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Brand Africa: Biofach 2008.

Africa had its own pavilion at Biofach, the World Organic Trade Fair in Nuremberg this year, which marked the first time African exporters were gathered under one roof in a concerted campaign to strengthen and promote 'Brand Africa'.

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The number of exhibitors more than doubled to 75 this year in an effort to bring more visibility to African exporters. They are, in short, working examples of the ITC maxim 'export impact for good' and the fair was a wonderful showcase for the changing face of African organics.

Kenya: Design, diversity and quality

'Design', 'diversity' and 'quality' were words on the lips of visitors to the Kenyan stands where organically certified essential oils, herbal teas, coconut oil and macadamia nuts reflected the Kenyan tendency towards diversification and higher value products.

The semi-desert bushlands extending from Mount Kenya into Somalia are home to the spiny Boswellia and Commiphora trees. Since 2007, a small company called Arbor Oils of Africa has been using resin gathered by the nomadic Samburu tribe to produce the world's first organically certified frankincense.

The main reason why nobody has previously sought organic certification, according to Arbor Oil's Hilary Sommerlatte, is the remoteness of the areas in which the trees grow (eight hours north of Nairobi), which increases the logistical difficulty and cost of certification.

Some 200 Samburu households are now involved in collecting the resin, which last year was steam-distilled to extract around 200kg of essential oils. The organically certified frankincense sold for around 145 euros a litre, and the company is aiming for an output of 20 tonnes, which it considers a sustainable level of production.

The Mount Kenya region is also home to the Kenya Nut Company. Selling under the 'Out of Africa' brand name, the firm exports organically certified macadamia nuts (and some coffee), and was also appearing at Biofach for the first time. The company employs over 2,000 people and produces 1,500 tonnes of macadamia nuts, of which 1,000 tonnes are certified as organic.

'Most of our organic produce goes for export to Europe, the United States and the Far East,' said its representative Naomi Munga. Like many of the organic producers, she complained of the problems exporters face in getting certificates of organic production and the fact that different industrialized country markets often require different certificates. This was a big and expensive problem, she said.

Further south, near the Kenyan port of Mombasa, Coast Coconut Farms is in the process of converting its suppliers to organic production. David Okello describes the company as a 'for-profit social business', which works with larger facilities and small micro-franchises in rural Kenya.

'If our coconut oil is certified,' Okello said, 'its price could more than double from 6 euros a litre up to 16. So it is better being organic; you get a better return and the consumers are happier. Our biggest problem is getting ourselves known, so this fair is going to be great for us.'

Meru Herbs has been producing carcade, a health drink derived from the tropical hibiscus shrub, in eastern Kenya since 1989. Some 164 farms with which it works are certified as organic, while another 136 are in the process of converting. The Farmers' Association was founded in 1991 to finance the maintenance costs of a project to provide water for soil irrigation and domestic use for 430 families.

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Zimbabwe: Engaging the community

At a time when most foreign investors have been staying away from Zimbabwe, one social entrepreneur saw a unique business opportunity that could also engage the local community.

In 2007, Dominikus Collenberg launched Kaite, a German-Zimbabwean venture specializing in herbs, spices and medicinal and aromatic plants. In Zimbabwe's Shona language, Kaite means 'a task to be conscientiously fulfilled', while in old German it means 'farm of the smallholder'.

With the world's highest inflation rate, Zimbabwe might not have seemed the most attractive location for a foreigner to start a new business. 'The main reason was that nobody is going to Zimbabwe now but the people here are desperate,' says Collenberg. 'I chose a very labour-intensive form of production. We do not work only with farmers; we also employ landless labourers because this is wild collection.'

Kaite trains farmers to use innovative organic farming techniques and supports the local community by helping to treat HIV-positive farmers and their families, and by paying for the schooling of local orphans.

Rwanda: Helping rebuild the economy

Organics are helping to rebuild the economy in this once war-ravaged country, and geranium oil in particular is bringing hope to widows and orphans.

In colonial times, Rwanda produced fragrant essential oils from geraniums, but the business all but died out after independence in 1962. So, when the non-governmental organization ASNAPP, which helps create and develop African businesses in natural products, cast around for new projects to help survivors of the civil war and genocide, geranium oil was an obvious option.

Geraniums are high-yielding, which is an important consideration in a country where agricultural land is scarce. Ikirezi Natural Products was launched in 2003 and employs mainly widows and orphans of the country's conflicts and the AIDS epidemic.

'Widows are some of the most difficult people to help,' said Nicholas Hitimana, managing director, 'so if you can help raise their incomes, there is no reason why it cannot be done with others. It is more dignified than handouts.' Ikirezi, which means 'precious pearl' in the local dialect, works with cooperatives in three areas: Byunde in the north near the Ugandan border; near the capital Kigali; and in the south near Kibungo, which is the largest venture, accounting for some three-quarters of the 800 people working for the organization.

Output totalled some 60kg in 2007, effectively its first year of commercial operations, although the company is aiming for 500kg this year. The decision to go organic was largely economic. It doubles earnings from the oil to some US$150/kg. The cooperatives' and the company's facilities have been certified as organic by Ecocert of Germany.

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Uganda: Building the organics sector

With a fast-developing organics sector and the largest organically certified area in Africa, Ugandan producers are hoping to become important suppliers of organic products.

This was the first fair for many of them, and it prepared them for the next stage of the Uganda Organic Export Initiative, a project that ITC is carrying out in cooperation with the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU). This project aims to improve the livelihoods of at least 2,500 Ugandan families by providing training and expertise and helping them participate in organic markets.

On the basis of their potential competitiveness, two companies and two farmers' associations were selected: Rural Community in Development (RUCID), Good African Coffee, Kaliiro Organic Farmers' Association and Katuka Development Trust. The project will provide group training to build organic capacity and develop an internal control system, which will require less monitoring by the certifier.

Samuel Nyanzi, RUCID's executive director and chairman of NOGAMU, applauds the ITC project. His company has been producing dried pineapples, apple-bananas and mangos since 2000 from fruit grown by some 120 farmers around Lubanja, 68km southwest of Kampala.

The main challenges the company faces are first to get the certificate of full organic production and then to boost output sufficiently to make exporting viable. The company currently produces about 35kg a day of dried pineapples and mangos, which Nyanzi says is too little.

Money is a problem. The certification process is expensive and the company needs to finance the period between paying farmers for the raw materials and earning a return on the dried goods.

Stephen Sjenkima of the Kaliiro Organic Farmers' Association in southwest Uganda's Lyantonde district is also going organic, which he believes will create wider market opportunities. 'We want to maximize our market potential. If you have a certificate you have more options,' he says. 'Pineapples are a perishable product and do not get a good deal on the local market. I am broadening my knowledge, which I can then share with the others when I get back. I can give them the bigger picture. The market is there.'

The Katuka Development Trust groups some 5,000 coffee farmers in the central region of Uganda, has been operating for three years, and hopes to get around 10% of farms certified as organic this year.

'Most people are selling to middlemen,' says company representative Grace Lwanga. 'The organic certificate will give them alternative outlets where they have more bargaining power.' The company also plans to seek a Fairtrade certificate.

Tharcisse Maniraho of Good African Coffee had the opportunity to compare coffee quality with other producers in Africa. 'What we saw helped us to do a self-evaluation of our own products in terms of quality and packaging.' Apart from local distribution, the company has already secured space on the shelves of Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Good African Coffee incorporates some 14,000 small-scale coffee farmers in the region of Ruwenzori. About 3,000 of the farms are involved in the ITC-supported project, which is helping them to obtain the organic certification that will add value to their products.

WRITES

Richard Waddington

Marija Stefanovic

Natalie Domeisen, ITC.
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Title Annotation:TRADE TRENDS
Author:Waddington, Richard; Stefanovic, Marija; Domeisen, Natalie
Publication:International Trade Forum
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:1549
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