Dispatches from the Gold Coast: Food Initiatives

March 13, 2012 By Mark Green

One of the best parts of breakfast in African capitals is wide array of fruit and juices that are so easily available. This morning I had mango, pineapple and papaya.

Shortly afterwards, we headed to a Millennium Challenge Corporation-funded perishable goods storage facility aimed at helping Ghana better embrace export opportunities in the fruits and vegetable sectors. Chiles have already proven to be a successful export, and they hope to capitalize on that with other products now.

The facility itself isn’t fully online because of several legal formalities that will be completed in the next few months. For now, MCC funds are helping train officials and workers in this project, and they have been using adjoining facilities. Once open, the new facility will focus on exports and introduce high-tech practices.  Most of the exports will be for European markets, though some may head to the Middle East.

Part of the facility’s value is it will allow for temporary cold storage of products as they await final transportation. Right now, the goods stay in a refrigeration truck, which has to keep running on diesel fuel to keep the fruits from spoiling.

One minor criticism of the project is I didn’t like the way the facility was branded.  No one could ever know this project comes from the generosity of the American people. The money isn’t MCC’s, or the Ghana Development Authority’s, but that of hardworking taxpayers.  This is an argument I made over and over again about our development projects when I was ambassador to Tanzania under President Bush.

The recently-completed Millennium Challenge Compact between the U.S. and Ghana focused on agricultural development, which makes sense in a country dominated by agriculture . . . like most of Africa. Roughly 40% of that was for road upgrades and development in key rural areas that help get goods to market.

Ghana is eligible for a second compact, and one is under active development. The MCC board, which includes myself as one of its private sector members, would then have to approve the compact at one of our quarterly meetings. The next compact would probably be the largest second compact to date, and focus solely on the energy sector. In direct, physical terms, the compact will be for the transmission of energy. In larger terms, it will also reform and modernize the regulatory and management system for energy that would make the entire system more transparent and open for private sector (and overseas) investment/management.  In other words, institutional reform will be a greater focus of the second compact than the first.

In the agriculture sector, North Dakota and Pioneer Seed are major partners here in Ghana.  In fact, the ambassador’s office contains a mock license plate that reads “I LUV ND.” Technology, technical assistance, and hard equipment are coming from the American heartland to turn Ghana’s agriculture sector into its own heartland.  In particular, Ghana is buying lots of used John Deere tractors and equipment, as many new American-made tractors are apparently too large for current use in areas here.

I had a very informative briefing at the U.S. Embassy, focusing largely on the MCC and the Administration’s new Partnership for Growth initiative.  Many thanks to Deputy Chief of Mission Julie Furuta-Toy, USAID Mission Director Cheryl Anderson, President’s Malaria Initiative Country Director Lisa Kramer, and MCC country director Katerina Ntep who helped lead our discussion.

Many of these programs began under the Bush Administration, and it’s impressive that the current administration is carrying on these important initiatives.  It just goes to show that important causes like economic development and global health aren’t about party or pride of ownership.

A few other highlights:

  • Ghana is becoming a LMIC (lower middle income country) with its annual income per capita around $1,300.
  • There are a number of American companies here (Hess, Coca Cola and many others), and inquiries by U.S. businesses are increasing quickly.  Stability and democracy are huge selling points, as well as the gradual shift to more reliance on private enterprise.  Not so long ago, Ghana had one government employee for every one private sector employee.
  • The new Partnership for Growth initiative signed by the U.S. and Ghana will focus largely on the energy distribution sector, while other growth constraints identified include land tenure and access to credit.
  • Many businesses, NGOs, and even embassies are shifting to Ghana from other parts of West Africa because of stability and economic reforms.
  • We’re hopeful Ghana’s development of oil and gas resources won’t lead to the strife and conflict it has in so many parts of the continent because they achieved a free, fair, and stable democracy before they found oil.

Lastly, I spoke with one of the off-duty Marines at the embassy. These are great young men and women who don’t get the credit they deserve in protecting our embassies around the world.

More to come tomorrow as we head up-country to look at malaria projects.  It’s clear that while progress has been made in fighting malaria in Ghana, there is also a long way to go.  Some of it appears to be institutional capacity — getting rapid diagnostic tests out into the country so that the challenge can be better identified and the strategy better administered.