Report of the Brussels Seminar - Day 1

Report of the Brussels Seminar - Day 1

14/12/2016

On Thursday and Friday December 8 & 9th, the first Building rust Seminar was organised by VECO in Brussels Belgium. The participating public consisted of 92 capacity builders, representatives of 33 farmer organisations (3 continents), 16 representatives of financial institutions and 31 delegates of food industry and retail.

VECO International seeks to contribute to a sustainable food system in which farmers produce healthy food for a growing - and mostly urban - population in a sustainable way within the limits of our planet. One of the keys to a sustainable food system is to help farmers develop a sound level of professionalism that enhances trust with other participants in the food chain, such as food processors, middlemen, traders and retailers, but also with service and finance providers. The objective of the seminar was to contribute to building this trust.

Let us take you on a bird’s-eye view tour of some of the many inspiring moments of this event.

Day 1 - Farmers take the floor

Piet Vanthemsche, former president Boerenbond (Belgian Farmers' Union)

Belgian farmers get organised – History of the Belgian Farmers’ Union (Boerenbond) from the start till now.

“The farmers in Europe created their own organizations and companies. In the beginning, the initia-tives were very small. Very soon, the farmers created a “Union of Guilds”. The guilds created “co-operatives” according to the Raiffeisen-principle. The farmers decided themselves which type of co-operative they needed. In the beginning, they did not get any support of the state. Only when the Farmers’ Union (guilds and co-operatives) became stronger, the state paid more attention to the needs of the farmers.”

Graham Robertson, past president of New Zealand Federated Farmers, currently farming in New Zea-land

Success factors of a business farmer organization.

The indigenous people of New Zealand – the Maori; have a great saying that translates into “My strength is not my own. It is the strength of many”. Good co-operatives harness that strength. Effective leaders recognize it as the foundation of all that the co-op can achieve. “My strength as the leader of a co-op is not my own. The co-op is the strength of many”.

“By working together, Indonesian coffee-farmers created opportunities for their families they could not achieve as individuals. And in particular, by getting closer to the market place, they have been able to get those important signals on price and quality to inform their production and harvesting activities. They have learnt what their customers expect.”

Farmer’s testimonies and feedback on the use of SCOPEinsight tools

VECO is always striving to improve our work. We adopted common approaches, such as the use of LINK methodology for building inclusive business models. However our farmer organization assessment and performance tracking tools have varied in each Region, often depending on the curricula of our partners. These different tools meant that it was difficult to internally benchmark progress or provide confidence to potential investors and financiers. We therefore started the search for professional instruments that were useful for farmer organizations, food companies, investors and financiers.
This search led VECO to start a process with SCOPEinsight, a Dutch organization that had developed 2 tools – SCOPE Basic and SCOPE Pro. SCOPE means Scoring of Organizational Performance. SCOPE Basic is designed to provide input for training and capacity building services as well as to facilitate supply chain linkages. Scope PRO was designed to facilitate access to finance, markets and inputs. This tool is best applied to more professional producer organizations.

We did not just accept that these were the best tools. We first trialed them in Honduras and Tanzania. Following successful trials, VECO and partner staff were trained from January to March 2016 and we now have capacity in all Regions to conduct SCOPE Assessments. 44 BASIC and 35 PRO assessments were conducted from March to August of this year. The data was processed by SCOPE Insight who supported additional investigations to ensure the quality of the data and the final report. These reports offer comprehensive insights into the business performance of these organizations. A dashboard provides an accessible analysis which enables capacity building plans to be developed to target the most critical aspects. In order to continue learning and improving the process, Regional exchange events were conducted. These events gathered Farmer Organizations, Private actors, Banks and Assessors together to express their feelings and opinions about the process and reports; and consider how useful their report is for their planning processes.

The results and learnings of this process were presented by the farmers themselves during the World Café Conversations.

Main conclusions of Day 1

  • Too often NGOs and service providers talk on behalf of farmers, but on the 8th of December the farmers themselves expressed their opinions, their ideas and their suggestions for improving tools to assess their organisations. The voice of the farmers counts.
  • Using a standardised tool to assess farmers all over the world, creates a uniform language and gives the farmers the opportunity to exchange and learn from each other.
  • Benchmarking is important. Not only for banks and food industry, but also for farmer businesses.
  • Each technician who elaborates tools for assessing farmers and processes the data from the assessments, should know the reality of the farmers very well, the challenges they face, the opportunities they see.
  • Assessments are important to point out concrete strengths and weaknesses of the farmer organisations. Sometimes they weren’t aware of their weaknesses, and the assessments revealed surprises.
  • An external view is important to convince everybody within the organisations about the points to improve.
  • The history of the Boerenbond is interesting to see what farmers can achieve, how they can develop.
  • For farmers, cooperation is key to become strong.