Ai Taguchi started the “Cacao Revolution” in Ghana, Africa, to reform the local cacao industry and to create a connection between Ghanaian cacao farmers and Japanese consumers.
ICONfront interviewed her on her activism, her new company called Mpraeso, her motivation, and more. We split her interview article into two parts and are releasing them on separate weeks. Last week, we released part1 and introduced her project, “Cacao Revolution,” her reason to initiate action, and her passion for activism.
This week, we are releasing part2. What led her to start her new company, Mpraeso? What is her motivation? Read the full article to find out.
Q1. Please tell us about your new company and the origin of the name, Mpraeso.
I started a new company, Mpraeso, in June 2020, to expand my activism besides the “Cacao Revolution.” “Mpraeso” is named after Mt. Mpraeso in the Mpraeso Amanfrom village in Ghana, where I usually live and where I established a chocolate factory. This mountain is a very important symbol for the village residents. Because I wanted to give my company a name meaningful and iconic to the local people, I decided to name it Mpraeso.
Q2. How and why did you decide to start a new company?
Simply, nobody has started what I wanted to do. When I started my activism, I did not even think that I wanted to change Ghana. I just wanted to turn my passion and love for chocolate into other people’s happiness, and I was working on whatever I liked to do whenever I wanted to. But, to engage in this activism more in the form of social business, I needed a company, so I decided to start it. Though I have been simply working on what I love, many people support my activism and work together with me now. I am so glad that my passion has come into shape.
Q3. When do you feel motivated?
Firstly, the moment I feel motivated is when I see the local cacao farmers impressed with the taste of chocolate. When I first visited Ghana, many of the cacao farmers did not know that cacao was turned into chocolate, but they produced cacao beans because they thought cacao was “a money tree” or “crops that foreigners pay money for.” They had never tasted chocolate before since chocolate was luxury food for the local cacao farmers that they could not afford to buy: a bar of chocolate is equivalent to their three-day food expenses. As I ran my chocolate workshops there, they told me chocolate was the most delicious food that they had ever had. Having the idea that their products can turn into such delicious food, the cacao farmers became more motivated and proud of their work.
Secondly, I feel motivated when I realize the possibilities of the local village residents and their community have expanded. I have been considering where the village residents need money, especially since I created the Mpraeso Foundation system in the village. Through discussing how we should use money in the village community, I feel the residents became more considerate of one another and more determined to create a better community. I think this positive change shows the possibilities of the community.
Q4. How has COVID-19 pandemic affected your activism?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to cancel some of my projects. Initially, I was planning to run chocolate-making workshops in Japan during Valentine’s season, hold a study tour in Ghana for university students, and start a new business that sells wholesale cacao beans to shops and restaurants. I was also thinking about the establishment of my chocolate brand through these projects, however, there was no choice other than to cancel all these projects due to the pandemic. And I had to come back to Japan. Now, I am not very sure when I can go back to Ghana because I might be carrying the virus and spread the virus in the village.
But not everything is bad; there are some positive aspects too. For example, now I can concentrate my energy into what I have wanted to do in Japan, such as cooperating with companies as a cacao consultant, providing information through social media, and launching my crowdfunding campaign.
Q5. What have you gained from your activism and what message would you like to tell ICU students?
Firstly, what I learned from my activism is the significance of the input-processing-output cycle. I think it is important to not only acquire knowledge from scholarly articles or academic books at university but also initiate action based on your knowledge. My actions gave me lots of new insight and realizations that I would not have been able to learn from sitting at a desk. I used to feel sorry for people in Africa and thought that I had to do something for them, but this viewpoint has changed as I went to Ghana. I also reconsidered the effectiveness of the current support system. If we donate tons of clothes or flour to Africa, that might destroy the local businesses and take jobs away from the local people. Since I witnessed this issue, I realized the importance of the creation of a sustainable system that can lead the local community to economic independence, which helped me narrow down my academic interests to social business and fair trade. I also want to stress that the input supports your actions as well. When I face the many problems to solve in Ghana, I tend to go back to the development studies research approaches to figure out what exactly the problems are and what solutions are required. By repeating this input-processing-output cycle, I was able to improve myself.
Ai drew a world map together with children in the local village when she ran the open-air classroom. She also contributes to the local community by providing educational opportunities to children whose schools are closed due to strikes. “I want children to learn about the world and to get the knowledge to protect beautiful nature in Ghana from foreign companies which extract and destroy natural resources,“ Ai said.
Secondly, I want to stress that we should make our planet better together. I know it is not easy for Japanese consumers to imagine that they are related to the issues in Ghana, but they participate in the system that creates issues there through consumption. I wish more Japanese consumers would realize it. The tiny changes in one consumer’s behavior can bring changes in the local farmers’ lives. Although globalization has encouraged the flow of products and information worldwide, still people’s hearts are far apart. I think it is my duty to inform Japanese consumers about Ghana. It would be great if all of us face the same direction and work together to make our world a better place. These realizations are all based on my experience of visiting Ghana.
Q6. What would you work on next?
I want my chocolate factory in Ghana to become the beloved symbol of the country. Also, by releasing information about Ghanaian chocolate and cacao to a wider audience via YouTube and social media, I would like to send this message to everyone: “think about and appreciate farmers.”
Check out her activities here!
Ai Taguchi will launch her crowdfunding campaign for the “Cacao Revolution” in July, 2020.
“I hope my chocolate will create an opportunity for you to think about Ghana!”
Ai’s opening remarks at TICAD (Tokyo International Conference of Africa’s Development)
Ai’s SNS page