Statement by Dorothy Tembo, ITC Deputy Executive Director, at the opening of the Regional Packaging workshop

10 September 2018
ITC News

Honourable Christopher Yaluma (MP), Minister of Commerce, Trade and industry (MCTI);

Mr, Thierry Mutombo Kalonji, Director of Investment Promotion and Private Sector Development, COMESA;

Mr George Okech, FAO Sub-Regional Representative for Zambia and Malawi;

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests

Good morning!

It is an honour for me to be here with you in Lusaka, Zambia- my home country.

On behalf of the International Trade Centre, I thank the Government of Zambia for hosting this event, IMA from Italy as our partner and sponsor, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation for joining hands together with us to bring your all together in this workshop. A special thank you to the Honourable Christopher Yaluma for agreeing to grace this occasion.

As many of you know, the ITC is the joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization working to build the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries and connecting them to international markets through trade.

However, SMEs, by their nature and limited capacity, need specialist advisory services to fill the gaps in their own know-how to comply with market requirements, differentiate their products, and to grow their businesses profitably and sustainably.

To make this happen, ITC works on three levels:

  • We work with governments to improve the business climate for trade;
  • We work with trade, business development and investment support institutions to improve the quality of support they offer to SMEs, and;
  • We work directly with SMEs and entrepreneurs, especially women owned businesses and with youth ,to enable them to become more competitive and integrate into international value chains.

This week throughout the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) you will see examples of this in action.

Agri-food and agri-business sectors contribute most to the formal and informal economies, and employment of all African countries. But in those sectors that Africa often faces intense competition from imports of processed and packaged foods.

In the National and Sector development strategies that ITC has supported through its projects, better packaging sits in the top 4 of all priorities for enterprise. This is because it is the packaging that a customer sees first and it is the packaging that protects, improves food safety, demonstrates market conformity, conveys value, and differentiates between similar products.

Packaging and labelling can make the difference between a sale or no sale, a profit or loss, and have an impact that reverberates along the whole chain right up to the farmers.

Enterprises across Africa face higher costs for lower standards of packaging materials than their counterparts in almost any other part of the world – with packaging and labelling costing more than 12% of all production costs - against 8% on average in other countries. In some countries import tariffs raise the cost of packaging materials even higher. Reducing these distortions, providing information and advice on good packaging materials is a major priority.

Packaging is a two-track process: We need to educate enterprise users and build packaging manufacturing facilities to respond to packaging users demands.

Nowadays, traded packaging is also hitting the headlines for another reason: Its contribution to pollution - leading to negative consumer reactions, particularly to single use, non-recyclable plastics.

Packaging on its own is high volume and low value so it is not economical to transport it for long distances – this means that packaging manufacturing and recycling facilities need to be built close to users.

This is why we are complementing the needs assessments, presented today with feasibility studies for investment in packaging centres close to agri-foods processors.

The target of the Joint FAO-ITC project, kindly funded by IMA, Italy’s leading producer of packaging equipment, is to verify the detailed needs for technical assistance in packaging across Africa so that we can define together a way forward.

We have done this by completing seven studies in Sub-Saharan Africa’s leading agri-food processing countries. One early finding is that across Africa there are hardly any packaging and labelling advisory, design, testing or information services accessible and affordable for SMEs.

In recognition of this fact, the project allocated resources to provide preliminary training to establish more than 40 packaging advisers and trainers in beneficiary countries, including here in Zambia, and direct training to SME food processors.

However, this is just a small drop in a very large ocean of need and we will be calling upon the donor community, the packaging industry, research institutions and impact investors to help to develop real capacity in this important area – both for enterprise growth, and the sustainability of the planet.

At the same time, ITC is re-positioning its packaging support services to focus on enterprise sustainability and competitiveness and sustainable packaging manufacturing.

According to many reports, the market for packaged foods in Africa is growing faster than anywhere else. As an African, I firmly believe that African enterprises must take the lead in new green packaging to enable this beautiful part of the world (I’m not biased at all) to retain its clean, natural environment while bolstering prosperity and life opportunities for its people.

Today’s exchanges will provide an opportunity for us to explore the results of your work in the countries you represent, discuss the issues, the solutions and define a way forward. I believe you have had some exciting ideas around the inception of the first types of packaging advisory and testing centres in participating countries. This may not sound like a grand vision – yet! But today marks the first of many steps towards a better and more competitive future for food processors and manufacturers across Africa – so I encourage you all to think well beyond your current frontier.

I look forward to hearing your views about how we can address and overcome the challenges that face us when they are presented at 17.30 in the plenary before our welcome cocktail.

Once more I extend my thanks to the hard work of those here that conducted the studies, the Government of Zambia as our host, our funding partners IMA, and the field staff of FAO and ITC for bringing this workshop alive.

Thank you for your attention.