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RSB celebrates Africa Day with Solidaridad

Today is Africa Day – a day to celebrate the success of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, now the AU) in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, and the developmental progress that the continent has made – and we wanted to share and celebrate the amazing work of our members in the region.

At RSB, our regional members are playing an important role in advancing a bio-based and circular economy throughout Africa and the world: participating in the development of bioeconomy roadmaps in Ethiopia; developing approaches for the sustainable harvest of Invasive Alien Plants (IAP) in South Africa; taking a leading role in the governance of the RSB organisation as board members and delegates; and much more.

To mark Africa Day, we chatted to our colleagues at RSB member organisation, Solidaridad Network – Southern Africa.

Please enjoy the interview with them below.

Who is Solidaridad?  

With over 50 years of facilitating the development of socially responsible, ecologically sound and profitable supply chains and a global footprint across 55 countries, Solidaridad Network is a frontrunner in sustainable economic development. Solidaridad East, Central, and Southern Africa (Solidaridad) is one of the regional expertise centres that form part of the Solidaridad Network. We work throughout the supply chain to make sustainability the norm and enable farmers and workers to earn a decent income, while producing in balance with nature, and shape their own future. We focus on supporting smallholder producers to adopt good practices, have access to supportive business ecosystems and enabling policy environments, as well as ensuring market uptake of farmers’ produce. We are innovative problem solvers that use a human-centred and market-based approach towards creating impact and facilitating change throughout the agricultural sector.

We promote sustainable land-use, contribute towards improved working conditions and livelihoods, food security and strengthen dynamic producer organisations. Through our practices, we encourage fair and transparent trade, uphold corporate social responsibility, and foster conscious commodity sourcing and consumption. Our main commodities include coffee, cotton, leather, livestock, (artisanal small-scale) gold, horticulture, maize, soy, tea, and textiles. We adopt a holistic approach that supports smallholder farmers through every step of the value chain. We champion producer-led initiatives to improve production, food and nutrition security, incomes and working conditions outcomes, while enhancing producers’ resilience to the effects of climate change. Throughout our programmes, we emphasise appropriate and accessible digital solutions and finance, while maintaining a gender and youth lens to ensure that everyone truly benefits from the interventions. We develop bespoke solutions and programmes to address youth unemployment with our youth and gender inclusion strategies forming the DNA of our program concepts.

Through our work, we contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – specifically SDG 1 (no poverty),  SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth). We also contribute significantly to SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 10 (reducing all forms of inequality), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 13 (climate action), and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals).


How does Solidaridad contribute to a bio-based and circular economy?    

Promoting regenerative agriculture

The current degradation of biodiversity and soil fertility has led to increasing calls continentally to “reverse the direction of travel” of agriculture from degenerative to regenerative approaches. Solidaridad’s definition of “regenerative agriculture” is a system of principles and practices that generates agricultural products, sequesters carbon, and enhances biodiversity at the farm scale. Ploughing and poor nutrient management release nitrogen from the soil in quantities. When out of place, both carbon and nitrogen, key building blocks of life in nature, are serious threats to the stability of the climate. Solidaridad promotes important practices associated with regenerative agriculture including rotational grazing, soil sampling, and agroforestry. We also promote the use of cleaner cooking alternatives including the use of biogas digesters to reduce the rate of deforestation, mainly in rural areas.

Scaling adaptive green initiatives

In 2021, the NAMBOLA Livestock programme was awarded the Technical Excellence in a Development Setting award under SCALE’s Creative Green Adaptation Award. This award recognises innovative actions to adapt and protect against climate change and contributes to our ambition to position ourselves as a partner for the implementation and scaling of sustainable practices while ensuring the success of local farmers.

Healthy local food systems – certification & standards

At a policy level, based on evidence from research conducted by Solidaridad that found high levels of pesticide residue on horticulture produce sold around Mozambique, Solidaridad has collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mozambique and Instituto Nacional de Normalização e Qualidade (INNOQ), a food security institute, to create the local g.a.p. standard, “MozBoPa”. MozBoPA was approved by the Government of Mozambique in November 2020 as a voluntary standard for supply chain actors.


What is Solidaridad’s role in Africa?  

Globally, we believe that sustainability seems to have lost its true meaning, as the people who produce the goods we consume continue to live in poverty when natural resources are not managed sustainably, and working conditions are poor. It is against this backdrop that we aim to redefine and reclaim the essence of sustainability; power to the people (inclusivity), respect for the planet (producing in balance with nature, and a fair share for everyone in the value chain (prosperity). In Africa, Solidaridad promotes fair value distribution that maximises benefit for all. Our role is represented in our Theory of Change (see figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Solidaridad’s Theory of Change (ToC)

Solidaridad’s contribution to sustainability in East, Central and Southern Africa in 2021 is based on the following four result areas:

  1. Good practices: In 2021, we brought 544,000 hectares under sustainable management practices. Across East and Central Africa, 76,000 farmers had increased yields, and 35,000 workers and miners had improved working conditions. Across Southern Africa, 52,640 had increased income and 27 corporates were testing solutions with Solidaridad.
  2. Supportive business ecosystems: In 2021, we reached 295 local service providers who reached 31,233 farmers in East and Central Africa. We are also enabling networks and mobilizing local entrepreneurs to be part of inclusive business ecosystems. A total of 156 local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were supported with skills, funds, management and business advice to provide services to farmers across the projects within Solidaridad Southern Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, cooperatives enhanced farmers’ access to financing, market information, farming inputs and sustainable production practices. They are a critical vehicle for pooling financial and technical resources, thus spreading costs and drawing from the collective members’ experiences. More importantly, cooperatives’ collective bargaining power improves the marketing of produce on behalf of their members.
  3. Enabling policy environment: In 2021, Solidaridad launched our five year RECLAIM Sustainability! Programme funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The intervention contributes to sustainable and inclusive value chains and trade, in which the interests, voices and rights of farmers, workers and citizens are represented and heard in decision making for sustainable use of natural resources, decent work, fair value distribution, and sustainable consumption.
  4. Market uptake: In the textile and leather value chains, Solidaridad continued its support of the Africa Sourcing and Fashion Week in Ethiopia where business-to-business linkages are realised. 12 local textile and garment factories were supported to participate in the 2021 event which brought together over 150 manufacturers and exporters in the cotton, textiles, leather and apparel industries and over 4,000 trade and sourcing professionals globally. While beneficiaries under our coffee projects continued selling their produce through the auction markets at the country level (e.g. the Nairobi Coffee Exchange). Farmers and farmers’ cooperatives were also able to trade directly to clients including African Coffee Roasters (ACR), Coffee Direct, FairTrade, Wakuli, and the Coffee Quest. Under our TRACE Kenya project, smallholder coffee farmers received support to pursue the EU organic certification which taps into a premium market with the potential to increase farmer incomes significantly – more than 300 tonnes of organic coffee are expected to be sold from five farmer cooperatives that are expected to be certified in 2022.


What projects or initiatives are you working on at the moment (that you’d like to share)?   

Solidaridad is currently implementing over 20 projects across East, Central, and Southern Africa. Our success is hinged on the established partnerships with strategic stakeholders, including farmers, workers, miners, producer organisations, government bodies, universities and research institutes, financial institutions (traditional/ non-traditional), impact investors, NGOs, CSOs, and private sectors. Our main donors include, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union (EU), Danida Market Development Partnerships (DMDP), Southern African Development Community (SADC), World Bank, Achmea Foundation, aBi Development Limited, Syngenta, Crossroads International, AGRA, Danone Ecosystem Fund, World Food Programme (WFP), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Enterprise Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), and Global Alliance for the Future of Food, among others.

2022 has already proven to be a productive year with the launch of the AFR100 funded tree planting initiative. AFR100 is managed by World Resources Institute, One Tree Planted, and Realize Impact to achieve AFR100’s goal of restoring 100 million hectares by 2030. Funders include Bezos Earth Fund, Facebook, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the DOEN Foundation, Ako Foundation, Hungry Caterpillar Foundation, and Good Energies Foundation. Through this project, Solidaridad aims to restore trees in selected landscapes in Uganda and Zambia. Solidaridad targets to plant 415,000 trees. Through this 3-year project, Solidaridad will contribute to climate change mitigation for smallholder farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa. This will be done through: i) enhancing the adoption of agroforestry within tea landscapes in Uganda; and ii) improving local management of woodlands which will result in increased availability of sustainably-managed firewood and other forest products, in Zambia by adopting the farmer managed natural regeneration approach.

Through the support from Rabobank, Solidaridad piloted a carbon sequestration project where 1,104 farmers were supported to consolidate their efforts on agroecology through the ACORN platform. The carbon removal units (CRUs) are being developed based on actual carbon stored in trees (a unit represents 1tCO2 removed) so the 1,771 CRUs generated in 2021 in Uganda indicates that we removed 1,771 tCO2 from the atmosphere. Following a successful pilot, we are set to make the first payments for the accrued carbon credits to smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda in 2022. The pilot will also be scaled up in Kenya through the DMDP funded ‘Traceable Organic Coffee from Kenya (TRACE Kenya)’ project and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery Fund funded DreamFund programme in Kenya and Uganda. We anticipate that similar pilots will be expanded into our regional work in the tea value chain. Our agroforestry approach will contribute to the reduction of the carbon footprint, enhance conservation of on-farm biodiversity, and improve soil health in tea landscapes. Our approach will increase vegetation, reduce local ground temperatures and the rate of evaporation as a result of increased tree shade, and increase soil moisture content. Increased tree cover will also support habitat availability for many birds and insect pollinators, enhance biodiversity, reduce wind and soil erosion, and together with composted biomass, improve soil health, enabling further regeneration.

Our EU and SADC funded project, ‘Promoting a Competitive, Inclusive and Sustainable Leather Sector in Tanzania and Zimbabwe’ aims to promote green innovative solutions in the leather sector of Tanzania and Zimbabwe and create market linkages for leather products at a domestic, regional and international level. We aim to increase the capacity and support SME tanneries to implement green tanning approaches, introduce new leather products, and create a digital international technology transfer centre. Through these interventions, we anticipate a net reduction of tannery waste and production costs and additional income generation from waste to value products, compliance with international market standards leading to enhanced competitiveness, supplies of better standard leather products at competitive rates, enhanced opportunities for business growth and job, creation, including employment opportunities for women and youth, technology transfer and active knowledge sharing among stakeholders in the Southern Africa leather sector, and linkages of the leather sector with regional and international markets established.

Our Louis Dreyfus Foundation (LDF) funded project Creating Shared value in the Maize Value Chain in Kenya project (CSV) aims to improve the livelihoods and resilience of 3,000 smallholder maize farmers (50% youth and women) by innovating the maize business case and production systems for maize through improved production, productivity, quality and collaborative marketing practices. To achieve this, we will increase, availability of sustainably and safely produced maize by 50%, access to markets for smallholders through efficient aggregation, the ability of smallholder maize farmers to manage climate variability effects in the long term, and to reduce gender and social disparities in the maize value chain.

How has RSB membership supported your work?  

In 2019, Solidaridad became an RSB member. Our participation is well aligned with our thought leadership agenda, as we have the opportunity to leverage the best knowledge and ideas related to the global bioeconomy sector by accessing webinars and participating in technical working groups. In January 2020, we joined the General Standards Working Group to provide support to the RSB Secretariat in ongoing standards work. Our membership has provided us a platform for us to showcase our climate change innovation interventions through events such as the 2021 RSB Annual Conference, where Solidaridad participated as a speaker. This conference resulted in the establishment of new relationships with key partners across various sectors including research.

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