Professionalising the horticulture sector in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to improve the quality and safety of fruits and vegetables. That was the aim of HortiFresh West Africa, a programme supported by the Dutch government and guided by Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI) of Wageningen University & Research. Conclusion: where the sector in Ghana is clearly undergoing a transformation, development in Côte d'Ivoire is more a matter of a long haul.
The Dutch government has been supporting the horticulture sector in Ghana since 2012. In 2013, it launched the GhanaVeg programme, aimed at developing new ways of doing business, with a focus on high-end domestic and export markets. Some 30 sector projects were supported, with considerable success. At the same time, issues came to light that hinder further development of the sector. These range from food safety issues to limited access to finance to be able to invest. The HortiFresh programme followed up on these issues. The focus also broadened from vegetables only to fruit and vegetables. Besides fruit and vegetables in Ghana, the project also focused on the fruit sector in Côte d'Ivoire, particularly mango cultivation.
Sheila Assibey-Yeboah was responsible for the day-to-day execution of the programme in Ghana. According to her, a lot of energy was put into sector transformation: "The horticulture sector has always been very fragmented, which has been an obstacle to professionalisation and commercialisation. On top of this, there has been minimal support from the government. To increase the coherence, inclusion and visibility of the sector, we sat down with regional clusters of value chain actors for selected crops. Together, we identified the issues they were struggling with. We deliberately chose a bottom-up approach to give the groups themselves control. And they are really on the right track: there is a lot of commitment and besides that, thanks to a sequential addition, the Village Savings and Loan Association, farmers and other chain actors have better access to finance. There are now also several demonstration sites where farmers give peer-to-peer training in new growing techniques to improve the quality and safety of their products. The farmers and local stakeholders themselves have also organised cluster input fairs to maintain the relationships brokered with input supplied during implementation.
Public and private closer together
Progress has also been made on governance. For instance, several round tables have resulted in stakeholders forming strong bonds and working together on the task force on Food Safety. Another example is the Horticultural Development Authority (HDA), a public-private partnership and which is nearing establishment. "This will give the horticulture sector in Ghana a voice in all kinds of policy issues affecting the development of the sector", Assibey-Yeboah says. She emphasises that the dialogue with stakeholders has been hugely important in bringing the public and private sectors closer together.
Domestic market has become more important
She is pleased to note that the domestic market is becoming increasingly important for Ghana's horticulture: "Partly because of COVID-19, consumers in Ghana have become more aware of the importance of healthy eating. This has benefited the horticulture sector. What has also been good is that from HortiFresh we have had successful discussions and collaboration with high-end supermarkets including Shoprite, a South African supermarket chain with stores in Ghana. This has led to Ghanaian vegetables being plentiful on their shelves today, where previously vegetables were all imported. This has also triggered other supermarket chains to do the same: you can now buy Ghanaian vegetables in branches of Melcom, Koala and Max Mart as well."
Ivory Coast: seed planted
Irene Koomen, project leader from Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, also observes that Ghanaian horticulture has become much more visible. "My experience is that a short-term project is often not enough to bring about lasting change. In Ghana, we are fortunate to have been working there since 2012. In Côte d'Ivoire, we have certainly planted a seed, especially to encourage smaller mango growers to innovate, but it will take more time before we can reap the benefits of that."
Aid to trade: more understanding, no deals yet
Koomen is keen to see Ghanaian fruit and vegetable growers better find their way to the European market. "In this project, we explicitly included the aid to trade agenda of the Dutch government. The point is that European importers expect a continuous flow of produce of stable quality. To provide that desired quantity, quality and timeliness, investments in Ghanaian horticulture are needed. Four trade missions by the Netherlands Africa Business Council, while resulting in more mutual understanding, did not yet result in business deals."
Became more competitive
Still, Assibey-Yeboah is optimistic: "The horticulture sector in Ghana has become much more competitive and also much better organised. The HDA as the link between government and business really represents the sector. If you look at the high-end supply, its quality has already improved tremendously. There is plenty of investment in capacity development to further professionalise the sector. I am hopeful that a next trade mission will indeed lead to concrete deals. At the same time, there are many concerns about the enabling environment. The aftermath of COVID-19 and global economic challenges such as the war in Ukraine, ever-rising exchange rates and high energy costs are negatively affecting the horticulture sector. As a result, these are tough times for parties in the chain."
Lack of data
She also sees significant challenges ahead for the sector in her country. For instance, getting credible and consistent data is hard to come by: "Data on how big the area of mangoes or tomatoes in Ghana is not ready for use. Nor do we know how much imported produce finds its way to the informal market. The lack of data hinders further professionalisation. I do see gradual improvement, but things move slowly."
Yet pride prevails: "The horticulture in my country today is visible and has a voice at the policy table. We see a lot of innovation in emerging companies from young professionals. And companies also recognise the social importance of engaging more young women. Developments like these make me feel positive about the future of horticulture in Ghana."