Rikolto (formerly known as VECO/Vredeseilanden) is an international NGO with more than 50 years’ experience in partnering with farmer organisations and food chain stakeholders across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. In 2017, we transitioned from a traditional Belgian development NGO into an international network organisation.
Download our logo, or continue reading to discover the history of our organisation.
In 2016-2017, Rikolto (still called VECO at the time) made a change at the root of its organisational structure. In order be better prepared and able to deal with the many challenges facing the food and agriculture sector, we needed to adapt our methods of cooperation between colleagues worldwide and partner organisations, to increase flexibility, to reach a greater impact and become more international in our outlook.
In these complex times where realities tend to change quicker then organisations can adapt, expertise and decision-making power has to be distributed over the regions where we are active. As close as possible to the action. That's the only way to move step by step to the future we dream of.
The major challenges of our time cannot be solved by changing policies in one country or region alone. Dealing with, for example, the consequences of climate change, is a global challenge and requires cooperation and consultation across regions. We also notice that, when we work with business leaders who want to make their practices more sustainable, they often seek cooperation with farmers’ organisations in several countries or regions at the same time. As an international organisation, we are even better positioned to facilitate these relationships.
One of our core values is our belief in our staff and volunteers. Our stakeholders appreciate us for our open-mindedness and way of entering into dialogue. Across our organisation, we are blessed to have knowledgeable experts as colleagues. We started noticing that they were mainly using their knowledge within their own country or sometimes region, but they were rarely able to share this beyond the borders of their own programme. Becoming a network organisation gives our experts the opportunity to collaborate in international programme teams and share their expertise. For example: in Indonesia, colleagues have a lot of experience in setting up quality control systems within a farmers' organisation, our colleagues in Belgium and Vietnam were the first to build knowledge around urban food policy, in Peru and Ecuador we pioneered youth engagement projects, … Based on this idea, our three international programmes (Good Food for Cities, Sustainable rice, and Cocoa & Coffee) emerged, each with a global director and an international team of programme colleagues.
Typical development cooperation is based on the myth that knowledge and expertise only travels in one direction, from the “Western world” to developing countries. Knowledge is instead created and reinforced by means of exchange and cooperation.
Madeleine Tsimi | (then) co-Executive Director
Rikolto used to be very centralised, with the senior governance bodies (General Assembly, Board of Directors and head office) based in Belgium and dominated by Belgians. Under this model, programme objectives for the entire organisation were developed centrally and later translated into regional programmes. Through our new structure we evolved towards a truly international steering of the organisation.
To make this happen, our organisational and governance structure underwent a complete makeover in 2017. Rikolto International was founded: a new legal entity next to Rikolto Belgium (previously the NGO Vredeseilanden), which became the vessel of the network organisation. Rikolto’s offices in Latin America, East Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe (Belgium) all constitute an equal part of Rikolto as network organisation, with Rikolto Belgium being the only office with a separate legal entity.
Rikolto International is managed by a Global Directors Team, a Global Operations Team, a Strategy Meeting and an International Board of Directors, in which all Rikolto regions are represented. Read more about our governance…
Our transition into a truly global organisation with international governance structures had to go hand in hand with a name change: we wanted a brand name that suited this new phase of our organisation, and that matched our mission.
Rikolto is the Esperanto word for ‘harvest’. We want farmers to have a brilliant harvest, and we want to especially harvest great new ideas and solutions to improve our food systems.
Chris Claes | International Executive Director
There was also a practical reason: in Belgium, we were known as Vredeseilanden. Everywhere else, we were known as VECO. This double name often created confusions. Changing our name allowed us to create a strong, recognisable, international brand for our entire organisation.
Our logo refers to the Vitruvian Man by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
In this drawing Da Vinci brought together all the elements which, in his view, represented the ideal man. Man as an independent being, but also concerned for the world and his fellow beings; looking forward, building for the future, bringing together art and technology, philosophy and knowledge, reason and emotion into a coherent whole.
The current Rikolto is a merger of three Belgian development organisations in the early 2000s: Vredeseilanden, Coopibo and Fado.
In the 1970s, Coopibo was founded as an independent, pluralist non-governmental development organisation. The NGO specialised in gender issues, small-scale farmers, and methodological guidance, in a restricted number of countries. From the 1990s onwards, Coopibo focused on sustainable agriculture in Flanders and the global South.
Vredeseilanden (“islands of peace”) was founded by Father Dominique Pire, who received the Nobel Peace prize in 1958 for his work with refugees and the victims of the Second World War. Based on the idea that development is impossible without peace, Dominique Pire established the first "island of peace" in Gohira, Bangladesh in the 1960s. In the 1990s Vredeseilanden became widely known in Flanders through the media and cultural activities.
In the 1950s, a number of people came together around the Belgian priest René Daem, working in Flores (Indonesia) on health care projects and the fight against poverty. This market the start of the organisation "Friends of Flores". In the mid-1980s, “Friends of Flores” is renamed FADO. The NGO specialised in sustainable agriculture in Southeast Asia.
During the crisis in Rwanda (1994), Vredeseilanden and Coopibo operated together in the region and organised in a joint campaign in Belgium. This led, a few years later, to a merger of Vredeseilanden and Coopibo. In 2001, Vredeseilanden and Coopibo merged with FADO.
Since the merger, the organisation was called Vredeseilanden in Belgium. Programmes outside Belgium were run through 7 Country offices. Outside Belgium, the organisation was mainly known as VECO. Between 2004 and 2008, the organisation shifted its focus from production support to value chains inclusive for smallholder farmers. In 2007, a new mission was defined:
Contribute to viable livelihoods of organised family farmers in South and North through sustainable agriculture.
This laid the foundations for our current mission. Read more about how we work.