Category: Nigeria and Ghana, 2013

Getting to the Root and Pineapples

August 29

Great breakfast with Kipharts, Olopades and Barbara Ghansah, who is in charge of operations for three West Africa countries, including Ghana, for Root Capital. Root was formed by Willy Foote, a young friend of the Kipharts, and has made $300 million in loans to people in Africa, South America, India and elsewhere. The loans are not micro loans, but are to sources who could not get a conventional loan and who produce a social good, whether through providing employment to people or otherwise. Much of Root’s work is in agriculture. Dick thinks Willy is fabulous, and talks about him all the time.

Barbara is a young, former banker, who clearly knows what she’s doing and is sensitive to the cultural issues that make doing business in countries challenging. She is definitely interested in/planning to go to Nigeria with Root, and is looking for the right connections. We were excited to tell her all about our experience, both in Ekiti, with the minister of agriculture, and at Idaban University, with the agriculture faculty members. Something good is going to come of this, though it may take a while. Very exciting meeting.

We drove to the pineapple farms that Dick and Joe own, with Joe and Daniel, and saw the fabulous development that’s been going on there.

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Joe is very proud of what has been accomplished and is focused on reaching break even, which he thinks will be accomplished next year. Daniel is far more aggressive and wants to expand more quickly than Joe, utilizing more of the 2,500 or so acres they have under contract. Dick is inclined to be aggressive, too, but places great stock in Joe’s opinions.

We met with a couple groups of workers in different areas of the pineapple farm, each meeting starting with a prayer.

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This was not a show for us. Joe is very religious and these prayers are done daily. The prayers are punctuated with “amens” and “hallelujahs”.

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Joe introduces all of us, and gives the workers pep talks, telling them that they don’t have to ask for wage increases, “the farm will tell them” when to increase wages, as it becomes successful. Dick tells Joe (out of the workers’ earshot) that he thinks they should give employees a bonus at Christmas, based on the number of months they’ve worked. Apparently, both “the farm” and Dick are able to make those economic decisions. We watch the workers who are joyous, singing as they work. Again, this is not for our benefit; it’s how they do it every day.

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We also drive to an area of the farm which has been planted with almost 100 acres of mangoes.

We go next to three villages to dedicate wells that have been donated in gratitude for the cooperation the chiefs have given Joe in the pineapple operation. There are short speeches (Joe has made it clear that we have very limited time), considerable greeting and hand shaking with chiefs, linguists and queen mothers, among others, and, finally, ribbon cutting to inaugurate the wells.

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Cute kids hang around the area of the ceremonies.

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Interestingly, the three villages seem to have their acts together to different degrees, from the first (least) to the third (most). Sola reported that the first chief tried to talk to him about moving to the U.S. Sola advised him to focus on improving things here in Ghana.

We drive to the school for the deaf, which we’ve had very moving visits to in the three prior years. Joe and, his wife, Ida, have been very active in the school, and the Kipharts have supported it financially. This time, school is not in session and we are stopping there only so that Dick and Susie can be interviewed for a video that’s being made to promote this and other schools that have school farms to teach kids agriculture.

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After the interviews, we drive to the comfortable Elmina Beach Resort, at which we’ve stayed three times before, check in and relax (blog) for an hour and a half before dinner. Conversation at dinner, which includes Joe and Daniel for most of it, centered on strategy for various meetings we are having tomorrow. Funmi had to leave for a phone call, the Kwartengs left and, after a while, the Kipharts, Sola and I were walking out of the restaurant when we ran into Funmi, who said we had to return to the table, because she needed a consultation. We spent forty minutes discussing a difficult personnel issue at the U of C, settled on an approach for Funmi and finally all left the restaurant–for real. This trip is great, even when we’re talking about matters completely unrelated to the trip, speaking of which, we also had a discussion of the merits of match.com (the consensus was very positive). (During dinner, Dick got an email from Willy Foote, who’d been in contact with Barbara, and expressed interest in our Nigeria experience.)

1 comment to Getting to the Root and Pineapples

  • Wendy

    Love the pictures. The farm pictures (especially with but also without the people) are breathtaking, but I’ll let you guess which of the pictures from this post I love the very best. Can’t imagine doing that relentless labor in the extreme or considerable heat while joyously singing and glorifying God! I, for one, hate going downstairs to do the laundry. Really amazing, inspiring stuff, Dadz. I’m gonna share this with my friend, Mary, who is herself really amazing and inspiring and who has invested her extraordinary gifts and passions in tangentially related stuff in the Congo, where her son is from.
    Way to do some serious good!

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