Strengthening Smallholders’ Access to Markets for Certified Sustainable Products (SAMCERT) is a three year pilot project which was started based on a grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). SAMCERT has been working with groups supported by IFAD in several countries to identify the potential for certification Fair-trade, Organic, Utz Certified, and other certifications, and providing certification focused training and support, and developing Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Food Tank had the privilege to interview David Cuming, Coordinator of SAMCERT since 2012 to learn more about the program and its success.
FT: Please briefly tell us how long you have worked for Sustainable Commodity Initiative and how you got into the food movement.
DC: I have been with the Sustainable Commodity Initiative (SCI) since 2007 and coordinating SAMCERT since 2012. Since that time I have supported several SCI initiatives, including the Sustainable Commodity Assistance Network (SCAN), a global network of 17 leading international organizations collaborating on the provision of needs-based technical assistance on sustainable production and business management, Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), a neutral, independent global consortium whose mission is to accelerate sustainability in agriculture via partnerships and assessment tools that advance our understanding of social, economic, and environmental impacts. My grandparents were farmers in the centre of Canada and my paternal grandfather was active in developing the cooperative movement there. His vision of agriculture, and indeed social justice, has had a strong impact on my passion for sustainable agriculture and the food movement in general.
FT: In the three years that SAMCERT has been in existence, what do you feel has been your biggest achievement?
DC: The achievements to date have been numerous, and at times in somewhat difficult contexts. Cocoa producers in Sierra Leone have been certified Fairtrade and in 2013 sold cocoa for the first time at the Fairtrade premium rate. Producers in Liberia are being certified as we speak and are in the process of negotiating the sale of their first Fairtrade cocoa this year. Initiatives for the development of Geographic Indications (GI) have been initiated for Cocoa, coffee and pepper in Sao Tomé e Principe. Ghanaian producers of shea butter have been given the opportunity to visit a well-organized federation of shea butter producer in Burkina Faso who are exporting internationally and producer organisations in several countries have been trained on Internal Control Systems (ICS).
Above-all, however, the success of SAMCERT to date has been the provision of market-access support to IFAD producer groups that are looking to get their products to market in order to overcome poverty and provide opportunities for their families and communities. The SAMCERT project is very much focused on smallholders in difficult contexts; and the project is seeking, in part, to encourage funders, certification schemes and the private sector to realise that in order for certification to be a solid, comprehensive development tool, it must reach the poorest smallholders in countries with little infrastructure – but where there is a dedication to the development of quality products, and a desire to overcome poverty.
FT: MARS reported that in 2020, the world will be short one million tons of cocoa. Having said that how has the collaboration between SAMCERT had with IFAD’s work in Central Sulawesi to bridge the gap between profit sectors and farmers of cocoa?
DC: Indeed all of the cocoa companies are very nervous about impending cocoa shortages, and there is a great deal of emphasis in increasing yields. We agree that this is important, but encourage all stakeholders to consider the bigger picture of sustainability. The rush to improve yields must not be at the expense of sustainability; otherwise cocoa producers will lose out in the long run. SAMCERT commissioned a detailed GAP analysis in Indonesia to better understand the existing gaps, based on sustainable production and business management and the compliance criteria (environmental, economic and social) of the main certification initiatives (Fairtrade, Organic UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance). Moreover, specific training on certification was provided to producers and READ staff. This initiative has provided valuable information to the participating producer groups, and also to READ, which is integrating the results into the training program that it is developing. SAMCERT is now liaising with a number of private companies with an eye to developing Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in Indonesia that will improve market access for farmers. MARS, for its part, has developed a PPP with READ in which it is setting up model farms (or “Cocoa development Centres’) aimed at assisting small cocoa producers with improved agricultural practices, including side-grafting and overall farm management.
FT: Can you provide an update on SAMCERT expansion in West Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific region? How has the growth affected the quality of the work SAMCERT provides to smallholder producers?
DC: SAMCERT has made a conscious decision to limit its expansion, notably to ensure that we are able to achieve the best possible results in the countries initially selected. Accordingly, the expansion to date has been limited to Ghana (shea butter), on a consultancy basis, and Nicaragua (coffee) as a direct result of a coffee cupping event which SAMCERT presented at the end of last year.
FT: SAMCERT has worked on projects with coffee and cocoa growers, what updates are there regarding white pepper, oil palm, shea butter and hibiscus?
DC: We are supporting producers of shea butter in Ghana, hibiscus flower in Senegal and pepper in Sao Tomé e Principe. In Ghana SAMCERT has been supporting the Northern Rural Growth (NRGP) program, an initiative supported by IFAD and the African Development Bank. The NRGP is working with poor rural people to develop income-generating agricultural activities to supplement subsistence farming. Particular emphasis is being placed on people who are dependent on marginal lands, rural women and other vulnerable groups.
SAMCERT also assisted in the organization of a study visit for Ghanaian shea producers to a well-developed federation in southern Burkina Faso that is producing and exporting shea butter to buyers around the world. Through this visit the NRGP and the women’s producer groups were able to learn more about the organizational strategies and production/post-production methods and innovations introduced successfully in Burkina Faso. In particular, the producers went away with both valuable reminders regarding best practices for shea harvesting and processing, as well as new ideas for the organization of the work of their respective organizations. Efforts are currently underway by SAMCERT and NRGP to develop certification-based PPPs with a number of private companies present in the country, and develop capacity to be able to respond to the growing demand for shea butter in the cosmetics industry in Europe and North America.
In Senegal SAMCERT is supporting another value chain that is dominated by women’s producer groups, namely the hibiscus or ‘bissap’. SAMERT is supporting the work of the PAFA (Projet d’Appui aux Filières Agricoles) project in the Kaolack region of Senegal. In the summer of 2013 SAMCERT facilitated the laboratory analysis of hibiscus grown by PAFA-supported producers. The results were extremely positive and, with private sector encouragement, the producer groups are now preparing to certify their hibiscus Organic (and possibly Fairtrade).
SAMCERT’s support has hence focused on the development of Geographic Indications (GI), including technical advisory support for the GI implementation process and the creation of GI working groups (Cocoa, Coffee and Pepper) involving the necessary stakeholders. Developments with technical support to the Sao Tomé government on the preparation of the legal framework for the recognition and protection of GIs by advising the national commission of the Directorate of Industry (SENAPI), the organization of a Round Table on GI and value chains under the title “Strengthening the market potential of agricultural products of STP”are also ongoing projects.
FT: What challenges, if any, have you faced thus far?
DC: IFAD is working in some fairly challenging contexts, including in countries that are rebuilding from war and conflict and where poverty is disconcertingly commonplace.
In these contexts, it can be difficult to respond quickly to the demands of European and North American companies. Unfortunately, some companies are also very hesitant to consider, or have little experience, doing business in such countries. Accordingly, SAMCERT and IFAD are seeking to bridge the gaps by way of PPP that assist in ensuring that products meet market requirements (through capacity building support, infrastructure, technology etc.). SAMCERT is assisting in setting up such PPPs and encouraging the inclusion of sustainability certification, where it makes sense for the producers.
Certification can be challenging in some of these contexts, particularly where the producer groups are poorly organised, scattered over vast territories, or where basic infrastructure is lacking. While a number of voluntary standards are making concerted efforts to ensure that smaller-scale producers have access to sustainable markets, most production for sustainable markets has been dominated by more advanced producing countries. SAMCERT, as a bold pioneering initiative sponsored by IFAD, is seeking to ‘shake things up’ and encourage all the actors involved to use sustainable production and certification as both a market tool and a development tool.
Much work needs to be done to assist producer groups to organise themselves and to operate as veritable small businesses. SAMCERT is assisting with trainings on Internal Control Systems and conducting GAP analyses, and also assisting the groups to have their products tested. In some cases, there is work to do be done to improve fermentation (in the case of cacao), or proper storage (in the case of many products, including cocoa and coffee) etc. In the case of the hibiscus produced in Senegal, the results of the analyses supported by SAMCERT proved that the work of IFAD in supporting the development of drying beds and the construction of aerated storage sheds, coupled with the know-how of the producers, had paid off.
FT: “From the Crop to the Cup” gave viewers an insight as to the importance of visiting roasters and the process of growing, producing, manufacturing and transporting coffee. What impact, if any, did it have on the IFAD representatives in terms of changes or progress they have made in their representative countries? Is the Coffee Panel Test being planned yearly?
DC: The coffee panel test (‘cupping’) and the roasters tour was a positive experience for IFAD projects involving coffee and represented an excellent capacity building exercise for them as: a) the IFAD project representatives were provided with a comprehensive overview of how roasters test coffee, with clear information on guidelines, indicators and results of the coffee evaluation; b) they received technical advice on the critical aspects of the coffee value chain and insights into production methods and conditions to improve the quality of the coffee they produce; and c) they obtained realistic and targeted information about market opportunities for their coffees (notably in Italy).
The Coffee Panel Test was a pilot initiative introduced by SAMCERT and was tailored to IFAD staff capacity; it enabled the mutual understanding between coffee producers and roasters, creating considerable interest in building commercial partnerships among them. Consequently, SAMCERT’s efforts are now devoted to following up by way of supporting buyers visits to the target coffee producing countries.