Some delegation members were already familiar with doing business in The Netherlands – others weren’t. But each and every one of the 22 business-owners from Ghana paid utmost attention to Piet Schotel, a consultant in importing fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV) from overseas. Schotel succinctly explained the do’s and don’ts when it comes to exporting to EU-countries. Regulations, Corporate Social Responsibility and the myriad of different requirements that importers need to adhere to were summed up for the Ghanaian delegates by Schotel: “but remember one thing: there is no compromise on quality. Never. If the quality is not good enough, no one will buy from you.” The Ghanaians nodded.
George Whyte of Whytebage, one of the visiting business owners from Ghana, and the President of the Ghana Association of Vegetables Exporters, GAVEX explained, “currently my company imports larger volumes from The Netherlands than we export to Holland. From The Netherlands we import things we don’t grow enough of in Ghana: Irish potatoes, onions, carrots, certain types of cabbage, plums and kiwis. Indeed, we are getting that tropical fruit from your country!” Whyte said the average import amount adds up to 2 containers per week.
Whyte plans to increase exports to Europe. “It would be much more profitable for us if we can bring exports and imports to the same level,” he said. Peppers used to be among the main products entering Europe from Ghana, but last year the European Union put in place a ban on importing peppers from Ghana, following concerns over quality. Whyte was not pleased with this, saying “this ban is affecting the exporters, but we are working with the government, donors and other stakeholders to get the ban lifted.”
Meanwhile, exporters look at the products which are not affected by the ban like beans and okra, a tropical vegetable popular across Africa but not yet very common in The Netherlands. “It is used to thicken soup,” Whyte explained. “And it has become quite popular in India and China recently. I think there is a growing market for it in Europe as well.”
Not all Ghanaians present have exporting on top of their priority list. Dominic Qhuainoo is the owner of Emadom, a company that produces milk, yoghurt, cheese and different flavours of fruit juice. Dominic -who studied in then-communist Romania in the 1980’s
- is not in a hurry to export to Europe. “Why should I? Ghana and the sub-region are large enough. I am not yet able to fulfil all local demand. I’d like to increase production tenfold and therefore hope to get a Dutch business partner.”
Samuel Darko, the owner of the Darko farm, with an output of five million chicks per year, agrees. “Ghana itself is already a huge market and I hear that even in an African country like Gambia they import eggs from The Netherlands. But we are much closer and in a better position to do that.” Darko used his week in The Netherlands for shopping. “Equipment for packaging and refrigeration are things I’d like to obtain here. Most of my equipment comes from The Netherlands, Denmark and South Africa.”
Nora Bannerman-Abbott, an executive member of the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) clarified that “the strength of trade missions like this is the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face. It is crucial to bring our businessmen and women into the European environment where they want to do business. This enables you to know your customers and you can personally see how companies here work, for example in terms of cleanliness, working hours etcetera.”
Bannerman-Abbott has seen dozens of matchmaking missions in her 37-year career as a businesswoman but she is particularly pleased with the current one. “The interest shown by Dutch companies to meet their Ghanaian counterparts is heart-warming,” she said. “Ghana is represented here by 22 business owners. It is very clear that the European market needs large quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits and I am sure they can get it fresh and even organic from Africa. The need is there; I see understanding from both sides. I expect quite a number of business deals can be made here.”
The Ghanaian economy has been centred on oil since it discovered the valuable resource in 2007, a development that caused the neglecting of other sectors. “Ghana was oil-drowned,” analysed Nora Bannerman-Abott of the AGI. “So now it is the right time to make sure we also market all the other sectors which we are traditionally good at.” She mentioned food production as well as the fashion industry in which she operates herself. “There are large opportunities in these sectors.”
George Whyte is fully aware of that. “We have set up our own shops in Ghana where we can sell our imports,” he explained, pointing towards his colleague -and wife- Mabel Whyte. She runs the outlet, known as the Farmer’s Market. “We sell fresh products in smaller quantities than the supermarkets do, therefore making it accessible to more customers,” Mabel said.
The concept is doing well. There are already two outlets of Farmer’s Market while two others in the capital city of Accra are set to open this year. “We are also a lot cheaper than our competitors,” Mabel Whyte added. “For supermarkets it is not uncommon that they double the prices of food before they sell it to the customer. We don’t believe in that; we take smaller margins. After all, we want it also to be accessible for other people. We need to contribute something to our country.”
The agrofood incoming trade mission was organised by FME, the Dutch employers’ organisation for the technology industry, in cooperation with Netherlands African Business Council (NABC) and its local partner in Ghana, the GNBCC. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) financed the trade mission on behalf of the embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Accra, Ghana.