The declining fortunes of agriculture, which does not seem to be attracting the attention of policymakers, have now compelled Blue Skies, the biggest fresh fruit processor in the country, to import pineapples and mangoes for processing.
Blue Skies now imports 30% of smooth cayenne, an indigenous Ghanaian pineapple, from Togo and Ivory Coast.
The company also imports mangoes for eight out of the 12 months in a year from countries such as Brazil, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia and South Africa.
Blue Skies imports mangoes from Brazil for 11 continuous weeks, and the cost of chartering an aircraft to airlift 100 tonnes of mangoes a month is $250,000.
It means the company spends $2.750 million as the cost to charter aircraft for the 11 weeks; aside paying for the mangoes.
Not only has the situation resulted in the creation of jobs for the economy of countries where the imports are coming from, but also contributing to the free fall of the cedi as millions of dollars are spent on the imports.
Fruit processing companies, including Blue Skies, have been importing indigenous Ghanaian pineapple, smooth cayenne, from Togo and Ivory Coast for the past two years while mango is imported from Brazil, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, and South Africa.
Pineapple-exporting companies have dropped from 36 eight years ago to just about five currently.
Chief Agronomist at Blue Skies, Mr Ernest Adjei Abloh told The Finder in an interview that his company imports 25,000 pieces of Smooth Cayenne from Togo and Ivory Coast, out of the 80,000 pieces of Smooth Cayenne pineapple processed a week.
Currently, he said the company also imports 100 tonnes of mangoes from Brazil every week, and the cost of chartering an aircraft to airlift the mangoes from Brazil to Ghana alone is $250,000 per flight.
The company airlifts mangoes for 10 weeks from Brazil, mainly due to inadequate local supplies from the sub-region, especially during the crop’s off seasons.
On the importation of the indigenous Ghanaian pineapple, Smooth Cayenne, from Togo and Ivory Coast, he blamed it on the introduction of MD2 pineapple variety, developed by Costa Rica, to Ghanaian farmers eight years ago without due diligence.
According to him, government pushed the MD2 pineapple variety, which costs three times more to produce compared to Smooth Cayenne, on farmers without telling the farmers the cost involved.
He noted that the wholesale adoption of MD2 pineapple variety resulted in the collapse of smallholder farmers, because with time, they could no longer afford the cost of production.
He listed factors such as high cost of inputs, inputs not always readily available, lack of extension services, as well as banks refusing to lend to the farmers as some of the reasons which resulted in the collapse of the business of farmers who took to the MD2 variety.
Mr Abloh stated that the farmers growing Smooth Cayenne today were those who received support from Blue Skies to continue to grow the indigenous Ghanaian pineapple when the MD2 craze was the order of the day.
He said despite the MD2 craze, Blue Skies’ orders for Smooth Cayenne did not drop; as a result, the company decided to motivate its farmers to continue to growth Smooth Cayenne.
Regrettably, he said, Ghana is now looking for planting materials for our own indigenous Smooth Cayenne pineapple, which is in its 50th year, and urged government to invest in tissue culture production for the indigenous Ghanaian pineapple.
He said the company has started “a vertical integration” to produce its own raw materials, adding that they have cultivated 1,400 acres of MD2 pineapple, with the hope to add 2,000 acres more by January 2017 to produce enough MD2 pineapple of between 80,000 and 100,000 fruits a week to feed their factory.
Mr Abloh explained that due to low volumes of MD2 pineapple produced in Ghana, a machine his company brought in to process MD2 pineapple had to be returned to UK, where is it being used to process MD2 pineapple imported from Costa Rica.
Alistair Djimatey, Public Relations and Foundation Manager of Blue Skies, said the company has introduced the school farm competition to encourage farming.
He expressed worry about the lack of effective system of monitoring standards, as well as the sale of farmlands to estate developers.
Exports of fresh pineapples reached the highest in 2004 with 71,000 tonnes a year, making Ghana the second largest exporter of the produce, after Cote d’Ivoire.
These exports raked in approximately US$50 million to private sector exporters.
Ghana’s pineapple exports blossomed in the 1990s when pineapple exporters formed an association and reached an agreement with a vessel to lift fresh produce from Ghana, after visiting Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire.
The twice-a-week lifting accelerated exports of fresh pineapples and other horticultural produce. Pineapple exports, thus, rose from a few tonnes a week to 71,000 tonnes in 2004.
Statistics indicate that the market for pineapple is worth about €1 billion while that of bananas is €3.5 billion, in the European Union alone.