World Bank, USAid mainstream ITC project methodology in Kyrgyzstan’s agribusiness sector

29 December 2011
ITC News

At the northeastern end of Bishkek, a 20-minute ride from the town centre through potholed roads, 23-year-old Bakhtiyar Kudakeldiev works as a water-bottling operator. He doesn’t know it, but he's also a beneficiary of a ”mainstreamed” ITC pilot programme designed to improve quality management.
Bakhtiyar works for Shoro, Kyrgyzstan’s largest beverage company, which is participating in a World Bank-funded quality-management certification project delivered by an ITC-trained consultant, using ITC methodologies. Bakhtiyar, who has worked at the plant since moving to Bishkek from a small village in central Kyrgyzstan in 2007, has enjoyed a warmer and cleaner workplace and monthly bonus payments ranging from 5% to a whopping 100% of his salary since the enhanced process was introduced in the summer.

Bakhtiyar has never heard of ITC. This isn't surprising; he is, after all, an assembly-line worker. But until recently, neither had his production director, Nurdin Osmanbaev, who manages most of Shoro's 300 workers. Between 2006 and 2008, ITC carried out a $1 million project, funded by Swiss development agency SECO, to improve the export capacities of six companies in Kyrgyzstan’s fruit and vegetable sector – so Shoho, a bottling plant, couldn't participate. As part of the project, ITC trained 25 national consultants, who continue to work on quality-management improvement projects and certification preparation at various companies in the agribusiness industry. Since ITC completed the first such project in the country, several agencies, including the World Bank, USAID , Germany’s GIZ and the European Union, have offered assistance to fund quality-management projects in the agribusiness sector.

ITC is also halfway through the implementation of a similar project targeting Kyrgyzstan's clothing sector. Its intervention contributed to the industry's 17% growth in the first ten months of the year.
Giulnara Jujsupjanova, one of the consultants ITC trained, has advised five companies on quality management and productivity improvement since graduating from the course in 2007. Shoro is her largest client. Ms. Jujsupjanova and Quality Director Gulmira Acanbekovna Ismanova are retrofitting the entire production system: plugging holes in the wall to keep insects outside and the heat inside – meeting SPS requirements, while also increasing Bakhtiyar’s comfort level. They have also replaced old corroding doors and windows with new plastic ones, introduced compulsory uniforms and hair coverings for workers, arranged for personal lockers to be built in changing rooms, and achieved a host of other measures as part of the process towards ISO 9001 certification. To earn their bonus, Bakhtiyar and his teammates must perform simple visual quality checks to make sure the water bottles are well-closed and contain the right amount of water and the stickers are well-glued. Their pay climbs as the number of defects falls and productivity improves.

The goal of the quality-certification project, Ms. Ismanova explained, is to increase the company’s image as a producer of high-quality bottled water. The $1 million upgrade and the certification will better position Shoro to take on both the local competition and imported mineral water. It is also a prerequisite to expansion into foreign markets, primarily Kazakhstan and Russia. Production Director Mr. Osmanbaev hopes to begin exporting shortly after obtaining the much-coveted ISO 9001 certification towards the end of 2012. To carry out the necessary improvements, Shoro applied to the World Bank’s Agribusiness and Marketing project, which has funded quality-management consulting services since 2008, just as ITC’s pilot project was wrapping up.

Could this have been accomplished without ITC’s involvement? ‘There is no way,’ said Ms. Jujsupjanova, who became Kyrgyzstan’s first certified quality-management adviser in 2003, well before ITC’s trade-promotion project. ‘ITC has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of quality management, one that goes beyond individual certifications’ and allows Shoro to make both general quality-management and food-safety improvements, she said.
The ITC project was ‘very successful’, according to the report of three external evaluators, who concluded that the ‘biggest asset of [the] project’s sustainability is [the] change of mind of various stakeholders’. It is now, three years later, that the project is really bearing fruit and its indirect benefits become evident, said Ms. Jujsupjanova. While she didn't expect to be involved in more than a couple of assignments after her training by ITC, now, she says, ‘I am working on this full time and have to actually turn down projects.’