ORGANICS SUPPORT FARMER RESILIENCE AND LIVELIHOODS
Wealthy OECD-oriented consumers buy organic food in expectation of a “health” and quality premium. In addition, each purchase is a vote for a farming system which is both regenerative of our natural capital and less dependent on resource-intensive inputs. This movement is growing internationally and represents an important strand in the sustainable food system needed to feed the 9.7 billion people on earth in 2050.
In very different economic circumstances, Cuba’s low-input organoponicos, working to the same low-input principles have resiliently preserved the country’s population during the embargo years.
But less recognised is the growth of organic production in another economically-isolated state, Zimbabwe. Partly through necessity, Zimbabwean farmers have become expert at producing without the use of synthetic pesticides and fungicides, and with little or no access to electrical power.
At the same time, demand for organic produce from wealthy/aspirational/international shoppers in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has led the rapidly expanding supermarket group, Pick ‘n’ Pay, and others to begin stocking organic products.
However the consequence of a low input farming regime is output with more quality variability than supermarkets are used to. For example, aesthetic quality and perishability varies by crop and season. Some organic crops maintain colour and moisture longer than conventional (e.g. chard at 10 days vs 3) which reduces risk of on-shelf losses, others need controlled atmosphere to avoid waste/loss. A project in 2014-15 involving two NGOs and a local social enterprise - Garden Africa, Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre and Knowledge Transfer Africa - showed that, a set of eight communities in Mashonaland East generated 246 tonnes of organic produce. But only 20% successfully made it to the urban market of Harare.
PRODUCERS AND BUYERS ARE INTERESTED IN IMPROVING LINKS SO THAT HIGH VALUE PRODUCE MAKES IT TO MARKET
Our idea is to bring demand and supply together to find and finance a dedicated logistics link for certified organic produce. By better connecting these two ends of the supply-demand chain, within Zimbabwe, we believe we can kick-start a sustainable local food production-consumption system. Moving production from subsistence-organic (from necessity) to modern consumer organic offers Zimbabwe the opportunity to leapfrog the agrichemical-dependent phase which has locked other farming cultures into a downward spiral of declining soil quality and ecosystem health.
We will establish a community of producers, logistics providers and a ‘marquee’ sponsor (representing significant market demand), and enable them to become mutually accessible via our simple, mobile platform.
This group will build collective confidence in dedicated, certified supply and demand in the market, with the quality, packaging, branding and storage qualities more visible to and better managed by all participants in the value chain
The group will collectively invest in dedicated transport, with innovative chilling or other quality-preserving features, branded and certified as Zim Organic, serving a market segment which is less prone to crash when there is a glut of conventional produce.
THE ORGANIC MARKET BENEFITS FROM DEDICATED LOGISTICS INVESTMENT
Pick ‘n’ Pay, alongside other supermarkets in Zimbabwe, does not operate its own inbound logistics. Instead it requires farmers to deliver direct to its urban locations. This can result in bottlenecks and long transit times in unsuitable vehicles for farmers or deliverers coming from distant locations. This leads to product spoilage and, in the worst case, rejected deliveries.
Similarly, few wholesalers pick up from producers, because of an expectation of low volumes.
So crop transport has to be managed at the farmer’s risk. Long transit times between fields and markets, the need for dedicated logistics (clean, certified trucks where organic produce is not mixed with conventionally-produced crops) and the uncertainties of working through a fragmented and (often) rent-taking logistics sector generate uneconomic levels of spoilage and are huge market barriers.
The NGO-led project projected demand of 30,000 tonnes of organic products – across 13 product lines - across the Pick ‘n’ Pay store network of Zimbabwe. They also found that wholesalers believed there to be latent demand for organic produce 10x greater than the current supply.
The projected supply (based on 2014-15 figures of 44 associations) stands at 1,702 tons, with an estimated market value of over $2 million (with no organic premium added).
Until the latent demand becomes addressable, the farmers won’t invest in solutions to fill the gap. Consequently, sporadic or inconsistent deliveries will continue, quality losses and wasted time will be endemic, and the buyers will not have confidence in organic farmers’ ability to supply to those buyers required volumes and standards.
Once farmers are producing good volumes of organic produce, with prices de-linked from their conventional alternatives, they have a ‘hedging’ strategy against glut conditions in conventional crops.
FOOD FW'S PROGRAM WORKS
Food Fw’s program does three things:
1. Aggregates smaller food producers/processors in order to amplify their individual demand for new, sustainable products and services.
2. Aggregates the entrepreneurial solution providers looking for new market opportunities
3. Gives confidence to the smaller supply chain players, innovative providers and investors by securing the ‘marquee’ sponsorship of a large supply chain player (or group of players) wanting to see a step change in the sustainability performance of the supply base.
This approach proved successful for small-scale suppliers to international retailer Tesco. For example, by establishing a Buying Club on behalf of these small farming and food factory operators, a bespoke energy-efficient and carbon-reducing lighting solution was sourced to meet the aggregate $0.5m demand. This technology was previously beyond the investment ambitions of these suppliers, but was delivered at a 30% discount to market prices.
Our view is that, whether farmers are investing in lighting, or procuring logistics services, and whether they are in Europe or sub-Saharan Africa, a strong, aggregated demand signal grabs the attention of innovative providers and makes new supply ecosystems possible.
If a key customer in the ecosystem has a reason to help fix a problem which impacts their business (e.g. Pick ‘n’ Pay’s lack of access to local organic produce), this helps secure commitment.
And if commitment creates an innovative growth story, external investment can be attracted.
So by encouraging all parties along the value chain to resource a logistics service that is optimised for organic transport and visibly committed to this growing sector, an important step towards sustainability of production and consumption system can be achieved in Zimbabwe.
The expected results are:
1. Reduced loss of volumes, product quality and time wasted through poorly optimised logistics
2. Producer access to a consumer market with a different demand profile which enables the price points of organic produce to be maintained even when there is a glut in conventional alternatives
3. Collective confidence in dedicated, certified supply and demand for organic produce in the national market
4. Better market information enabling participants and external investors to make better-informed investment decisions.
5. Export opportunities to international markets which offer higher margins