A surprisingly good sleep, a cold shower and a decent breakfast set us up for the day. The latter included a very good chocolate spread. Ironically, on a Fairtrade holiday the only coffee available was a tin of Nestle instant!
I don’t wish to keep on about toilets but I also manged to pull the toilet roll holder off the wall this morning……only t.he cistern to go really!
We set off for Serendipalm at about 9.00 and arrived 10 minutes later. Serendipalm is a wonderful factory that processes locally produced Palm oil some of which is used in Traidcraft soap and cleaning products. The oil palms are organically grown and are brought in from about 430 small farms in the region. The peak season is from February to May so November is a relatively slack time. The bunches of fruit are stored for 2-3 days to soften; after 4-5 days they start to go off. When the bunches are taken from storage they are cut up into smaller pieces by men with axes. Then women extract the fruit from the fibre by hand. In many factories this is done by hand, but Serendipalm wants to give employment to the community. The women sit in groups to chat as they work. Any bad fruit are removed along with the fibres. The women are paid piece rates of 0.091 cedis a kilo. As each woman averages 120 kilos a day she can expect to take home 10.62 cedis a day – about £2. In addition they get a free meal, their social security paid, free health care, maternity leave and sick pay. They start at 7.00 and finish at 2.00 p.m. But at busy times there are 3 shifts keeping the factory going 24 hours a day. The women were delightful and were very happy for us to photograph them and even try our hand at extracting the fruit. About 140 women work there.
Then we went out to a small Palm oil plantation and met a farmer. He was harvesting the bunches of fruit using a hooked knife on a long pole. The whole thing is called a ‘go to hell’. The bunches are very heavy and there is also the risk of snakes dropping out of the tree. The farmer spotted a green mamba in one tree, which we viewed with interest from a distance! They are very beautiful but deadly. Each Palm is most productive between its 7 th and 25 th year. After that they are usually dug up. He can harvest a bunch of fruit every 4 weeks from each tree. Fairtrade has meant a guaranteed market for his product plus some benefits in his local community.
We then went on to an experimental farm where they are trying to show farmers how the land can be productive over the seven years it takes for an oil palm to become commercially useful. Here they are growing bananas, aubergines, cocoa yams, chillies, maize and even keeping a flock of sheep. At present the farmer has little income over the 7 years.
Back in the town we visited a new library and computer room paid for by the Fairtrade premium. It was a lovely library apart from the lack of books. There are no books. The money didn’t stretch that far. They are hoping that a charity may donate some. There are five computers though, but no internet access. However it is a start, and while we are closing large numbers of libraries in the U.K. they are building them in Ghana. Now remind me, which country is meant to be developing?! The facility will be shared with the local primary and so we met the Head, a local pastor, and many of the 140 pupils all eager for a photo.
Then we went to see 4 houses built with the FT premium for nurses who work at the local clinic. Nurses tended not to stay as they had no house of their own. Now thanks to the FT premium they are staying.
Finally we visited a new wing on the maternity hospital again built by FT premium money. It was very smart with an outpatient clinic, counselling rooms, a labour room with 3 beds and a labour ward. There was also a lot of brand new maternity theatre equipment cluttering up the place. It was generously donated by a German charity who thought they did ceasarians here, but they don’t. There is no doctor! Perhaps they should have asked. In the ward was a new mother with her 1 hour old baby. We were told we were welcome to photograph her but it seemed a terrible intrusion.
Back at Serendipalm we had lunch in the workers’ canteen and very good it was too. Then we went around the plant to have the extracting process explained. The fruit is first steamed to soften it and then crushed to extract the liquid. The liquid is then put into large vats and heated to separate the oil from the water and sludge. The oil is symphonies off the top and stored in a massive tank until it is sent away to its various users. The sludge is sent to a tank and may then be heated again to get more oil out which is for local use. The liquid residue is sold to farmers for fertiliser. The fruit kernels are also sold on for further processing for oil. The whole operation is very labour intensive to ensure plenty of employment.
It was all very interesting, but we had had a good lunch and clearly some of us needed a post-prandial……so we started to get ready to leave. I suggested we walk back to the hotel, but as I said it thunder rolled ominously overhead and we dashed to the coach. The storm actually broke about 20 minutes later and the rain hammered down. It lasted about 30 minutes and water poured off the guttering and washed down the drive.
Once it was over we had our walk along the road and very pleasant it was. An early bed tonight as we have to be on the road by 7.00!