Chefs Without Borders?

23 Nov

DSC02995 cooking

When Thailand decided to stamp out illegal opium production in the 70’s and 80’s, they realized that there would be many farmers in northern Thailand who would need something new to grow.  In response, several projects were launched including the King of Thailand’s Royal Project to introduce new crops into the area (an approach called ‘crop substitution’).

What they found was that selecting appropriate crops and teaching farmers how to grow them was the easy part.  The hard part was getting consumers to buy these strange new fruits and vegetables when they showed up in markets.  So they created marketing campaigns to promote the new foods and teach consumers how to cook with them.  The result was the successful introduction of about 150 new crops to the region.

Many of these crops have entered permanently into Thai cooking and therefore Thai culture, even though most are not native to Thailand.

What does this have to do with Northern Ghana?  Although farming of illegal drugs is not a big problem here, I would argue that the narrow culinary tastes of the population is a drag on development.   Higher variety in Thai markets and restaurants in comparison with Ghanaian markets and restaurants results in exponentially more opportunities for Thai farmers to differentiate and diversify in comparison to their  Ghanaian counterparts.

The challenge is that few people I have met in Northern Ghana currently have any interest in eating anything other than their regular Fufu, Banku, TZ, or Rice.  Is there a role for Chef’s Without Borders to help stimulate demand for new food items by creating and marketing new dishes? 

Just as in Thailand, the first step would be to consider the growing conditions, cultural setting, cooking and food storage implements available, local tastes, etc…  With his knowledge, the next step would be to craft campaigns with both technical components to teach farmers growing techniques and marketing components designed to stimulate local demand for the new crops.  Jamie Oliver – are you ready for your next challenge?

I wonder what Kpandai market would look like with 150 new fruits and vegetables and what the impact would be on the local economy…


2 Responses to “Chefs Without Borders?”

  1. Colette November 23, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    Sounds like a great idea and one that I haven’t heard before. I’ll bring it up with some of our speakers at our next Breakfast Screening–its the perfect crowd as we’re showing a film on local food called Ingredients.

  2. Jeff November 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm #


    I found the food in Ghana to be quite amazing, and there was a good amount of variety where I was. I am wondering if maybe the selection is not as ideal where you are because of lack of access to ingredients of other parts of the country (rather than the absence of entirely new crops).

    It’s an interesting idea. If it were done, it would be good to use ingredients from nearby African countries to try to inspire some trade. Malian food is very good for example.

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