
The oil money that is about to start flowing will be their biggest test to date.
If Ghana can absorb, save and use that money wisely, and invest in strengthening institutions, the oil money could help them more quickly along their journey to a middle income country in a volatile region.
It's a wonderful feeling to visit somewhere that seems just on the verge of sustainable success, with a little luck and some helpful nudges in the right direction. It will not be easy of course, but the opportunity is clearly there.
More thoughts later, when I publish the various podcasts I taped over the last few days.
Villagers in Mensahkrom, Ghana, just yesterday