Innovative partnerships: The COLEACP model


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    Over the past 40 years, COLEACP has acquired extensive experience in supporting a sustainable and inclusive agricultural trade between ACP countries and the EU. Members of the association, ACP and EU businesses, are convinced that innovative partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs) and donors create the opportunity to promote sustainable agricultural practices while sourcing from competitive small-scale farmers.

    Accessing markets, an evolving context

    The markets for fresh fruit and vegetables have transformed. Alongside a rapid increase in volumes traded during the past decades, the supply chain has been subject to dramatic changes both in structure (vertical integration, consolidation, globalisation) and in terms of the commercial and regulatory requirements, or ‘trading rules’, of the major markets. Together these have created substantial technical and financial challenges that threaten the place of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) operators, particularly the weaker economic players, in agricultural value chains.

    While the past decade has seen increased investment by local and international companies in ACP countries, local and international agribusiness companies seeking to partner with suppliers often lack the capacity and experience to deal with local socio-economic circumstances. As a result, these companies are increasingly approaching donors, development partners (including COLEACP) and civil society organisations (CSOs) for advice and assistance. Clear opportunities for public-private partnerships, market-based solutions, and additionality emerge where the interests of businesses, CSOs and donors coincide. COLEACP (the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee) provides technical assistance to ACP companies in 50 countries to help them meet the demands of the markets in terms of regulations and standards. As the market requirements have changed, COLEACP has adapted its support accordingly expanding from its original focus on food safety regulations and standards to also address social and environmental initiatives; and targeting sustainability, food security, and poverty alleviation in a broader context. The model developed by COLEACP is unique in that it provides targeted assistance to the private sector, while also ensuring that the capacity of the enabling environment to support the sector over the long-term is also strengthened through, among others, CSOs, competent authorities and local service providers.

    Tailored support for ACP producers and exporters

    The challenge for COLEACP is to address a common subject (food safety, sustainability) over a very diverse range of conditions (small vs. medium or large companies; different products; different countries; different players, different needs). It requires an approach that is sufficiently structured to allow a central team in Brussels to implement a programme of capacity building in several countries, while at the same time being sufficiently flexible to accommodate the considerable variation between and within them. The following case studies illustrate the importance and the role of partnerships between representatives from the private and public sectors and CSOs in meeting this challenge.

    APROVAG in Senegal: Banana producers

    APROVAG (Association des producteurs de bananes de la vallée de la Gambie) is a cooperative in Tambacaounda, Eastern Senegal, 500km from the capital Dakar. In 2012 COLEACP received a request for support from the producers. It was difficult to sell their bananas on the local market given the competition from Côte d’Ivoire, poor packhouse infrastructure and the cost of organic fertilisers. The producers were looking to improve their food safety management system and aimed at GLOBALGAP certification as well as organic and Fairtrade certification. These certifications were necessary if they were to penetrate the EU market. The potential access to the Dutch and European market via Agrofair (Europe-wide importer and distributor of Fairtrade and organic tropical fresh fruit from Africa and Latin America, co-owned by its farmers) was a source of motivation for the 610 producers as well as the possibility to increase their productivity due to better agricultural practices. Consultation was set up from the start between VECO (Belgian NGO working in Tambacounda) Agrofair, United States African Development Foundation (USADF) and the PDMAS agricultural market support programme financed by the World Bank and the PCE economic growth support programme financed by USAID.

    A collective action plan was put in place whereby partners would support APROVAG according to their respective areas of expertise in order to cover all aspects of the initial demand for intervention. COLEACP went ahead to train 149 producers and four locally based VECO officers who would then continue to train the other 13 associations who were members within the cooperative. External auditors certified the producers and their system according to GLOBALGAP (international food safety standard) and organic standards. The main benefits for the producers came from increased sales on the local market thanks to better quality and regular volumes. This could not have been achieved without the active participation and presence on the ground of all partners involved.

    Keeping access to EU market for lychee supply chain in Madagascar

    Madagascar is the largest exporter of lychees to the EU with around 20,000 tonnes of produce shipped annually between December and January. In the 2010 Fruit Logistica international trade fair in Berlin, representatives of GEL Madagascar (Groupement des exportateurs de litchis) contacted COLEACP for support. They were experiencing problems due to sulphur residues in the fruit, which exceeded the permitted levels for EU markets. This was potentially very serious as it could result in a restriction or ban on sales to the EU. Litchi is a key export crop in Madagascar, and has important development implications as a major source of income and rural employment. It is grown predominantly by very small-scale growers, and sold via collectors and brokers to export companies, who then supply local and global supply chains. This export market is worth over €14 million to the Madagascar economy. The supply chain involves 30,000 families, 3,000 seasonal workers (pickers, brokers) over 100 transporters and 40 exporting companies.

    Once COLEACP began to work with GEL, it became clear that addressing the sulphur problem was complex and with few economically viable alternatives for post-harvest disease control. The solution needed the involvement of diverse players. These included the exporters, CTHT (Centre technique horticole de Tanave), public sector extension and inspection services, the NGO Agronomes et vétérinaires sans frontières (AVSF), EU importers, and GEL itself. Through a multi-stakeholder partnership, a programme of support was put in place to tackle the most immediate needs, as well as finding long-term solutions through alternative methods and the establishment of risk-management system. COLEACP began to work with the NGO AVSF, which has long-term experience of working with litchi producers in production and Fairtrade certification and a strong presence on the ground. This was instrumental to allow the dissemination of good agricultural practices in pre-harvest management, collection and transport. AVSF acted as a relay to reach the large numbers of players through advice to producers using a variety of routes from training to radio broadcasts, and follow up support to guarantee impact measurement. Since support actions were undertaken for the lychee supply chain in 2010, neither restrictions nor bans were imposed to the produce exported to the EU.

    Lessons learned

    From the case studies in Madagascar and Senegal, it shows that the main incentives for partnerships come from the recognised complementarities between actors in order to maximise impact. Short-term achievements within mutually conceived action plans boost the willingness to continue for all stakeholders in the supply chain from primary producers to importers, from public sector to CSOs.

    There are challenges in working with any multi-stakeholder group. Inviting national and international interests, public and private actors, government and civil society, producers and buyers to work towards common objectives and according to the same ‘rules of play’ is nothing if not challenging. As a private sector player, with experience of creating market linkages and delivering trade and production-related capacity building for public and private sectors, COLEACP is well placed to act as agent in supporting development of the ACP private sector, as well as in partnering with local and global CSOs and businesses to help deliver on development goals and stimulate investment. Given its original mandate, COLEACP is often the first ‘port of call’ for all of the different stakeholders as it understands the vested interests of each actor and identifies the ‘common ground’ so that collaboration is more attractive than competition.


    EU/global buyers and policy-makers often lack knowledge of the local context, leading to demands that exclude ACP players because of inappropriate regulations, private standards or demands. In addition, inherent unfairness in supply chains (e.g. procurement practices, distribution of benefit) and a lack of opportunity and inclusiveness for groups that are vulnerable (because of poverty, gender, ethnicity, among others) represent major constraints that need to be adressed. Finally, institutional weaknesses and poor governance among public authorities and private institutions (e.g. professional associations) in some developing ACP countries limits their ability to support development of their agricultural sectors.

    These constraints must be addressed by businesses, CSOs and donors in the context of poverty reduction and food security which, in turn, are dependent on the sustainability of production. Sustainable intensification forms the core of COLEACP’s new intervention framework, to increase production while minimising negative impacts on climate, ecosystems, and the productive environment. It also addresses the social and economic dimensions of sustainability including livelihoods, economic viability (and access to finance), social justice and inclusiveness. There is particular emphasis on smallholder participation, young people, and women, who are frequently the most disadvantaged by the changes taking place in local and global supply chains, and who often have most to gain from improved conditions of production, employment and trade. It is more than ever vital to ensure that the transfer of the advances made in the export sector (e.g. in terms of production practices, food safety, plant health, sustainability) is facilitated in order to benefit local and regional markets and consumers. Appropriate and affordable technologies for market-orientated sustainable production (agronomic practices, IT, local processing to add value at source etc.) require resources and investments but also vehicles and mechanisms to link them with end-users to ensure innovation, adoption, and uptake. Under PIP2 and EDES programmes (2010-2015), COLEACP managed 1,600 projects similar to the ones described in Madagascar and Senegal. 14,281 men and women were directy trained by COLEACP through 1068 training sessions across 50 countries. In total, the capacities of more than a million farmers, workers and civil servants were strenghtened. More information is available at About the authors Jeremy Knops is Director of Operations at COLEACP Hilary Barry is Institutional Partnership and Development Advisor at COLEACP.

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 2  (March/April 2016).

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