Building alliances for resilience
Today, as uncertainty prevails more than ever, producers of agricultural commodities and products – many of them family farmers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – need to build resilience; rapidly, effectively, and sustainably. Uncertainty and risk threaten livelihoods and quality of life at all levels: climate change effects and unpredictable weather patterns, market fluctuations and record-low prices for agricultural commodities, locust swarms ravaging East Africa and, toward the end of 2019, a global pandemic.
With climate change, economic shocks or disease outbreaks, the hardest-hit are always the most vulnerable. Agricultural producers and MSMEs in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP group) countries are particularly affected by both supply and demand shocks. Often dependent on monocultures, they have no income or food security safety nets, access to finance is rarely available, business and negotiation skills are sometimes lacking and knowledge of climate-smart agricultural practices is often scarce.
These factors are compounded by poor infrastructure connectivity in rural areas, a lack of information, volatile prices and low investment and policy incentives for farmer communities and MSMEs.
But a growing global movement of responsible trade and consumer awareness, a gradual shift of producer countries towards becoming consumer countries, and increasing market demand for high-quality, sustainable and traceable agricultural products with a positive impact on the livelihoods of farmers and MSME workers have the potential to change this narrative. Combined with new generations tapping into technology and knowledge-sharing for solutions around innovation and entrepreneurship, there is real potential in ACP countries waiting to be tapped.
ITC’s Alliances for Action (A4A) is an initiative committed to tackling these challenges head-on by promoting inclusive and sustainable agricultural value chains. With the European Union-funded ‘Intra-ACP Project to Support Business Friendly and Inclusive National and Regional Policies and Strengthen Productive Capacities and Value Chains’, ITC aims to roll out the A4A in 12 countries, eight major stakeholder institutions, six sub-regions, and four sectors.
The Intra-ACP Project works holistically across the targeted agricultural value chains, including those for coffee, cotton/fashion, cocoa, and coconut/kava. Using a bottom-up approach focused on securing ownership at regional and local levels, A4A works with farmers, MSMEs and cooperatives to capture market opportunities by strategically positioning various agricultural products from the ACP region in the niche single-origin market segment. ITC is joined in the project by implementation partners International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
The ITC component of the project supports farmers and cooperative enterprises with the development of value-added products and market innovations to identify local, regional and international market opportunities and attract investment. This integrated support addresses incomes, producer association competitiveness and empowerment, agricultural product quality and productivity, climate-smart production, crop and income diversification skills, and value addition.
The A4A intervention links consumers to producers and ensures support services and policy alignment to increase producer resilience. In this context, resilience is defined as the aptitude for exporting producers of agricultural commodities to bounce back from catastrophic events without losing competitiveness in the short or long term.
A successful example of an Alliances for Action project that informs the strategy of the Intra-ACP Project includes A4A in Ethiopia: Toward a Sustainable Coffee Industry.
The project supports coffee farmer cooperatives to become more competitive and form commercial alliances. It draws on a South-South partnership with CLAC-FT (Coordinadora Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Comercio Justo-Fairtrade) and Fairtrade Africa and mobilizes Ethiopian coffee farmer cooperatives for partnerships, training sessions and business development in collaboration with Latin American farmer organizations.
The project supports four selected coffee farmer cooperative unions in Ethiopia. Since the project started, the four unions have secured new market linkages in the EU, the United States and Asian coffee markets by participating in international trade fairs in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Kenya, Germany and the United States. They invested in coffee roasting equipment and hiring roasting trainers to produce value-added coffee products. They have also invested in branding and visibility by hiring graphic and web designers to revamp their visibility platforms and products. Selling added-value coffee products on local and regional markets increases their resilience to sinking international prices and improves market linkages and competitiveness.
Alliances for Coconut Industry Development in the Caribbean:
This project aims to boost a struggling coconut industry with high market potential but low productive capacity and investment by focusing on strengthening climate and income resilience and building new market linkages. It helps family farmers become more resilient to weather and economic shocks by introducing climate-smart agricultural practices and diversifying incomes by upgrading products (organic coconut sugar, for example), among other actions.
Sankofa Project: Empowered by Alliances for Action (Ghana Cocoa):
This project introduces farmers to climate-smart agricultural practices – including dynamic agroforestry to improve biodiversity and soil quality, diversify crops, enhance food security and multiply income streams. The project also helped ally with Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union, a producer of fair-trade certified cocoa beans, with Swiss chocolate manufacturer Chocolats Halba.
The Intra-ACP Project aims to boost responsible production and consumption, diversify risk, maximize the benefits of participating in local, regional, and international trade, improve resilience by fostering a connection between farmers and consumers, and improve transparency and traceability along the value chain.
The objective is to strengthen value chain governance and investment, adapt to climate change and boost innovation with inclusive productive and commercial alliances and diversified markets, products and channels.
It also sets up a ‘safety net’ along the value chain that enables resilience to environmental, market/economic and health shocks to minimize the impact on livelihoods and competitivity.