‘Local and global trade is a key to development‘

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Five questions for Samuel Poos
Coordinator of Trade for Development

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In addition to supporting fair and sustainable trade, the Trade for Development Centre also focuses on broad support to the private sector. What is this about?

Originally, our role was to improve market access for producers in the South and to promote fair and sustainable trade. Now, we take on further initiatives under the framework of the governmental programmes. It concerns the promotion of entrepreneurship and the coaching of development of businesses, value chains or economic sectors in the partner countries.

You accompany development initiatives taken by enterprises, for instance by orienting them towards local markets. Why?

In some cases, such a choice appears to be the right one. In Morocco, for instance, the Belgian development agency has assisted local cooperatives in their search for business opportunities in the saffron value chain. The marketing experts involved in the project helped them assess the various possible outlets and realised that there was a greater potential in sales in the tourism sector than in venturing on international markets. Indeed, many hotels, restaurants and shops in Morocco actually import the saffron they offer: Proposing to them to use a local product makes more sense than trying to compete with the big exporting countries on international markets.
"We want to identify and support local cooperatives and businesses that are most likely to succeed." 
So, your activities among others focus on local businesses?

Indeed. But we try to bundle our effort: We aim to identify local businesses with a bigger potential in terms of economic development and development as such, and we provide our support to them in the hope that they will generate a bigger impact. In Kivu, for instance, we have coached a cooperative of coffee producers of high-quality Arabica: From one thousand members it has grown to having five thousand members now. This bigger size has a positive influence on the negotiation capacities, which is a real win situation for the smallholder producers and helps stabilise the region. 
In addition to projects carried out by the Belgian governmental cooperation, you also try to work with NGOs and even the private sector?

Effectively, yes. The idea is to pool resources so initiatives have a bigger impact. In Burundi, for instance, we have supported a cooperative, COCOCA, which exported ten to eleven per cent of the coffee produced in the country. Our support and that of other NGOs allowed an investment fund to finance a coffee washing station. This helps create local added value and stimulates local employment and entrepreneurship. This is the whole philosophy behind the idea of coordinating actions and pooling resources.

In the same spirit, we also try to take joint actions with the private sector. In Tanzania, for instance, the Belgian Development Cooperation works with the number one teak producing company. It wanted to involve the local population in forest management in view of fighting deforestation. Providing the local population with an income whilst involving them in forest management allows to actually improve living conditions and to avoid that new land is deforested for subsistence farming. And at the same time, the lumber supply to the teak producer is secured. So, it was a win-win situation. 

We also supported a project of the Honeyguide Foundation, which aims to develop tourism, in collaboration with Maasai tribes in elephant migration zones. We financed the construction of lodges, the training of Maasai tour guides and signboards for tourists. 
Likewise, in future we would like to develop partnerships with Belgian businesses that have expressed an interest in sustainable value chains. Such action would target the continuation of partnerships between these businesses and local cooperatives and aims to develop more added value locally. In fact, whether it concerns working with the private sector, with NGOs or with other projects of the Belgian Development Cooperation, the philosophy remains unchanged: Coordinate actions and pool resources to boost our impact. 

We also explore the possibilities of working with the diaspora of people from the countries where we intervene. We have just launched a project to stimulate Belgian entrepreneurs of Moroccan origin to invest in Morocco.

You often talk of combining actions to maximise impact. How do you intend to develop this approach in the future?

We actually intend to map the actions of various operators in the partner countries, i.e. NGOs or private sector actors, in view of coordinating the efforts. We also want to think of ways to involve more Belgian and European businesses in our projects, still with the idea in mind of boosting their local involvement in view of sustainability. 

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