Gems of the East: Cocoa Farms and Botanical Gardens


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Africa » Ghana » Eastern
March 1st 2010
Published: March 3rd 2010
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NOTE: Posted sans pictures because internet is too slow, sorry. -RR

One of my most favorite classes this semester is called Strategies of Development in Africa. Call me a nerd, but I think it's really cool to learn why and how a society functions (or doesn't). Especially when trying to understand how to address environmental concerns, like me. In this class, I am learning the different theories and history of development in different African nations, and so I was thinking in this frame of mind when our CSU group went to visit a cocoa farm and a botanical garden last Saturday (2/27/10). It was interesting to see tangible effects of colonialism in several instances, both at the Tettah-Quarshie's Cocoa Farm and later on at the Aburi Botanical Gardens.

We took an informal walking tour of Tettah Quarshie's original Cocoa Farm, (pronounced "teh-tah qwa-shee"). TQ is said to be the father of cocoa farming in Ghana, as he brought the crop here in the late 1800's.
Our guide explained that cocoa beans grow in these yellow pods, which grow off random nodules on the trees. When you crack the pods open, this white and slimy, alien-esque ooze of cocoa beans comes out. When you crack open the beans at this ripe stage, they're an odd shade of dark purple inside! I felt like Alice in Wonderland; everything was most "curious" and almost cartoonish. The yellow pod is SO bright, the white is SO white, both of which make the purple insides look that much more purple! For someone who likes chocolate so much, I'm sad to say I had no idea where it came from until now. After the pods are cracked open, the insides are placed on a plantain or banana leaf, and dried this way for three days. Next, they are transferred to a bamboo mat-type thing and dried for an additional seven days. We got to crack a bean open at this stage, and taste it. It was a very good, yet bitter, dark chocolate, taste. At this point, the beans are sold in bulk to the chocolate companies.

As I mentioned before, touring a cocoa farm in Ghana means a lot more when you understand some of the country's history and some of the implications of a cocoa farm here. For example, if you understand that colonists came to countries like Ghana and introduced cash crops like cocoa, you can understand current economic situations. You can begin to see why the current economic situations of developing nations, which seem to counter development, are occurring. Specifically, it all makes sense now, that when Africa's (bear with me on the generalizations here) subsistence farming was replaced with industrial agriculture by colonists, they became reliant upon imports. At the same time, many nations here became a source of cheap raw goods to export for markets in which developed countries already had an advantage. Witnessing the production of cocoa here in Ghana meant a lot to me, as I realized the cocoa beans before my eyes were an example of one of these raw goods that developing countries often produce for very cheap.

My class is giving me the insight to ask and answer questions that bring about ethical challenges, like "How much does Cadbury or Nestle (both foreign chocolate companies operating in Ghana) buy a sack of cocoa beans for, and how much do they sell their processed chocolates for?" and "Why did colonists use Africa as a machine to grow cash crops, thus boosting their economies, and then fail to establish any real industrial infrastructure here before leaving?" I can see that these are important things to think about when thinking about development, because they explain why things function here. But while it is apparent that the actions of previous colonists left countries like Ghana with no other way to integrate itself into the global economy than as a producer of cheap exports, I also understand the importance of asking "why haven't Ghanaian leaders been able to establish industry here in the 50 + years, of independence?" I'm sure many of you probably already know all this stuff, so these thoughts may seem naive or sophomoric, but I am finally learning about some real stuff here and it's exciting to witness what you read about in your textbooks. (Or since we don't have texts, rather, just "handouts"....a whole other story....it's exciting to witness what you read about in your, em, "handout.")

Next, we were supposed to go and see where the cocoa was being sold, ("cocoa market") but it was closed on Saturdays, so we went to the Aburi Botanical Gardens instead. Wow!! I found the grounds to be lush, green, ultra-maintained (by GH standards), and simply stunning. The drive up to the "car park" (we would say parking lot) was lined with enough enormous palm trees to give off an undeniably Southern California feel. The grassy fields were dotted with all sorts of mature trees and miniature bamboo groves. The roads were lined with Hibiscus bushes and loads of flowerbeds. Sometimes I'm not all for the whole "manicured" look, but I have to admit that the gardens' maintenance was crisp and refreshing. Overall, I was most impressed by the Silk Cotton trees, which, surprise, surprise, were planted by a colonial governor, in the 1920's. There's that colonialism in my face again. Either way, the mass of those trees was astounding, and it was fun to walk around the base of the tree, following the folds of the buttress.

After a quick little lunch at the restaurant there, we headed back down to Accra. Both of these places were definitely worth checking out, and I'm thankful I got to see them with the context of my studies in development. I always say that I am learning the "sustainable" part at Humboldt State and the "development" part here in Ghana!

Love You
Miss You

-RR

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