Increasing incomes of farmers

Organic and fair-trade exports from Africa



Markets for organic and fair-trade products have been growing steadily in many developed countries and market growth is projected to continue for both organic and fair-trade foods. Organic and fair-trade products tend to fetch higher prices than equivalent conventional products. Because of supply shortages, importers and retailers are more willing to accept smaller volumes or irregular supply, offering opportunities for new exporters to build up their supply chain.

Nevertheless, exporting organic and fair-trade products poses a number of challenges, as there may be technical constraints to comply with standards and high quality requirements. Furthermore, certification tends to be costly and requires administrative and organizational arrangements. The organic market is prone to price volatility and can be entered only after a conversion period during which producers face most expenses without receiving a premium.

For these reasons, small farmers and exporters in developing countries need external assistance if they are to produce and export fair-trade and organic products successfully. Group certification opens up one low cost approach viable to small farmers.

An IFOAM survey of 2003 revealed that West Africa lagged behind other regions in the development of organic sectors. At the same time, the region has often been viewed as having a potential for developing exports of certified organic products, especially tropical fruits. At the same time, agro ecological initiatives promoting rural development and food security and enhancing soil fertility are a strong point in the region.

Therefore a project was developed to support farmer groups in West Africa to build their capacity to produce and export organic and fair-trade certified products in order to increase the income and food security of their farmers.

Product and group selection

During the project formulation phase in 2004 a market study was conducted to identify organic and fair-trade growth markets in Europe. The following product categories were selected:

- tropical fruits: pineapple and mango;
- cocoa;
- shea butter.

Subsequently, producer groups and exporters were selected based on four criteria:

- ability to supply one of the selected products;
- readiness to export, or current exports;
- interest in organic and/or fair-trade certification;
- possible advantages of the project for small farmers. 

Discussing priorities. Photo: FAO / C.E. Dankers, 2006.


The project took a participatory approach and did not use a standard set of activities but developed a "tailor-made" programme of activities for each supply chain. Project interventions have been based on a participatory needs assessment of each selected supply chain.  A programme of activities, usually for one-year periods was agreed upon in collaboration with the beneficiary group and/or exporter.

In the cases of Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the sugarloaf pineapples in Ghana, export already took place when the project started. In these cases, activities focused on the weakest part of the chain or on activities necessary to obtain certification. In the other cases, supply chains had to be set up from scratch, and activities started from the level of organization and capabilities already present.

Contracts were drawn up with the exporter and/or farmer group, to give them the means to implement as many activities themselves. For farmer groups, the negotiations of the contract and meeting delivery requirements before the next instalment was a learning activity in itself and prepared them for more demanding and less flexible commercial contracts.

Only when technical assistance was necessary, outside expertise was sought and funded through the project. Whenever possible, technical assistance was sourced in the country of operation to increase the local knowledge base and improve local networks.