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WEDF 2014 session report: Parallel session II - Sustainability standards: From barrier to opportunity

  • WEDF 2014 session report: Parallel session II - Sustainability standards: From barrier to opportunity


    • Hon. Amelia Kyambadde, Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Uganda
    • Mr. Bram van Helvoirt, Programme Manager, CBI, Netherlands
    • Mr. Vianney Kabera, Managing Director, Freshpack Ltd, Rwanda
    • Mr. Fred Kumah, Director for Africa, WWF, Kenya
    • Moderator: Mr. Lanre Akinola, Editor, This is Africa


    The fast-changing landscape of sustainability initiatives in supply chains matters to everyone: consumers, buyers, traders, producers, and policymakers.

    Helping SMEs through the maze of sustainability standards is critical to increasing their competitiveness, particularly for agro-based exports. Rather than seeing these standards as impenetrable barriers to trade, the discourse needs to focus on ensuring compliance and turning standards into opportunities for developing country SMEs.

    The panel discussed the growing role of sustainability standards and effective ways of promoting SME compliance through capacity building and knowledge sharing.


    • Sharing good practices fosters transparency, trust and inclusiveness among trade actors at all levels of global supply chains.
    • A collaborative approach built on existing resources and methodologies will reduce duplication of efforts that may provoke unnecessary obstacles to trade, such as proliferation of standards, multiplication of audits or assessment methodologies.
    • Common tools are needed to help SME suppliers take advantage of standards to access markets.


    • Standards help improve competitiveness and market access, although they are complex and expensive.
    • There is a need to harmonize standards or to create a basic set of criteria that can be used as a starting point for harmonization.
    • SMEs need more awareness about standards and technical support to take advantage of the benefits of standards.
    • Standards suited to local contexts like sub-Saharan Africa are important.

    Speakers' key messages

    • Minister Kyambadde 
      She pointed to lack of awareness and information and difficulty in understanding standards as the main challenges. To address this, standards need to be simplified, making it easier to comply. Testing and sampling also pose problems and the cost of certification is high, she said. 
      “Look for standards and certifications as you know will be competitive.” 
      She added that Uganda provided support through the Bureau of Standards in raising awareness and training SMEs to comply with standards and deal with issues of quality. 
    • Mr. Kabera
      He said that small-scale farmers lack the capacity to do risk analysis and deal with pest-free area issues, for example. There is limited knowledge on how to implement standards. Packhouse facilities are almost non-existent in Rwanda, and lack of sufficient infrastructure is a common problem in the entire region. Border control processes in Europe are difficult to comply with and result in a lot of product waste. As a result, many countries are looking to diversify their exports to other regions. 
      “Without GlobalGAP certification, there are not many opportunities for Rwanda’s agricultural exporters in the European Union. But GlobalGAP is difficult to get.” 
    • Mr. Kumad
      He explained that sustainability standards were an important tool for WWF to address environmental issues. WWF hopes to positively impact ecological footprint via sustainability standards. 500 million producers need to work effectively to get themselves to a sustainable level of production. The cost of standards compliance, however, is a barrier and criteria need to be simplified. 
      “What today is a “high” standard should really be the norm. That is where we need to go”.
    • Mr. van Helvoirt
      He explained that CBI provided awareness building through online resources and reports on EU market demand for sustainable supply. CBI also leverages ITC’s Standards Map and works with UNIDO on joint reports. It maintains an auditing tool to take stock of key issues faced by SMEs, and this serves as the start of an action plan to make necessary improvements. CBI also provides coaching and helps SMEs find strategic partners to help finance the certification costs. 
      As standards are costly and difficult to implement, they need to provide clear benefits to SMEs, including improved productivity and better access to markets, so that the overall business is improved.


    During the Q&A session, participants commented on the need for a level playing field where African stakeholders such as SMEs, governments and NGOs also have a role in standards development. Access to finance is crucial to improve the ability of SMEs to comply with standards. Participants also mentioned the need to break down the myths or misperceptions about standards. For example, standards in written form may seem intimidating, but when discussed and illustrated through practical examples they can become more accessible. The need for harmonisation was raised by a number of participants as a must to deal with the plethora of standards that exist. Mr. Dody Edward, Head of Trade Development at Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade, described Indonesia’s programme on increasing SME compliance. He also emphasized the close relationship between sustainability and social standards.


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