Malawi One Village One Product (OVOP) Visit

Linthipe Pottery

Malawi One Village One Product (OVOP) Visit

This article was updated on February 6th, 2018 and first published on September 9th, 2013

Kartimarket recently visited Malawi to meet with producers and officials working under the One Village One Product (OVOP) Programme.

OVOP is an initiative by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) that aims to enhance community development and incomes through business by focusing on product specialisation. It also works to improve human resources, quality control and marketing, and develop local processing capacities.

Furthermore, OVOP promotes market linkages between producing communities and markets, emphasising the demand-driven aspect of OVOP’s approach.

We were following up on some product samples made in Linthipe that we had seen on display at the JICA UK Office in London.

First stop was a ceramics training facility in Linthipe that has been receiving OVOP technical and design support.

Ceramics Malawi OVOP

Mugs made in Linthipe, Malawi

In Linthipe, a co-operative of around 22 men and women will undergo training in throwing and slip-casting ceramics over the next few months.

After discussing design specifications we agreed to make a small order to kickstart the co-operative’s activities once the members complete training.

We will arrange the testing of the ceramics to ensure that they meet UK/EU safety standards.

One Village One Product

The history of One Village One Product can be traced back to 1970s Japan, where it has been a successful approach to regional economic development.

Currently, JICA supports OVOP projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Products sold by producers in Kenya and Kyrgyzstan are already being sold overseas by Muji, the Japanese household goods chain.

The OVOP programme in Malawi was officially launched in 2003. In Malawi there are 48 producer groups receiving technical and/or market linkage support. These groups make around 35 different products. In addition to ceramics, OVOP producers in Malawi make honey, soap, crisps, rice, cooking oil, baobab jam, and cane furniture.

In Malawi, the OVOP Secretariat is staffed by members the Malawian Ministry of Industry and Trade, with support from Japanese technical experts and Japanese volunteers (for example, graphic designers and quality control experts).

Ultimately, the OVOP programme considers that the role of government is to promote networking and information sharing, while businesses should be responsible for making and marketing the products.

Baobab Tree, Malawi, OVOP

Baobab Tree on road to Linthipe, Malawi

Producers sell the majority of products domestically, however the Malawian government is keen to promote exports. This represents an opportunity for many producers; in fact some producers are already exporting honey and baobab oil to Japan.

Doing Business in Malawi

For Kartimarket, not only was it good for business to meet a potential supplier in person, but it was very interesting to see first hand a development project on economically sustainable local enterprises. Particularly one involving international donors, government, and business.

It represented a microcosm of the challenges facing private sector development.

For example, Malawi, a landlocked country, faces high costs to export as the nearest ports are in Tanzania and Mozambique (according the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in 2013 Malawi was 168th in the world and 39th in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to trading across borders).

linthipe ceramics OVOP

Ceramic making in Linthipe, Malawi

Additionally, for many products, in order to export to the EU it is necessary to have certification that demonstrates products and processes meet EU standards. In some more complex cases, e.g. honey, where country-specific approval is needed, they will require a more comprehensive approach (though this should be possible as OVOP honey already meets strict Japanese import standards). As a result local standards bureaus will need to ensure that local standards are consistent with international import requirements.

Other challenges include sourcing suitable local packaging.  Malawi imports most product packaging, whether for domestic sale or export, from South Africa or Kenya.

Access to credit for producers to make capital purchases and materials to fulfill orders is also difficult.

In this regard, Kartimarket, as a fair trade business, makes at least a 50% payment up front on our orders, allowing producers to purchase materials and reducing their risk.

In addition, while there we also discussed the possibility and outlined the pros and cons for fair trade affiliation. Whether through Fairtrade Mark product certification of such products as honey, or membership of organisations such as the World Fair Trade Organisation for producer groups and/or OVOP itself.

We are excited about the possibility of working with Malawian OVOP producers. Hopefully we will be able to offer some products in the UK and elsewhere in the not too distant future.

Many thanks to the JICA UK office for organising the visit, as well as the JICA and OVOP offices in Malawi for supporting us in meeting OVOP producers.

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