This month St. Paul-based Books for Africa will ship $1 million worth of books, nearly 90,000 titles, to Ghana in West Africa, courtesy of Cargill Inc., which built a $100 million cocoa bean-processing plant in Ghana in 2008. The ag-related giant employs 4,000 in nine African countries including Ghana and Ivory Coast. Patrick Plonski is CEO of 23-year-old Books for Africa, founded by retired St. Paul publisher Tom Warth. Kojo Amoo-Gottfried is Cargill's managing director in Ghana. They participated in a recent forum at the University of Minnesota on doing business in Africa.
QPatrick, why are Books for Africa and Cargill sending five, 40-foot ocean containers to Ghanian schools and libraries?
Plonski:Ghana is the No. 1 recipient for our organization. It makes good development sense because economic literacy makes sense. You can't provide education without books, and there is a huge shortage in Africa. From Cargill's perspective, it helps to build an educated workforce and sends a strong message that Cargill is not only interested in making money but in helping to develop the country. Books are tangible, they are appreciated and they can be passed around. They looked at our inventory sheet and told us what they want. School books and library books, some university books and one law library provided by Thomson Reuters.
Plonski:Ghana is a stable country, a democracy, that still needs help. There is a thirst for knowledge and education. Over the last nine years, I was surprised at the improved roads, more restaurants. The infrastructure was much better. They just had another national election. They are showing the way. Kojo is a former board member of Books for Africa. It's a real Minnesota-to-Ghana connection.
QKojo, what is your background?
Amoo-Gottfried:My family has a cocoa farm. I went to high school in Ghana and left in 1994 to go to college at Luther in Decorah, Iowa, for four years. I studied agricultural economics. I started at Cargill in 1999 in Iowa. Moved to Minneapolis to trade soybeans. Moved to Georgia to work in a processing plant. Moved to Amsterdam to work as sales manager in the cocoa business. In April 2010, 16 years after I arrived [in the U.S.], I went back to Ghana to be part of the Africa leadership team.
QWhat does Cargill seek in Ghana?
Amoo-Gottfried:Cargill wants a farming economy that is sustainable. We work with CARE ... and farmers to increase their yields, and to manage their business, since they make most of their money around harvest time. They need to be in business for 12 months, so they may need to grow pineapples and yams on the side to help sustain the family, while they grow cocoa as a cash crop. Environment, education and safety are the key for us.
The people in Ghana are analytical. We put our people and farmers through training in trouble-shooting, root cause analysis and 'Problem-solving 101.' We want them to be innovative. Every year we take about 14 college students from Ghana and bring them to our organization and teach them about leadership and integrity. We hire some after a year and they go back into the workforce in Ghana. We do similar things in Ivory Coast, Egypt, South Africa, elsewhere. We want to develop African people and the economy.
QHow does Cargill help unlock Ghana's potential?
Amoo-Gottfried:We are shipping law books to a law school in Ghana. Cargill wants to work in countries that have an established rule of law [and] that abide by contracts.
Cargill brings 145 years of agribusiness knowledge.
In Ghana, we started small. We're in cocoa. We're starting in fish meal and the animal nutrition business. As one business does well, we try to develop another. We're looking at grain and oil seeds in West Africa. We want to help put together a supply chain that works for these countries, with good roads ... getting crops out of the field, and not rotting in the field or on bad roads. We want to be a long-term partner, not just when corn is cheap.
Our cocoa factory is in an industrial area. The community is there. These books go directly to the community. We work with a group in [the United Kingdom] to use soccer to teach leadership skills. Cargill gives 2 percent of pretax profits. We have 300 employee-led councils that drive [how the money is spent]. We push for sustainable development, to grow the local crops for food. In Ghana, the local maize and soy are grown for local consumption.
QHow do you work with the government?
Amoo-Gottfried:The government consults the private sector. It consults on issues of energy and transportation. The government also has the World Bank and other advisers.
QWhat progress is being made? And is child labor still an issue?
Amoo-Gottfried:We've been in Ivory Coast since 1998. The relationship with the farmers in Ghana started in 2006 with a cocoa processing plant that buys 65,000 tons of cocoa. It opened in 2008. It employs 200 direct staff and others. Cargill invested about $100 million in the plant. Cargill also is investing in education. We are engaged with farmers and in partnership with CARE and the Gates Foundation. We talk to the farmers to make sure their kids are going to school. The farmers know that education of children is critical to the livelihood of their community. The issue is clear.
QHow do low-income farmers weed and get crops in without children?
Amoo-Gottfried:There's nothing bad about children on the farm. You have children helping on the farm in the U.S. But it's important they first go to school and are educated about the farm and not to play with the machete or pesticide. They need to learn how to use the chemicals. If the child is on the farm using a machete and not in school, it's to the point where that brings shame to the local chief. In fact, we have replaced machetes with [safer tools].
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144