University of Regina student, Nathan Van-Betuw, is back in Regina after a four-month volunteer work-study placement in Ghana.
Van-Betuw went to Ghana as a Junior Fellow with the Engineers Without Boarders (EWB) program. The program trains students before sending them to developing countries to research a particular field of interest.
Van-Betuw was stationed in Kukum city in southern Ghana, where he interacted with coco growers on a daily basis.
“I was really identifying the different venues for agricultural extension through a company called Kuapa Kooko, which stands for good farmer of cocoa, [a] huge fair trade producer in Ghana. They are the suppliers of cocoa beans for the producers of Divine Chocolate,” he said.
According to this sixth-year industrial engineering student, one of the major problems plaguing the cocoa industry right now is that farmers are holding onto old cocoa trees, which have long outgrown their productivity.
“The suggested replantation rate is about 25 years — that’s when the trees peak and start to reduce productivity, so they say replant them. But many farmers have 50-year old trees, 60-year old trees…and in order to counteract that, lots of them are using fertilizers, and pesticides, and herbicides to try and get as much out of the trees as possible. Meanwhile, that’s adding to soil depletion,” explained Van-Betuw.
The Cocoa Rehabilitation Project, a recent program funded by the Ghanaian government, is trying to solve this over-grown tree problem.
“What they do is they’ll send a crew to chop down all of the farmer’s trees for an area that the farmer determines, and then they’ll give them seedlings of the hybrid crop, and then they’ll also line and peg the land for the farmers so that there is proper spacing in between the trees,” said Van-Betuw.
“The idea behind the Junior Fellow program is giving one person this bank of experience, this wealth of knowledge and then you can change one hundred, two hundred, three hundred people through this one person,” – Nathan Van-Betuw
Even though the Coco Rehabilitation Project “has its inefficiencies,” Van-Betuw is hopeful that it will go a long way in boosting the cocoa crops of the farmers who choose to utilize this free service.
When asked why he applied to join EWB’s Junior Fellow program, the soon-to-be engineer replied that he wanted to get more out of his education.
“I thought that this was a really good opportunity to obtain that global citizen mindset and find out more about development and whether I would like to pursue a career in development,” he said.
And find out he did.
If he can secure the necessary financial investment, Van-Betuw said he would happily return to Ghana and work towards starting up a cocoa finished-product industry.
“Right now [the cocoa crop is] grown, processed and then its sent out elsewhere like Europe or North America, rather than processed into a finished product like cocoa or chocolate. Why not do that in Ghana? And I would like to pursue that idea in the future,” explainedVan-Betuw.
Van-Betuw will be sharing his newfound knowledge about cocoa growing practices in Ghana with fellow Engineering students, as well as with high school students around Saskatchewan.
“The idea behind the Junior Fellow program is giving one person this bank of experience, this wealth of knowledge, and then you can change one hundred, two hundred, three hundred people through this one person,” expressed Van-Betuw.
EWB is now accepting applications for their next Junior Fellow. Frank Elechi, co-chair of the organization’s Regina Chapter encourages all students to apply.
“Any student is welcome to apply. You don’t have to be in engineering to qualify,” explains Elechi.
The deadline for the next Junior Fellow application is October 23, 2012. The application kit can be downloaded from http://uregina.ewb.ca/?p=131.