17 november 2007
Belgian public-private partnership to improve rice quality in Benin
Vredeseilanden is organising this chain together with Colruyt and is working towards fair trade relations between the producers and Colruyt. For both Vredeseilanden and Colruyt the cooperation is a learning process in how to develop fair trade chains: what are the possibilities, limitations, challenges, bottlenecks and expectations? Colruyt has plenty of expertise and know-how to offer as it runs its own laboratory, a packaging department and production facilities.
Koen Demaesschalck, who is responsible for this project at Colruyt: "By working closely together with an NGO and local communities, we learn a lot. This experience will also give us useful experience for future initiatives in fair trade." Demaesschalck says Colruyt is seeking 'the best of two worlds', meaning fair trade and free trade. "The vision on fair trade as a closed and protectionist system with fixed prices is too rigid. Free trade, as we see it today, is too harsh."
Initially only a limited part of the rice harvest will be exported to Belgium, where it will be retailed by Colruyt throughout its 205 branches, including one in the Netherlands. In the long run Demaesschalck anticipates that this share could grow significantly, "but no more than 10 to 20 percent," he adds, "as we don't want the rice farmers to become dependent on us and we don't claim exclusiveness, on the contrary."
Vredeseilanden has operated a rice program in central Benin since 2002. It aims to create food sovereignty and supports sustainable production in order to achieve higher productivity. This support includes better organisation among the farmers, production improvements and transformation. The success is obvious: the number of people directly involved with rice cultivation has climbed from 500 to 5600 farmers, more than half of them women. Production has grown from 530 tons to 4,100 tons of rice.
Colruyt's support for the rice farmers of Benin is rooted in its social vision, explains Demaesschalck: "We always act from our values, like participation, involvement, simplicity and service. Step by step we try to improve our commercial relations."
P+ webtip: Colruyt