Iribov has had a production location in Ghana for a number of years. The location is used for the propagation of tissue culture. Most of the production will go back to the Netherlands for the customer network in Europe, but during the last three years the company explicitly also started to focus on the local market in West Africa. In addition to rapid propagation, one of the main reasons for using tissue culture is the production of disease-free and vigorous starting material and there is certainly a market for that. Kees Veldhuijzen, who has been entrusted to further develop the business there and is spending a large part of his time is Ghana, talks about the project.
“The way of working here is very different and you have to deal with a very different market mechanism. The soil in West Africa is fertile, there are very many and mainly small farmers, and they produce a lot of different crops. There is a lot of value creation, but little cash flow to invest in, among other things, good starting material. Moreover, farming is still done in the traditional way. The farmer arranges his own starting material and much of the production is intended for his family and the local market. Farmers must be convinced that there is an advantage in using high-quality planting material. If we succeed in creating this awareness, we can really make an impact."
To convince potential customers, to convince local small farmer of the obvious benefit of healthy plant material and to get a foothold in the market, is not easy. “We have chosen to enter into different collaboration projects. For example, we work together with an NGO that is committed to provide water and food; or we work with this government or that international institution that strives for achieving better agricultural practises. We can be of added value in such projects.”
A good example is a project with ginger. The German GIZ, a division of the German Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, ordered from Iribov 100,000 young ginger plants, propagated in tissue culture, for local farmers in the Kadjebi region. GIZ paid for the plants, Iribov took care of the production and delivery, and another Dutch company committed to healthy food production and fair sales guaranteed that the produced ginger will be bought.
Then there is the cashew project in collaboration with ComCashew. Just as with ginger, GIZ is also involved in financing, but here implementation was almost entirely entrusted to Iribov. The company produced and distributed cashew trees, provided training for farmers and organized them in a cooperative, so that also sales of the end product is organized properly.
A third example is a project still in preparation, wherein also the Dutch government will participate. In the project new seed material is being developed for Yam, a thing produced in a system very much akin to potato production in, for example, the Netherlands. Yam is also a root vegetable and one of the most important things on the menu of the West African population. The yield of this crop is under great pressure as a result of virus diseases, and healthy starting material can greatly improve the harvest for the farmers.
There are many ore projects; with pineapple, mango and passion fruit, with other root vegetables such as sweet potato and cassava; and also with crops for forestry such as teak and bamboo. "The point is that the importance of strong, virus-free starting material in the tropics is in many cases even more relevant than with us," Kees says. “In many crops, there are diseases that are maintained or even get worse in the current situation. We want to show that with good plant material these problems can be tackled. Of course, ultimately we hope that Ghanaian farmers themselves will be convinced of it's importance and will understand this investment at the start of the growing season makes sense.”
Finally, the question of 'why' is legitimate. Iribov knows all about breeding and propagation technique, with a focus mainly on propagation in floriculture. In Ghana produce mainly concerns tropical agricultural crops, and also the type of customers as well as the workings of the market require the company to walk new paths.
"It's a combination of things," Kees concludes. "One thing leads to the other. The building in Ghana was included in the acquisition of SBW back in 2011. As today, it was used to propagate plants, mainly for customers in Europe. This laboratory was set up in 2005 to propagate pineapple plants, in a project that was financially supported by the World Bank. This project was successful, but afterwards the company was sold. Now we are back where it started and the company is again used for research and propagation of tropical fruit and vegetable crops. We are setting up a commercial company here in Ghana, but we are pleased that we are also in a position to contribute to the development of local agriculture in West Africa."