ADEISO TOWN, June 7, 2016 – For nearly eight years, farmers at the Gold Coast Fruits pineapple farm would plant row after row of pineapple plantlets across nearly 400 hectares of land, manually weed and fertilize them every three weeks, and wait.
When it came time to harvest the pineapples more than a year later, instead of the plump, juicy, sweet fruit they expected, the farmers found crops of diseased plants, pineapples with high water levels, low sugar content or high acidity, and fruit that was too small to sell. At most, the farm would lose 40% of its crop. `
“During the rainy season, if you lose just an inch of top soil, then you lose the majority of the nutrients,” said Richard Kudjonu, manager of fair trade education at the farm. “The pineapples would not be as heavy and the quality wouldn’t be as great in terms of taste and physical appearance. What you put in is what you get.”
That was before 2013, when farm manager Patrick Osei Serebour applied for a grant through the Skills Development Fund, supported in part by the World Bank’s Ghana Skills and Technology Development Project. With the 247,920 GHC (US$61,220) grant, Gold Coast Fruits was able to get expert advice from a consultant from Costa Rica, one of the main exporters of pineapples in the world.
“This project supports business owners by giving them the flexibility to use the grants in the areas they need it most,” said Peter Darvas, former project lead. “For some businesses, that means providing skills training for their workers, while for others it means knowledge exchanges. It all leads to a stronger, more skilled and competitive workforce.”
The consultant trained the farm workers on the agronomic systems used to produce a new MD2 pineapple variety, known for its cylindrical shape for easy packing on grocery store shelves, and long shelf life. They constructed drains to take water away from the pineapple beds, reducing the amount of stagnant water and subsequently, disease. Farmers received fertilization training, getting the right mix of nutrients to produce the best pineapples. And, they also learned why using a mechanical sprayer to fertilize and control weeds was better than the manual method.
“All along we were spreading diseases to the plants from our sleeves, then we would end up spending a lot of money to fix it,” said George Dzibolosu, manager of maintenance, weeding, chemical application and fertilizer application. “Now we know that by reducing the number of people who have to come in contact with the plants, we reduce the spread of disease.”
The changes resulted in the production of quality pineapples the company is now known for. Producing about 55 tonnes per hectare, 45 tonnes are exported to markets in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, making them the fourth largest pineapple exporter in Ghana.
“We may not be able to compete in volume, but the quality is always high,” said Serebour. “The quality has been very outstanding.”
The success of Gold Coast Fruits has also helped its employees and the nearby communities. Through fair trade pricing, farmers and workers receive fair wages for their products, as well as additional money to invest in social, environmental or economic development projects.
“The fair trade premium goes directly to workers in their separate accounts,” said Kudjonu, who notes that they choose which projects to spend the premium on as a group. “Fair trade impacts the families, the workers and the communities in which they live.” At least 60% of the workers live in the communities surrounding the farm.
Capacity training is one area that the workers where the workers have invested their premium, which allows them to explore other vocations when they are not working at the farm – paid for by the company.
“We don’t want our workers to solely rely on the income they make here, with pineapples,” Dzibolosu said. “We want them to learn a vocation of their choice. We want them to have different skills and make additional income.”
Workers have already taken courses in tie dye techniques, baking, hair dressing and driving. They have also invested in health education programs, paid education costs for all worker’s children who started senior secondary school, and nutrition, providing subsidized lunch for every worker.
Serebour said with the knowledge they’ve gained, they plan to increase their volume and become more competitive.
“We are hoping that this year, we will be able to push our exports to 50-55 tonnes,” he said. “We will not catch up immediately, but we will catch up gradually.”