JICA Ogata Research Institute

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【JICA-RI Focus Vol.3】 Interview with Dr. Fletcher Tembo, Research Fellow at Overseas Development Institute, U.K.

April 20, 2009

What does the One Village One Product (OVOP) Movement Promise in Sub-Saharan Africa? -- Interview with Dr. Fletcher Tembo, Research Fellow at Overseas Development Institute (ODI), U.K.

Dr. Fletcher Tembo

Since 2007, JICA-RI and ODI have been conducting a comparative study of OVOP in Thailand, Malawi and Japan. We asked ODI Researcher Dr. Fletcher Tembo, a Malawian native, his views on the potential of this movement for Sub-Saharan Africa on his return in December 2008 from a visit to the birthplace of OVOP, Japan’s Oita Prefecture.

Social Ramifications of OVOP in Japan

You visited Beppu, Yufuin, Ajimu and Oyama towns in Oita Prefecture. Was there something about this trip that inspired you?

I was greatly inspired by the people of Oita. They were so proud of making commodities from different items. It reinforced my understanding of OVOP as investment in people, in human resources.

Did anything strike you about the age or gender characteristics of the people in Oita?

The contribution of women struck me especially. They were for example running a small factory, mixing wheat with honey and buckwheat to produce sweets. They were involved in every stage of production and distribution. I didn’t see many of their husbands or children, but the women were organized and confident in explaining their business to me. Women in Malawi are more traditional, though very hardworking.

Changes OVOP has brought to Malawi

Nationwide since 2003, the Malawian OVOP program has supported 46 projects for 12,943 beneficiaries. What is the most notable social change you have seen in Malawi, comparing before OVOP and after?

I talked with a group that produces soybean and other vegetable oil which they package and sell for cash. This has given them more control in their lives. They used to depend directly on other farmers for food, now they can go to market. They can use their money to invest in their children’s education or improve nutrition at home.

How would you measure the economic improvement in Malawi?

Although money is one element of OVOP, it doesn’t tell the whole story about people’s quality of life. Households also earn greater cohesiveness, and this is what makes OVOP different from the typical small-and-medium-enterprise whose focus is money.

OVOP in Other African countries

Malawi is the first country in Africa to set up a national secretariat for the OVOP project. Do you think the advantages of having a central government function apply also to other African countries?

I have learned at a workshop that there is widespread interest in other African countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, in what we are doing in Malawi. Most governments in Africa are still undergoing democratization and quite susceptible to abuse of the process by officials in charge who might hijack it for their own purposes. I know that a separate secretariat such as in Malawi does not guarantee good governance but somehow it provides a bit of room to be independent and look at problems objectively. It is also generally more responsive to demands.

The Potential for OVOP in Malawi

Such Malawi products as banana wine or baobao jam are probably not available to us in Japan now. Do Malawians want to market their products worldwide, or are they satisfied with local distribution?

Actually they are interested in exporting, but it’s difficult. To overcome this, we need organizations like Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to help us expand distribution. There are now OVOP shops in two airports in Japan. It would be a good use of money, I think, if the Japanese government were to help small Japanese companies link up with producers in Malawi to make Malawian export to Japan easier.

What do OVOP producers need in order to export: more sophisticated distribution, more efficient production, or higher quality?

The main thing is quality improvement and packaging, which is already one of the OVOP inputs for product value added. Japanese volunteers help with this, and OVOP helps with production technology and quality control. We need now to find a way of scaling up the technology, and through grants or long-term subsidized loans to produce machines and support the marketing connections which the farmers cannot do by themselves.

Is it best to specify the distribution goal for each product, whether the global market or the local market?

It’s not the destination market that matters so much as quality to meet the demand. If we look at Thailand and its star-grading system, we find that only a few five-star commodities are exported; most are sold on the local market. When a product is assessed as high quality but environmentally damaging, its export may not be allowed. This stringent assessment process is part of OVOP value addition.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to Malawi’s OVOP at this time?

The biggest challenge is access to loans because for most OVOP products value addition brings extra costs. Producers are encouraged to work with what they have, but infrastructure constraints, such as transport and electricity, hinder nearly everyone. Overcoming such infrastructure bottlenecks are often beyond the reach of individuals, or even groups, but the OVOP arrangement doesn’t provide support to that high level of investment.

You explained at the seminar that in Malawi communities must submit proposals to receive OVOP financial support. Are the people aggressive enough to market their products?

Yes, they are aggressive enough and they are interested in how their products are marketed. They may not realize, however, that OVOP is the latest form of government support they’ve been always requesting. Farmers in rural Malawian villages are now finding their own channels for marketing their products with value addition, and the OVOP label helps with this expansion. It’s not that OVOP guarantees them big money in a short time, but it brings in the money they need to promote their products through a journey of discovery, where they look at the local resources from a fresh angle. This, I think, will continue and increase as the program builds.

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