Hey hey hey! Long time no news, eh? Sorry for that. The last week was pretty intense, but now it’s Friday and I was at a lunch conference again, which means I have interesting thoughts to report 🙂
The talk was titled “Best practices in engaging with the agricultural private sector in ACP [African, Caribbean, and Pacific Island nations] countries, and featured the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee (COLEACP). They are the main implementer of the PIP project that is funded by the European Union.
They are an association of more than 300 private businesses, both in Europe and in ACP countries, that have “come together to promote a competitive, sustainable horticultural trade, and to contribute to the development of the ACP agricultural sector”, according to their website. Overall, they represent 87% of fruit and vegetable exports from ACP countries to Europe.
The mission of PIP is to connect producers that furnish the goods we cherish in Europe with the consumer base they cannot currently reach because of the high European standards regarding food safety, and develop their operations with a focus on environmental and social sustainability.
Their structure is pretty unique: a centralized hub of around 40 people sits in Brussels and receives applications from tiny to large entrepreneurs in any ACP country. The application is for support in capacity-building, knowledge dissemination, getting up to par to apply for standards such as organic or Fair Trade, or installing food safety or environmental management systems.
They then sit down with the company and devise a management plan that is adapted to its needs and implemented through local service providers. Those could be giving seminars on food safety, advising in how to navigate EU import legislation, or help install a working hygiene protocol.
The service provision is centered around a train-the-trainers principle, where around 57% of beneficiaries are later contracted through COLEACP to train other new applicants. It also supports the development of local consultancy firms, which end up getting around a quarter of their work through the PIP contracts and diversifying their clients for the other three-quarters.
The presentation given outlined some other key principles that I found extremely inspiring:
- It’s demand-driven intervention: it sets up structures through which resources are offered, but doesn’t dictate what they are used for. Projects are defined mainly by the local companies and there is a lot of shared responsibility.
- Local ownership is key for the intervention being sustainable. Many times, help is offered on condition of other parts of the plan being implemented independently by the local company. Also, co-financing is applied to many of the interventions – on average , 60% comes from COLEACP coffers, and 40% through the company or other partners.
- The approach tries to avoid the substitution of local stakeholders through other outside actors.
- The project clearly excludes any infrastructure financing. The resources are supposed to make long-lasting impacts and are thus mainly dedicated to HR development.
- The pooling of problems and solutions at headquarters allows the economies of scale in identifying the appropriate solution. Thus, there is a centralization in management, but a decentralization in the actual implementation.
- The long and continuous duration (the program has run without break for over 10 years so far) allows reliability and patience in implementation, and a focus to move with the companies’ action plans rather than pushing them unduly.
Oh, and look at the main lesson learned: trust local HR at all levels.
They had some really nice examples of projects they supported – all sizes, from the single woman who decided she could also open her own exporting business and, 5 years later, employs more than 20 people, to the cutting-edge exporting enterprise that wanted to get fair trade certified.