by Josef Garvi
Recently, somebody asked me for advice on how to improve the productivity of run-down cocoa plantations on the Gold Coast. My contact displayed a lot of good intentions, laudable and politically correct in our times: fair trade, biological farming, enhanced agricultural output. His concern was how to make sustainable cultivation systems that would solve a global supply problem and benefit the Africans in the process. The group he represented was foreseeing a sharp rise in cocoa demand on the world markets in the coming years. Yet if production levels did not follow suit, this would set off a price hike, making chocolate delicacies less accessible to common people in the rich world. Whilst the systems for upscaling production were at hand, the main problem faced by this group was how to build the necessary motivation amongst the people in Ghana.
This motivational concern highlights a question that is so easily taken for granted: is such a business ultimately in the best interest of the Ghanaian people themselves? Or is it simply projecting the wishes of a «developed» world looking for the necessary input to sustain its high-consumption lifestyle?
Cocoa, like most widely exploited crops in sub-Saharan Africa, is not originally native. In the early 20th century, large cocoa plantations were set up on the Gold Coast by the British as a means to cash in on their colony, and an export crop it has remained ever since. As with most Third World exports, its price on world markets has been unstable, and its cultivation for a long time unprofitable. When Ghanaians grow such crops, be it biologically and under fairer trade agreements, they are subject to the whims of the world economy and forced to import that other, life-sustaining commodity: food, which price is volatile as well. They are not trading from a surplus, but using their best lands that could otherwise provide for the fundamental needs of their people. Thus they are ensuring that richer people throughout the world can buy a luxury at a decent price - not that their own children and brothers eat well.
Ever since the Portuguese fathomed the immensity of the riches of the Congo, and the Arabs set up their trading cities along Africa’s East coast, the outside world’s view of Africa can be summed up in a single, enthralling word: resources. Be it human beings, precious minerals or agricultural output, focus has been on what those outside can obtain from her.
Today, the world’s approach towards Africa may be less brutal, but the fact that a politer tone is being used has not erased its fundamental aim. It is still about what the world can obtain from the continent, not about what is best for the Africans themselves. In the eyes of the world, Africa’s primordial duty remains to supply the outside world with resources, instead of ensuring that her own children may enjoy the benefits of their birthright.
As Henning Melber put it: «The plundering continues».