In September 2021, Ambassador Jeroen Verheul assumed a new role as the head of the Netherlands Embassy in Accra, Ghana after being in Dar es Salaam as Ambassador to Tanzania, the East African Community, Madagascar, Mauritius and Comoros.
Ambassador Verheul started his diplomatic service in 1985 with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was posted to the European Parliament as an assistant to MEP Bob Cohen. From 1985 to the present he has worked in many disciplines in the Hague, was in Lusaka, Zambia and Ethiopia as the deputy head and head of Development Co-operation and was in Paris, France, with the EAC, which also represents international institutions in Africa, the African Union, among others.
The Foreign Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mary Mensah, caught up with the Ambassador who granted an interview following his first anniversary in Ghana. Below are excerpts. MM represents Mary Mensah while JV represents Jeroen Verheul,the Ambassador.
M: Can you please give us a brief history of yourself and your diplomatic journey so far?
JV: I can say that I am quite an experienced diplomat in the sense that I have been in diplomacy since 1985, that’s almost 37 years and I have mostly been posted to Africa, with my previous post before Ghana as Tanzania and before that I’ve been assigned to Yemen, to Uganda, to Ethiopia, to Zambia, to Cameroon. In fact, I am one of the African experts in the ministry.
That’s why they sent me to Ghana and in most countries, you also represent the Netherlands in “Pan-African” countries. So, from Cameroon, we represented the Netherlands, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Central African Republic, among others.
MM: I realised you’ve been in the country for about one year now, so what are your impressions about Ghana so far?
JV: Very positive. It’s a beautiful country. I’ve been able to travel to the Volta Region, to the North, to Cape Coast, and to Ashanti Region, Western North. So, we’ve been travelling around the country also, in the Upper East Region where the President inaugurated one of the water treatment plants that we provided from the Netherlands. So, my impression of Ghana is that it is a beautiful country with a huge potential. The only negative thing I need to note is that the economic situation has deteriorated quite severely since I arrived. And that is, of course, a matter of concern, not only to Ghana but also to us.
MM: Orange Cocoa Day was an initiative of the Embassy. What informed that decision?
JV: The Netherlands and Ghana have a long-standing relationship with cocoa. And most people don’t know that The Netherlands is one of the biggest importers of cocoa in the world. The harbour of the port of Amsterdam is the biggest cocoa port in the world. So, most of the cocoa is stored or shipped through Amsterdam. We have a very long and financially important relationship on cocoa. And since not a lot of people know about the Netherlands and cocoa, we decided to organise Orange Cocoa Day to make visible what the role of the Netherlands is with regard to cocoa and chocolate.
MM: Why the Orange Cocoa Day? Why the colour orange?
JV: The colour orange is our national colour. It’s not the colour of our flag but it’s the colour of our royal house. We have a monarchy; we don’t have a president. We have a King as the Head of State. And he belongs to what we call the “House of Orange”. That’s why orange is our colour. And if you ask the colour of the football team that is going to play in Qatar for the Netherlands, it will be orange.
MM: Is the cocoa day going to be a yearly affair? My information was that the maiden one was organised last year, can you share with us some of the outcomes?
JV: Absolutely. This is something that we want to do every year. And I said this is meant to make visible what the role of the Netherlands is in cocoa and chocolate. It is also meant to discuss things that are of interest to the sector and where we want to bring stakeholders together so that they can discuss what should be done about the cocoa sector in Ghana.
MM: What are some of the benefits and lessons from the last cocoa day organisation?
JV: Last year’s cocoa day was about the professionalisation of cocoa farming and we supported the project with Solidaridad, West Africa, which introduced business centres, rural service centres that provide business services to farmers. And we wanted to showcase that lesson learnt because those rural service centres can help farmers to professionalise their performance in their cocoa production. And that was a very good experience and we offered a platform for Solidaridad to showcase that lesson for the sector.
MM: That means cocoa farmers were part of it last year?
JV: Cocoa farmer organisations were part of. Co-operatives and organisations that represent cocoa farmers were part of it. COCOBOD was there. So, the Chief Executive Joseph Boahen Aidoo was the Chief Guest. And he also spoke at the meeting. And we also had an exposition of different organisations that were active in the cocoa sector. J. B. Aidoo got the opportunity to meet these organisations and got to learn what their contribution was to the cocoa sector.
MM: This year’s theme is: “Exploring how improved access to land and tree tenure promotes sustainability in the cocoa value chain,” What informed the theme?
JV: As I said, we want to use this opportunity to bring stakeholders together to discuss challenges in the cocoa sector. And the land is a challenge not only to the cocoa sector but also to other sectors. But, in the cocoa sector, it is an issue. I think I should point out two challenges in particular. It is the security of commission; security of title is an issue. And land fragmentation and lack of consolidation of land is the other issue.
If you talk about the security of tenure, that is an obstacle to investment in your cocoa farm. If you’re not sure that the cocoa farm you have now will be yours in two or three years’ time, you won’t be able to invest in your own farms, and you won’t be able if you don’t have security to get a loan from the bank to invest in your farm.
Security of tenure is one of the challenges that I want to discuss; how to resolve that. Because we need investment in the cocoa sector and security of tenure is one of the obstacles to investment in the sector. Land fragmentation or land consolidation is another challenge in the sense that farmers are mostly family farmers.
MM: In the global cocoa trade, the European Union (EU) is the world’s largest importer of cocoa, accounting for 60 per cent of the world’s imports and the Netherlands is a major cocoa processor and exporter.
MM: As The Netherlands is also the main importer of cocoa beans from Ghana, how can Ghana take advantage of EU/Netherlands trade?
JV: One of the areas that we as an embassy are interested in is to see how we can promote local value addition. Because what Ghana now does very well is producing and preparing the cocoa for export to The Netherlands” and processing is done in The Netherlands. We have seen more and more companies diversifying their processing in the sense that they are also putting processing plants in Cote d’Ivoire and in Ghana.
We see that the progress in processing is faster in Cote d’Ivoire than in Ghana. So, we want to understand why in Cote d’Ivoire, this is going quicker than it is in Ghana. Because processing the beans is the first step in improving value addition. And that is what we are looking at; to see how we can help Ghana strengthen its position in the processing of cocoa beans.
MM: So, what is the current focus of Netherlands-Ghana bilateral ties especially with regard to investment partnership?
JV: I would say that the ties between Ghana and the Netherlands are excellent. They are long-standing but they are of excellent quality. Evidenced, for example, by the recent visit of the President of Ghana to the Netherlands, he was invited for the African Adaptation Summit in Notre Dame and after that summit, our Prime Minister, Mark Rutte invited the President to come for a bilateral working visit so that we could discuss cooperation in two main areas.
Obviously, cocoa is one of the areas because we’ve discussed that already. And the other area where we want to enhance cooperation is in agriculture.
As I said, travelling through the land, I see a lot of potentials, I see a lot of farming going on. But farming that is ripe for improvement and advancement in terms of technology includes agricultural practices. The Netherlands has a lot of experience in that. Maybe you know that the Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agricultural products and services in the world.
In the world, the first one is the United States, the second one is us. And the total value of our export is about 110 billion Euros, which is slightly less than twice the size of Ghana’s gross domestic product. And you must know that we are living on a land which is in total about 35,000 square kilometres.
MM: What do you think we should do to try and emulate where we can also get gallons of milk from our cows?
JV: That’s a really challenging question. I’ve been posted in Tanzania and as I said, we have been promoting the dairy industry. And that has been a journey of at least four years. And there, we’ve been able to find cross-breeds because the cows that we use in the Netherlands cannot stand the climate in the tropics.
If you bring them here, they will die instantly. So, those high-yielding cows that we have in the Netherlands cannot survive here. So, you need to have cross-breeds between high-yielding cows and strong indigenous African cows. And we did that in Tanzania. But that process takes quite a long time. So, that is one thing you need to adapt your system to — the context that you are working on.
MM: Netherlands, I understand, has been at the forefront of offering scholarships for Ghanaian students to study abroad. Can you shed some light on this?
JV: This is the Netherlands fellowship programme which is a competitive process. Since the programme started some 30 years ago, more than 5,000 Ghanaians have benefited and this has been very successful because we have some world-class educational institutions in the Netherlands.
We usually have between 50 to 100 Ghanaian students pursuing various disciplines in the Netherlands every year and we look at a niche-level career as we try to share our expertise through our education institutions through the fellowship programme.
MM: The Russian-Ukraine war seems to be taking a toll on the world’s economy with thousands displaced and many killed. How can the global community avoid such a crisis in the future?
JV: I think, first of all, by calling a spade a spade. If you talk about the Russia-Ukraine war, then it looks like there are two people who are equally guilty to be blamed for the conflict. But in this case, we should talk about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Because Russia invaded a sovereign country. And through that invasion, this conflict erupted. Without the invasion, there wouldn’t have been a Russia-Ukraine conflict.
MM: What is preventing them from pronouncing it?
JV: The UN General Assembly has pronounced it. The Security Council didn’t because who is a member of the Security Council with Veto Power? One of the conflict parties. The aggressor. So, they veto any resolution condemning the aggression. So, you need other institutions like the General Assembly but the General Assembly doesn’t have any enforcement power, but the ICC has enforcement power.
So, the ICC has opened investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine because that is currently their mandate. But they should also be able to pursue the crime of aggression in this case. And I think, by setting examples like that, that these crimes do not go without impunity, you can make a change.