A fairly early start for our last day in Ghana. Where had the time gone? Today we were going to one of the Volta River Estates Ltd banana plantations which supplies Fairtrade bananas to Sainsbury in the U.K. 80- 90% of the Estates’ bananas are sold as Fairtrade. The plantation we visited is organic. Like all Fairtrade organisations a premium is also paid by the purchaser which then goes to the community. The workers here make a decision on how to spend it through an elected committee. So far they have built 2 schools, 2 ITC centres, an admin. block for a local hospital and subsidised pupils to attend a local secondary school. The company not only pays a good wage (about 12 cedis a day – roughly £2.50) but also pays any staff medical bills through health insurance. This is extended to dependants as well. The workers also get 21 days holiday a year and are allowed 5 days sick leave. the company also offers training courses in other money-making activities for their staff such as soap-making, batik etc. The men are not so interested in these skills so they are trained in carpentry, driving and electrical skills. As the working day is from 6.00 to 12.00, there is time available for other activities which will bring in an income.
This plantation is 240 hectares in area and we walked down into a small part of it. It was very hot and a myriad of dragonflies flitted along the dyke beside the path. The young banana plants come in from South Africa where they are specially bred. Being organic all weeding is done by machete and cover crops are grown to help store water and fix nitrogen. Irrigation is applied during the dry season. The bananas suffer from disease which turns the leaves yellow, so these are quickly removed. Also the leaves are sprayed with mineral oil so fungus cannot get into the leaf. Blue bags protect the fruit from grasshoppers, bats, snakes and spiders. They also help to maintain an even temperature. All the bananas are picked green and will ripen when they arrive in the U.K.. This explains the comparative poor taste of our bananas.
We went into the packing shed and watched the bananas arrive on great bunches pulled along an overhead gantry from the field by a man on a little engine. we all agreed we’d like that job! Then the bananas are taken off the central stem and are washed and sorted. Any slightly blemished go for local sale in the markets. The bananas are sprayed with a chlorine mixture to seal the ends of the bunches, otherwise they quickly rot. Hands are then either packaged in Sainsbury bags or are put loose into boxes. The bagged bananas are also packed into boxes and everything is then put into a cold store at 19C. We went inside and everyone then changed their minds and said that that was where they’d like to work! Finally after a few days the boxes are loaded into a container lorry. It takes 21 days for the bananas to reach the U.K..It was a fascinating visit and made us realise just how much work and care goes into a comparatively cheap product.
From there we headed back to the Afrikiko and a boat ride along the Volta to the foot of the dam. It only took about 45 minutes, but it was very pleasant . A cool breeze occasionally washed over the boat and, like most rivers, there always seemed to be something going on to look at.
Back at the hotel we got packing and then had lunch. Clearly we were rather early leaving so Nathan put in a few more quick visits on our way to Accra. We walked across the Volta Bridge which was recently rebuilt. Then we stopped at a shopping mall in Accra, equivalent to anything we have in the U.K. and every bit as ghastly. Normally wild horses on bended knees will not get me into such a place, but I dutifully went and hated it! Finally another craft market where the ‘artisans’ were as pushy as at the first one we visited. We might have bought something, but as we never got a moment’s peace to just stand and look at their wares, we didn’t. I wonder if they will ever realise that their persistence actually puts people off?!
We arrived at the airport in good time and said our farewells to Nathan, Linda and the redoubtable Dominic, who had just weaved us in and out of some appalling rush hour traffic. It was a very straightforward journey home an we were back at High Hedges some 12 hours after leaving Accra.
What a holiday! What experiences we had had! What wonderful people we had met! I would recommend a Traidcraft holiday to anyone who likes something a bit different. So, I dare say we’ll be pouring over the brochure in January and deciding where to go next. Still, we have India to look forward to in February, until then…………..