In the forested hills of Ghana, the higher up you climb, the higher the temperature rises.
The Annapurna Range, pronounced A-nee-puta, stretches as far as the eye can see – 7,203 feet, a fraction of a mile wide – in this part of west Africa.
Despite its nature, the coffee orchards covering much of the region have very little sunlight. As a result, less than 3 percent of the 50 million- to 60 million-pound-per-year coffee crop is harvested and sold. From 2002 to 2017, it means less to the economy.
But a decade of deliberate, sometimes controversial efforts by companies and a state government that’s devoted to protecting the environment may have lifted decades of economic darkness for the nation’s farmers.
In Mount Blue Mountain’s main village, five small farmers stand amid the bleached black of the soil and heavy canopy, inspecting plants still having their canopy. Most grew up in the poverty of this rural village. They owned only one or two small plots of land.
The man on top stands alone, in front of dozens of others. He is the CEO of Blue Giant Green Green Coffee, which opened its business here three years ago and invests millions of dollars in the sector of its business, particularly in west Africa.
The CEO, who like others here won’t give his name, is a genuine visionary. As the world considers ending the use of carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels by mid-century, Blue Giant is willing to bet that trees can be the foundation of a sustainable alternative – a revelation not without risk.
While coal and oil may still be the fuels of choice for decades, especially in an agrarian economy like Ghana’s, China has adopted a million-acre pilot program for blue gold, blue coffee.
The threat of climate change and the economics of physical conflict – as Blue Giant sees it – have led the company and the state government to take caution.
Since 2015, Blue Giant has purchased more than 55,000 acres of land, the majority of them from villagers – many who no longer work outside the fields – so as to preserve the green value-added portion of the coffee industry.
The company maintains a contract with Global Guarantee Fund, a Kenyan-funded institution, and with Land Alliance to secure the trees from being cut down. A policy of the state government prohibits grading and clearing.
Blue Giant says the money from taxes, cocoa levies and export taxes makes up the majority of income from its operations in West Africa. It hopes, too, to create jobs and training in an economy whose youth make up 80 percent of total work force in the country.
After opening its first operations in 2001, Blue Giant today has 30 plants producing 4 million bags of coffee a year with revenue worth about $30 million a year, the CEO says. After tax and agent fees, he projects return on investment will be between 25 and 50 percent over the next few years.
This has not been easy, however. Small-scale coffee farmers weren’t always receptive to Blue Giant’s proposal.
The CEO, for one, had to convince them not to bulldoze old farms, further destroying the soil and changing the communal way of life.
But in western Ghana, Green Giant has become a household name. Villagers speak of its up-raising of the quality of coffee and now the added shade of coffee trees.
Some have begun to buy coffee for themselves from the company.
One woman, Sisialu Yoho, stood with her extended family in front of the business. She was familiar with the company and now considers it one of her family’s favorite coffee shops, she said.
“People in this village think that they can make money from this company,” she said.
“We here do not want coffee plantations to be destroyed because it’s the only source of food that we have,” added Sisialu Yoho’s son, Kyaha Saba Keynanu.
“The government and Blue Giant should build dams to irrigate the fields. The government should implement policies that can boost the productivity and income of the farmers in the village. We just want to have farming structures that will yield good results.”