Vredeseilanden went with a number of business people, politicians and opinion makers to visit producers in Senegal. The group got to know banana and sesame producers and reflected and debated together with them about answers we can provide to the challenges that small-scale producers in developing countries are facing. How can they obtain a place and a fair income in modern food chains? And which role can the businesses, government, farmers’ organizations and education play?
On the first night in Dakar, the delegation was received at the Belgian embassy. Apart from the Vredeseilanden delegation, there was also a delegation led by the Walloon Minister of Agriculture Carlo Di Antonio, and representatives and Belgian entrepreneurs in Senegal.
Ambassador Johan Verkammen underlined the added value of such missions and their importance for the Senegalese economy. “Senegal has a lot of economic potential, e.g. in the field of port expansion and agriculture, and the political climate here is relatively stable. More investments could positively boost the economy”, said the Ambassador. Senegal is on the list of Least Developed countries; one third of its popula-tion has to get around with less than 1,25 euro per day.
Spotted bananas The next morning the bus left inland towards Tambacounda and nearby village Nguène, where a group of producers from the banana association APROVAG gave us a colourful and warm welcome. APROVAG, with support of Vredeseilanden and other partners, focuses on quality improvement of their bananas so they can be good enough to compete with imported second choice bananas from Ivory Coast and can conquer a place in the shelves of the supermarkets of Dakar. Soon, cable trails will be installed to transport bananas from the field to the central unit where they will be washed and packed, ready for the truck to Dakar. Until now this is done by bicycle, which may cause some bumps, and sometimes they already arrive at the washing station with small brown spots - which, of course, does not favour their quality and appearance.
“We have been able to taste APROVAG’s bananas, they are very tasteful, so the only remaining quality problem is the appearance”, says former Minister Steven Vanackere. “In developed countries much food is lost because of quality standards that focus too much on the appearance of food, which causes consumers to buy more than they really need. FAO calculated that half of what is wasted in industrialized countries would be enough to feed the 870 million undernourished people in the world. These are shocking figures! We have to think more about what is really important.” “That same FAO”, Vanackere continues, “states that in developing countries the problems are mainly in terms of techniques for harvesting, transportation and storage, and of infrastructure. We could notice that also during the trip. Thus, there is a need for local investment in roads and infrastructure, and for a catch-up operation in terms of management and technology.” Christ’l Joris, president of Flanders Investment and Trade and the Gillès Foundation, among other, agrees: “A number of important factors must be tackled locally. Corporate governance is very important, as are health care and education. The Senegalese government has to create a climate that provides producers with more opportunities to be present at the local market.” “Added value creation is important for the producers”, says Toon Martens, director of the Catholic High School of Leuven and Limburg, “and that means that the necessary knowledge to achieve that must be present. It is my impression that this knowledge is often lacking and that there is still a need for heavy investment in education, especially technical education.”
Happiness in a sesame seed The next day there is a visit to one of the producers’ groups who are members of the sesame producers´ organization UGAN. The sesame plants with their cheerful white flowers are almost ready for harvesting. Vredeseilanden supports UGAN in quality improvement and contacted them with a number of buyers, allowing them to succeed in closing a number of deals, among others with the French company ANI that buys the sesame, processes it and exports it to companies in Europe, and with Marie Diallo, a Senegalese company that processes sesame in cosmetic products like soap and beauty care oils. In our hotel in Dakar we could try out for ourselves Marie Diallo’s soap and body lotion in the shower; it is offered for sale in the lobby. From producer to final product, the entire chain is under the microscope. “Thanks to the income from sesame, the women here now have a part of income that is their own and that is used for health care, education and the house”, tells Madam Seynabou Gaye, president of the producers’ group.
Belgian companies Can Belgian companies also play a role in this and make chains more inclusive for small-scale producers? “We must look for ‘shared value’.”, says Sabine Denis, director of Business & Society, “By cooperating in the supply chain, parties can strengthen each other. In my opinion, the cooperation between Colruyt and Vredeseilanden is a nice example of that.” Mieke Vercaeren of Colruyt also travelled along. “Cooperation, quality and a strong marketing plan for Senegalese products; that is what it is all about”, she says. “And that is what we as a retailer want to think about. Many thoughts occur to me which I take with me to Colruyt.” Pieter Timmermans, CEO of the Flemish Entrepreneurs Association is also convinced that the business world can do a lot more. “However, a private investor will only invest when there is a business”, he says. “An investor takes calculated risks and can only be a benefactor up to a certain point. Nevertheless, the latter must also be present in the company values for Corporate Social Responsibility to have a chance of succeeding.” Creating win-win situations for companies and for farmers and doing so in a way that respects the support capacity of the planet, that is what it is about for Vredeseilanden, and that is what we hope to continue working around with stakeholders from the business world, the government and education.