News - April 7, 2011

'An enormous snake around my neck'

Who? Linda Hilbrands, 5th year Food Technology student
What? Study trip to learn about the pineapple juice chain
Where? Benin
Why? To see how pineapple juice is produced

'Together with two fellow students, I travelled for twelve days across the African republic Benin.
We had organized this study trip ourselves because all three of us do research into a typical product of Benin. My topic is pineapple juice; Nele van Ingen researches into cow peas and ReneƩ Wassens, into the yam bean. The excursions and field trips during our journey were planned by two PhD students in Benin. They didn't give us an easy time: we arrived at our hotel at 2 am in the morning, and had to be ready at 7 am for our first acquaintance with the country.
I had wanted very much to see with my own eyes how pineapple juice is produced in Benin, and whether the juice can be exported to Europe. Therefore, we visited different pineapple juice factories. A 'factory' is often no more than a concrete shelter with machines. One or more of these machines is always spoilt, because its owner does know how to repair it, or does not have the spare parts to do so.
While doing research in the Netherlands, I didn't think much about such problems, but this trip has made me realize many things. Yet another example: there are no packaging material production companies in Benin. This affects the production process a lot, with the juice being packaged in re-cycled beer bottles. In short, Benin has a long way to go before it can export its pineapple juice.

One gets to read a lot about life in a Third World country, but it's a different experience to see this with your own eyes. I find it difficult to get used to the lack of rules in daily life. The traffic is a mess and the lack of garbage collection systems makes people throw their garbage on the streets.
But we also saw the beautiful side of Benin. For example, during a safari, we came across a village standing on stilts in the water, the Venice of African. Our visit to the voodoo temple in Quidah where pythons are worshipped was bewildering. Without any warning whatsoever, an enormous snake was placed around my neck. Very nice - at least, for a moment.