In many developing countries, the agrifood industry is the largest industry. It therefore has the potential to drive future socio-economic development via an inclusive and sustainable agri-food industry. As much as it remains a developmental challenge, this sector also constitutes an opportunity for small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs).
Consumers are increasingly interested in traditional agrifood products that are deeply rooted in their territories of origin. This trend is a major opportunity for producers and particularly SMEs, as they need not compete with generic and standardized products. On the contrary, this trend rewards SMEs for excelling in what, in a way, they have always done: producing traditional products, whose specific quality, attributes or reputation are linked to ancestral know-how and the place where they are produced.
In the marketplace, origin-linked products can secure premium prices, provided they are clearly differentiated and identifiable to consumers. Geographical Indications (GIs), certified quality labels and origin-linked brands are tools that can help producers to unlock the value added of these type of products.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) promotes industrial development to reduce poverty, and to promote sustainability and inclusive globalization. It has long implemented technical assistance projects in developing countries to foster agro-industrial value chain development: fostering business linkages, improving quality compliance, enhancing productivity, and promoting market access. UNIDO has drawn on the experiences of more than 20 countries to develop tools and methodologies for preserving and promoting origin-linked products, with the goal of driving and achieving sustainable and inclusive industrial development, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
UNIDO applies a holistic approach that broadly covers related areas of intervention to ensure that SMEs can maximize the potential of traditional agri-food products, and that benefits are fairly distributed along the value chain. UNIDO offers support to strengthen the organization and governance of agro-industrial value chains, improve the productivity and competitiveness of SMEs, in addition to fostering product diversification, innovation and the boosting of national and international market access through collective marketing activities. UNIDO also helps to ensure that products comply with the requirements of origin-linked quality labels and GIs, in order to position them in higher niche markets, allowing the producers to obtain a premium price and higher revenues.
UNIDO’s approach to developing value chains around typical food products, contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in various ways. Origin-linked products have an impact towards achieving inclusive industrialization, not only through improved income opportunities, but also through the empowerment of women, job creation and the preservation of local resources and cultural heritage.
PAMPAT programme – Tunisia and Morocco
One major initiative implemented by UNIDO to promote local products is PAMPAT (websites: www.pampat.tn and www.pampat.ma). Launched in 2013, the Programme for Market Access of Typical Products (PAMPAT), financed by the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), is aimed at improving the performance, market access and socio-economic conditions of SMEs in various agri-food value chains in North-African countries. Project activities focus on strengthening the organization of selected value chains; on improving the productivity, quality compliance and product development of SMEs; and on enhancing their position in the domestic and export markets. The programme helps to ensure that products comply with the requirements of GIs and quality labels, in order to position them in niche markets and to allow the producers to obtain a premium price and higher revenues. PAMPAT also strengthens national and regional capacities in the promotion of local origin-linked food products.
The programme, since 2014 has also been supporting the setup and organization of the Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian Contests for Typical Food Products and is currently assisting in the preparations for the Cameroonian Contest. PAMPAT facilitates the exchanges of experience and regional best practices. As a result of these initiatives, an International Network of Organizers of Typical Food Products Contests now exists, with a web-based platform launched in 2020 to facilitate information sharing and to capitalize on best practices. Besides Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Switzerland, other countries interested in applying the methodology and to set up a National Contest, such as Algeria, Ivory Coast and Georgia are also participating in the annual Network meeting.
Over the years different value chains in Morocco and Tunisia have been receiving targeted assistance. Farmers and companies in the argan oil, cactus/ prickly pear, pomegranates, harissa, dried tomatoes, figs and processed dates sectors have benefited from the UNIDO programme.
In Morocco, UNIDO supported the argan oil value chain, focused on women, with a view to ensure the certification of producers and the market promotion of the Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). Within this project, the Argan Oil Protected Biosphere has been one of the focus value chains, with a specific emphasis on how to ensure women integration in the global value chain, preservation of natural resources and development of an inclusive and sustainable local industry, leaving no one behind.
In this respect, the Interprofessional Argan Federation (FIFARGANE) was assisted to develop a traceability software to ensure that producers respect the code of practice for the production of the argan oil under the approved code of practice for the PGI. Producers, including women cooperatives, groups of women cooperatives and SMEs, were trained to comply with the same code of practice, as well as with the national law on food safety and hygiene. As a result, the number of producers certified based on the PGI increased by 150% between 2013 and 2019. The programme also covered the promotion of collective branding centered on the argan oil PGI in order to enhance market access for argan oil products produced by SME cooperatives and consortia, mainly women-owned.
Similarly, in Tunisia, the PGI labeling approach was applied to the local fig value chain in the village of Djebba. This rural area is located in the North-West of the country. Thanks to the unique quality attributes of the Djebba fig, it became the first fruit in Tunisia to be granted a Protected Geographical Indication. The programme supported producers in Djebba to comply with the product specifications of the PGI and also worked with local authorities to establish a local association in charge by law of the self-control system. In 2019, 25% of the local production was certified with the PGI.
To convey the quality attributes of the labelled PGI figs to the consumers, a public-private promotion programme was set up, consisting of tasting events in Tunisian supermarket chains, cooking events and participation in trade fairs. As a result of the intervention, prices for the fig producers in Djebba doubled and the PGI fruits were sold in different retail chains all over Tunisia, and were also exported to the Gulf countries and Canada.
In order to create additional revenues for the people of Djebba, the programme also supported local women producer groups to start offering and marketing local products such as sun-dried figs, jams, traditional pastries and essential oils. A cooperative and two rural women groups were established and assisted to set-up new production facilities that comply with the legal requirements. Furthermore, they received trainings and technical assistance to standardize new processing techniques, to create innovative packaging and logistics solutions and to incorporate modern marketing and sales techniques. These new products from Djebba experienced a notable success in the local market. Within a couple of years, prices of dried figs had increased by 50%. The PGI Djebba fig has also played a core role in making the mountain village increasingly well-known among Tunisians. Between 2015 and 2019 the number of visitors had more than doubled (www.aoc-figuedjebba.com).
The programme is also supporting the development of the prickly pear/ cactus value chain in Tunisia. Although the country is ranked 5th in the world in terms of cultivated land, until recently this agricultural sector was generating little income, since hundreds of small-scale farmers were focused in low-value produce for livestock feeding. Indeed in Tunisia the prickly pear has always been considered the fruit of the poor. When the UNIDO programme started in 2013 there were only five agroindustrial companies in the whole country, which were specialized in the production of the high-priced cosmetic cactus seed oil.
In order to develop this value chain, UNIDO in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture initiated a training programme for young entrepreneurs to support them in the setting up their businesses and to obtain the necessary organic certification. There are now 55 companies in the cactus value chain that are currently being supported by PAMPAT. These new businesses have been responsible for the creation of around 1,200 permanent and seasonal jobs (2016-2021). Women play a prominent role in the value chain. Almost half of the new start-ups are managed by women and the biggest part of the agricultural and industrial workforce are women.
PAMPAT has also supported the increasing number of start-ups to group together, to create a national cactus development association and to promote a newly created collective brand for organic Tunisian cactus seed oil at national and international trade fairs (www.anadectunisie.com). Over 30 companies are currently exporting now compared to 4 in 2013. Despite the global economic crisis linked to the pandemic, exports have increased by 50% between 2019 and 2021. Europe remains the primary target market, although exports cover all the 5 continents.
Over the last years, the sector has experienced a great diversification of its product range. At the very beginning, the value chain focused almost exclusively on bulk production of organic prickly pear seed oil. Today, companies also offer other cosmetic products made of cactus as well as a wide range of agrofood products and food supplements with more added value.
Entrepreneurship development in the cosmetics and agrofood sector has also had a positive impact on the demand for certified organic agricultural produce. Tunisia is ranked first in the world when it comes to certified organic production of prickly pears according to the Agence française pour le Développement et la Promotion de l’Agriculture Biologique. Farmers receive higher prices for their organic certified supplies and thanks to the increase in industrial demand, farmers can now sell out-graded fruits that could not be sold in consumer fresh markets. The companies’ increasing demand for cactus produce, has increased the bargaining power of rural female cactus workers in the production hub Kasserine (west-central of Tunisia), who have seen their salaries rise by 50%.
Today the prickly pear/cactus value chain is considered as a growing economic sector that creates significant value-added and attracts increased support from public and private institutions. Thanks to the increased visibility of the prickly pear/cactus value chain, Tunisian authorities have published, in 2021, the first technical standard for cosmetic prickly pear seed oil with UNIDO’s support. Tunisia has become the first country in the world to standardize the characteristics of this oil. This new standard will further boost Tunisian cactus oil exports. The next objective of the cactus producers is to register a PGI for the prickly pear from the region of Kasserine with UNIDO’s support in order to position what was once considered the fruit of the poor on selected niche markets.
* Ebe Muschialli joined UNIDO in 2013 starting as a cluster and network expert based in the UNIDO Representative in Rabat. She moved to the UNIDO Headquarters based in Vienna in 2016 to continue to support the clusters and network team. In 2020, Ebe moved to the Quality Infrastructure and Smart Production Division (QIS) within the Directorate of Digitalization, Technology and Agri-Business (DTA). She is currently in charge of the implementation of the West Africa Competitiveness Programme for Ghana (WACOMP Ghana) focused on strengthening the competitiveness of three value chains (fruits, cassava and cosmetic products). Ebe Muschialli holds a Master’s degree in Development Economics and International Institutions Management from the Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. She has lived in Vietnam, India and Morocco. She was involved in different projects in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin, Tunisia, Egypt and Georgia.
Nuria Ackermann has been working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) since 2008. She is the Chief Technical Advisor of the PAMPAT Tunisia project, which promotes quality labels and market access for traditional, origin-based food products. She has also worked on the design and implementation of the private sector and rural development projects, especially in Latin America and the Arab region. She holds Masters’ degrees in International Business Management and Political Sciences and is the author of different publications on export promotion, clusters and promotion of origin-linked food products.
Fabio Russo is a Senior Industrial Development Officer at the Quality Infrastructure and Smart Production Division of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Vienna, Austria. Since taking up his duties in 1992, he has been managing various projects for private sector development worldwide. His main area of expertise is on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Cluster/Networks and value chain development. He is responsible for the UNIDO programme on SME export and origin consortia development and has forged various partnerships with other UN and International Organizations for the promotion of Origin-Linked Products.