Ghana firms began exporting by air the Smooth Cayenne (SC) variety of fresh pineapple to Europe in the mid-1980s, relying on smallholders who contributed about 50 percent of export volumes.
Like many other industries in West Africa, Ghana’s pineapple industry hoped to gain a footing in international markets. Its exports increased significantly from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, where it reached its peak at more than US $30 million, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Since then, however, there have been struggles. The fresh pineapple export industry had declined considerably, with the number of exporters in 2004 dropping from 50 to 14. The UN reports that this has been primarily due to a shift in market demand to the MD-2 variety of pineapple produced primarily in Costa Rica by Del Monte.
14 years later, the country is showing signs of resurgence, along with a continued commitment to its workers.
Produce Business UK sat down with Theresa Poku and Patrick Safo, MD, co-owners of Ohu Farms, one of the exhibitors at the upcoming Amsterdam Produce Summit (12-14 November), to understand how a Ghanaian farm is working with the international market to export its pineapples crop.
Could you start by giving us some basic information about the Ohu Farms?
The inception of the farm started in 2014, with the initial planting in 2015. We currently employ four full-time staff, with up to 14 additional staff who help with demands on the farm. We supply the local market: HPW Fresh & Dry Ltd., Blue Skies Ltd., Chartered Impex Ltd.
How did the company come about? What were some of the founding philosophies?
Ohu Farms started as an endeavour between both co-owners as a farm that provides an exotic fruit for the local and foreign population. We also thought of the local community and the livelihood it will provide for them. Now, we have women in the community who work for the farm and are able to help their families. The farm is located along the Akwapim Hills of Ghana (about an hour north of the capital city of Accra), with meandering streams and year-round conditions conducive for cultivation of pineapple.
What would you say is your main service now in 2018 to the produce industry. What is the unique selling point? How has this evolved over the years?
At its inception, our main target was the local consumers and local exporting companies. As the farm expands with consistent and larger-scale production, we have ventured into foreign market.
What would you say makes your pineapples unique? Is it the cost? The quality?
The quality and taste of our fruits is a distinguishing factor for Ohu Farms. We pay attention to producing the fruits with recommended standards. The weather patterns and location of the farm have also contributed to the products. We pay particular attention to ensuring fruits are cared for, in addition to rotating land practices. The used land is rotated with legumes to foster natural replenishment of nutrients to the land. The products have been acclaimed on the local markets. We have also recently participated in Fresh Produce Africa Expo FPA 2018 in Kenya.
We ventured into the foreign market in collaboration with a local existing farmer who exports to France. They are called Chartered lmpex. We are actively seeking to start sole exportation to other parts of Europe: notably Germany, Netherlands and the UK. We do also have interest in emerging fruit markets in the Middle East area.
Let’s talk a little about your specific farming techniques. Could you briefly describe the farming process for your pineapple varieties in Ghana?
Ohu Farms Ltd. has an exceptional cultural practice which enhances the best of qualities that any buyer could desire. For example, we use the best of global GAP-certified chemicals on our farm.
What specifically are the cultural practices that you mention? What are the buyer’s desires?
Our farm is located on a previously uncultivated land. To that effect, we use minimal amount of Dursban — a broad-spectrum insecticide for controlling pests in horticultural crops, and Diuron — an algicide and herbicide of the arylurea class that inhibits photosynthesis.
The buyer is interested in quality fruit that is appreciated by customers. To achieve this, we try to maintain high-quality measures on our farm.
Have these cultural practises evolved over the years? Is there anything you do now in 2018 that stands out from when you opened?
Yes, we also use some organic fertilizer during the land preparation which helps in conventional fertilizer usage on the farm. Thus, the maximum residue level of the chemicals used on the farm is highly considered.
Let’s talk about some of your pineapple varieties. Are there any in particular – the smooth cayenne / sugarloaf for example that have more demand than others?
The majority of our focus has been optimizing the Smooth Cayenne (SC) and Sugarloaf (SL) varieties. Although there was a peak shift in interest for MD-2 around 2005 in Europe, both SC and SL are increasingly popular in European and Asian markets. These varieties have a vibrant, sweet taste that is unmistakable.
[Sweet Cayenne is a 2.5- to 3.0-kg (5- to 6-lb.), pale yellow– to yellow-fleshed fruit with high sugar and acid content, and is well-adapted to canning and processing; its leaves are without spines. It was replaced in many areas by MD-2, a hybrid named for Millie Dillard, wife of former Del Monte Hawaii general manager Frank Dillard, that is the predominant pineapple cultivated for fresh fruit export worldwide. Ghana is one of the few areas in the world that still grows Sweet Cayenne well. Sugarloaf, at 2.5 to 3.0 kg (5–6 lb.), has white flesh with no woodiness in the center, and has a high sugar content but no acid.]
Which countries do you mostly distribute to, and approximately how many pineapples per year are you selling?
Our exports have been to France. We were selling about 400,000 pineapples per year. But our production for 2019 is already over one million. We are also actively seeking new buyers in Europe. This is actually one of the major reasons that we are attending the upcoming produce summit in Amsterdam. We are also seeking new buyers in the Middle East for exportation of the fruit. We would still supply to the local market, as well exporting with Charted Impex.
Do you have plans to expand this in the future? In terms of geographic regions? Varieties?
Yes, very much so. We are excited to supply to continuing demand for SC and SL in Europe as well as the evolving high demand in Middle East and Asia.
Are there any specific ways that you market your farm? Are you in collaboration with other farms? Growers?
The majority of the initial products have sold through the local market, exporting with local farmers (Charted lmpex to France) as well as local processing companies. We are collaborating with governmental agencies (free trade, foreign exporters association in Ghana) to enter the market space. We are also attending trade shows of fruits, in addition to having the new website.
With international borders up for redefinition, how is this and will this affect your business in the future?
The major impact would be dependent on changes to trade tariffs and similar barriers with these border redefinitions.
Do you think the upcoming Brexit uncertainty could have an effect on your trade?
We hope that Brexit engenders a fair and flexible trading platform between the UK and its European and international partners.
What other global challenges do you see as affecting trade in the future?
The evolving world population density with concomitant economic progress of several countries in Asia and some in Europe has the potential influence on the demand of agricultural products in the future. Furthermore, evolving climate change would influence production for several countries. Ohu Farms is positioning itself to optimize production of pineapple to meet this growing demand.
What are your thoughts on agri-innovation and this becoming relevant for the growth of pineapples in the future?
Agri-innovation, when applied judiciously, is an invaluable part of enhancing production of quality agricultural products for the growing population.
How does your company compare to the giant branded suppliers of pineapples? How do you define yourself in terms of what you offer?
Giant pineapple suppliers have focused predominantly on MD-2 production. There remains significant opportunity untapped demand for other pineapple varieties. Ohu Farms would continue to work fervently to produce quality SC and SL varieties to match the growing demand for these fruits.
What are your thoughts on snack packaging for pineapples? Many UK supermarkets now offer snack packs of pineapples? Is this something that you see growing in the future?
It is a very good idea that prolongs the shelf life and accessibility of pineapple to customers, which is very exciting. We are considering that in the future.
What other areas of focus that are relevant today are you keen to work in?
The improving education for healthy food choices continues to increase individual demand for fruits and vegetables. We are focused on expanding our production of quality fruits to meet some of the demand. For example, there is significant public health education in recent years about healthy eating habits published here and here. It is affecting the millennial population and also influencing the choices made by business. These can be seen widely across the spectrum. From airlines increasing fruit selection, fast food (for example, McDonald's) restaurants increasing fruits and salads on their menu. Some of these business changes are motivated by individual customer demands as well as increasing public awareness.
These changes, in conjunction to increasing world population, as well as developing countries with more middle-income populace that can afford healthier food choices, are likely to increase demand for fruits and vegetables.
What attracted you to exhibit at the Amsterdam Produce Summit? What do you expect from the show? What can people expect from you?
We are excited to participate in the Amsterdam Produce Summit. We look forward to meeting innovators in the fruit produce sector to explore ideas for supply of pineapples to the market and the evolving retail chains. With the event focused on omni-channel retailing, we expect the attendees will really be on the cutting edge.