Young and Old Cocoa Trees

I kept thinking, “I'm sure we'll all catch up on sleep next week.” Because on the World Cocoa Foundation Ghana Cocoa Tour, there's no lollygagging. Even on the last day, our roll call started at 7 a.m. sharp. 

Because some of the delegates had departed already, and folks with the Cocoa Board where driving their own cars, the group only needed one bus, our favorite Good Shepherd Methodist Church van, affectionately known as just the “Good Shepherd.” 

Today's itinerary called for a visit to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in New Tafo as well as the seedling garden along the way. This, indeed, was the home stretch for the delegates since we were – for the most part – all leaving this evening. 

The drive to New Tafo proved interesting because it involved driving up a series of hills, which gave us a wonderful view of the sprawling capital city of Accra . On the way to CRIG we made a short stop to plant some trees. 

There, Bill Guyton, along with several other members of the delegation, planted cocoa tree seedlings. The hybrid seedlings should mature within four years, at which point they begin producing fruit. In the past, cocoa trees would take seven years to bear fruit. 

From there, we traveled to Tetteh Quarshie's Cocoa Farm, the first commercial cocoa farm established in Ghana . According to most accounts, Tetteh Quarshie brought cocoa seeds from Fernando Po Island and set up the farm in Mampong-Akwapim in 1879. Although the farm was replanted in 1960, three of the original trees remain today, surrounded by white stones and signage. We're talking vintage trees here. 

From there we traveled to CRIG, disembarking from the bus and walking to the Institute's library. But first the delegates were served sandwiches and drinks, a late breakfast since the hotel wasn't able to serve us before 7 a.m. 

Upon satisfying that morning hunger, one of CRIG's managers provided the group with an overview of CRIG's mission and ongoing projects, which involved developing cocoa hybrids, pest control methods, affordable farming technology, improved fermentation techniques as well as new product development. 

For example, in addition to cocoa butter soap, researchers at CRIG have come out with cocoa brandy, cocoa gin, cocoa wine, cocoa vinegar, cocoa cream, etc. We didn't get a chance to sample the gin, brandy or wine, but the cocoa butter soaps and creams did have a great aroma. 

After brief outdoor presentations by several of the scientists displaying different types of cocoa pods, pests, pruning tools and fermentation techniques, the troupe traveled to CRIG's Club House for lunch. 
The building reminded me of an officer's club, complete with a bar and pool and open-air seating. There's even a golf course behind the club that's open to the public. The buffet featured a grand display of foods, everything from “red-red,” a popular Ghanaian dish made from cowpeas and red peppers and red palm oil to kebob appetizers. 

Given that some delegates had planes to catch, we bid our most friendly hosts adieu and climbed back on the bus. The trip back had many of us thinking home, which meant we had to figure out how to pack up our wares and get ready for departure. 

There were delegates leaving at various times, but a group of us had late night flights, which meant the 8 p.m. shuttle to the airport. Juan Fernando Valenzuela Arango, purchasing director for Compania Nacional de Chocolates S.A. , and I opted to do some last-minute shopping before our departure. 

In seeking out Tracey Duffey's advice, we also enlisted her negotiating skills to arrange a taxi. Trust me, Arango and I were duly impressed as she dismissed one cabbie and then argued down a second for a 40,000 cedi (Ghanaian currency) an hour rate for us. The rate of exchange hovers between 9,000 to 10,000 cedis to the dollar, so this truly was a bargain. 

The ride to the Wild Geeko proved longer because of traffic (what else is new in Ghana ?), but Arango and I made up the time while shopping. We were back by six and then spent the remaining hours sipping a few beers before our ride to the airport. 

I was trying to figure out how to check this great looking umbrella the Ghana Cocoa Board had given us when the British Airways ticket agent advised me to wrap it in plastic together with my suitcase. When I turned to where she pointed, sure enough, there was a fellow wrapping just about everything in what looked like Saran wrap. 

The five-dollar plastic wrapping job made my suitcase look like some kind of a cocoon with a weird metal antennae sticking out, but if it makes it get through customs, I'd be happy. 

Steve Genzoli from Ghiradelli and Susan D'Arcy from Mars were on the same flight as I was to London , although Susan hadn't taken the shuttle with us. She had some meetings to attend to and was going to meet us at the airport. Arango had decided to come with us, even though his Alitalia flight wasn't leaving until 11:30. 

Well, that's what he thought. Arango found out his flight was cancelled and wasn't able to make any other arrangements, which forced him to return to the hotel for the Alitalia flight next evening. The sad part was that his wife was waiting for him to go on their European vacation in Geneva that evening. That's travel these days. 

One last note, on my flight to London , I happened to sit next to a young Ghanaian who was headed back to Calgary . Having left Ghana when he was nine, Daniel Antwi had grown up in Canada and established a mill working business in Calgary . 

He was in Ghana to see if he could arrange work visas for craftsmen because labor was so scarce in Calgary (Seems the town is going through quite a boom thanks to oil.) Although he wasn't successful, Antwi indicated that he had made progress in his efforts to recruit Ghanaians to work for him in Canada . 

What was even more interesting for me was that his brother had a cocoa farm, one that Antwi was involved in helping his brother maintain. In addition, Antwi was in the process of purchasing a land site in Accra , one on which he planned to build a hotel. 

The two of us chatted for a long time, comparing notes about our experiences and about the future of the country. From my perspective, it rested with people like Antwi and those of us who went on the tour. In short, it rests with Ghanaians and others who feel deeply for the country and recognize it has the resources within to build a brighter future for all its citizens. A large part of that process involves cocoa, which encompasses child labor abuse monitoring, Farmer Field Schools, multinational investments, teacher training colleges, generators, ongoing cocoa research, infrastructure improvements, improved marketing programs, etc.. You get the picture. There's plenty of work to be done in continuing the progress already made. It may seem like an endless list, but in actuality, it's a very doable one. Why do I say that? Because I'm a witness to it. 

A Top 10 post script for delegates on the World Cocoa Foundation Ghana Tour 

10. Always pass when offered an opportunity to lift 140-lb. bags of cocoa beans. 

9. In playing the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) game on buses, always add 30 minutes to when you think the bus will actually get there. 

8. Whenever drivers suggest a “short cut” on country roads, recognize that the ride will evolve into a “Shaken not Stirred” tour that takes longer. 

7. In arranging a visit to the King of Ashanti, always consider adding a $500 cash gift to the customary case of schnapps, sack of rice and young goat offerings if you intend to hear pleasantries exchanged. 

6. When arranging pit stops during a bus tour, keep in mind that not all gas stations actually have washroom facilities. 

5. In trekking through cocoa farms, remember not to brush past a nest of red ants since these critters are not your friends. 

4. Upon approaching a traffic jam on two-lane highways in midsized cities, simply start beeping the horn and “go British,” driving on the left lane. 

3. When negotiating with Ghanaians, never reveal your offering price; simply halve theirs. 

2. Always flip the switch for the hot water heater several minutes before even contemplating a shower. 

1. Sweating is not an option, it's ongoing.