Innovation in practice

Innovation in practice


“Innovation is a process of turning an opportunity into new ideas and of putting these into widely used practice”. When it comes to new ideas in the development of sustainable value chains, the Vredeseilanden Innovation Fund was created a couple of years ago. The Fund is meant to encourage innovative approaches and activities of our staff or partner organisations. Often, these activities cannot be sufficiently rapid, or can hardly be funded out of public, institutional or private 3rd-party funds. In first instance, it is meant to provide seed funding, i.e. to provide the means to develop, try out or experiment with innovations. If successful, funding to further develop the project will have to be found elsewhere.

But what kind of innovative projects have seen the light so far? Up till now already nine projects were approved. Below, I present you three of these projects.

Vietnam’s eco-packaging for safe and organic vegetables

In 2011, when VECO Vietnam assessed its chains on sustainability it was clear that plastic packaging is an important issue in the safe vegetables chains. To become more environmentally sustainable, VECO had to come up with an alternative for the plastic bags. Adequate labeling and packaging is important to differentiate the safe vegetables from regular ones and to gain consumer awareness and trust.

Awareness on the environment in Vietnam is still very low and alternatives to plastic packaging are scarce or none existent and plastic bags are very cheap (1 kg of plastic bags costs ± 1.4 euro). One shop at the market easily uses several kilos of plastic bags a day per shop, for TET (Lunar New Year) this can even increase to over 10 kilos of plastic bags a day. These plastic bags end up either on a dump or directly in the environment, as adequate waste management is not in place in Vietnam.

In February 2012, VECO Vietnam received green light from the innovation fund to start and develop eco-packaging that keeps the vegetables fresh in the challenging hot and humid environment of North Vietnam, ensures competitiveness of the product, and is accessible and affordable for smallscale producers in Vietnam.

One year later an eco-packaging has been developed, tested on its suitability to contain fresh vegetables and introduced to safe vegetable farmers. Currently, a cost-benefit analysis takes place after which production and distribution can start.

Peru’s sustainable asparagus in Colruyt - Contributing to new inclusive business models

After the success of bringing high quality sustainable rice from Benin to its stores, Colruyt decided to start a second pilot project with VECO in 2009. This time by choosing one of its products already available on Colruyt’s shelves and improving the chain regarding sustainability and inclusiveness of smallholders. After thorough analysis it was decided to work on canned asparagus, which Colruyt procured from several countries, including Peru, via Scana Noliko, a processing company.

In order to realize an inclusive asparagus chain, support at the level of the farmer organization, REOPA, was necessary. Because support to REOPA was not foreseen in the regular programme budget VECO Andino submitted a funding proposal to the innovation fund.

After more than a year of hard work, including the strengthening of the capacity of REOPA, the achievements were clear. End 2012, REOPA’s canned asparagus had found their way to Colruyt’s shelves, generating a surplus value to their production of asparagus (not suited for the fresh market).

Congo – a new life for agricultural waste

In Congo the innovation fund supports a project on recycling. The project exists of giving agricultural waste a new life through recycling. The idea is to recycle the rice hulls and coffee waste, and use it as fuel for cooking stoves. It diminishes logging, protects the environment, and creates additional value at the same time; a win-win situation!

Why recycle agricultural waste? 1. Big volumes of waste that are burned nowadays will be re-used as raw material, which will increase the value of the chain. 2. This recycling technology is perfectly manageable by women, which creates additional income for women. 3. It will lower the demand of wood charcoal and diminish the pressure on the forest, which will lead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 4. It will reduce the time that women spend by looking for wood. Time that they now can invest in selling the fuel and generate income. The market is assured as in Butembo for example 700.000 inhabitants don’t have access to electricity. 5. The ashes can be used as an amendment for the soil.

This project only received support last October, therefore it is still too early to report on its progress.

Other projects that received funding:

  • Development of an integrated information service for sesame – VECO West Africa
  • Climate change resilience in Seven Districts in East Nusa Tenggara Province – VECO Indonesia
  • Stimulate participation of youth in vegetable farming – VECO Mesoamérica
  • Development of Arabica coffee chain in North Kivu – VECO Congo
  • Processing plant for cashew in Honduras – VECO Mesoamérica

Caroline Huyghe