Over the past 20 years, Ghana’s political stability and economic growth have made it one of Africa’s success stories. Despite this success, Ghana still faces a number of obstacles when exporting its products and these must be overcome in order to consolidate the country’s gains and ensure continuous, inclusive and sustainable growth.
The country needs to continue adding value to its agricultural products and, to do this, it must guarantee the quality of these products, in particular those destined for export markets. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with funding from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), is providing important assistance in the form of a trade-capacity building programme. The formula is simple: strengthen national institutions so that they can supply quality-related services; help local companies to adopt quality standards; establish a national traceability system for export products; and upgrade, as well as prepare, product-testing laboratories.
“Developing countries and economies in transition like Ghana need to comply with international trade requirements if they want to export their products. Together with SECO, we have developed this project to strengthen the national quality infrastructure, which will not only improve access to markets but also contribute to the overall improvement of the quality, safety, health and consumer protection”, said Juan Pablo Davila, Project Manager at UNIDO.
The results of the project are promising. Local producers now have standards that govern both the quality and safety of their agricultural products, while consumers can trace the origin of the products back to the farms and know that the products they buy meet the highest international standards.
“Practicing traceability is a global standards requirement,” says Diana Nsiah-Gyabquah, Project Officer at the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA), the national trade support institution responsible for the facilitation of local exports. “Most of our exports go to the European Union, so our exporters need to conform to be more competitive. This is why, together with UNIDO, we developed a local traceability system.”
Companies implementing the system are enthusiastic. Michael Nyarko-Ampem, General Manager at the food retailer, Elssy Kess, Ltd., reports, “We now advertise our products using traceability as part of our dealings. We can even publish the traceability report and add it to the documents so that the buyers can really see where the raw materials came from, the stages of processing that the product went through and how it was packed and shipped to them, so they are now given the confidence that our products are qualitative.”
“UNIDO realized how heavily both Ghana and the rest of West Africa needed a National Certification Body,” states Abena Safoa Osei, Document Control Officer at the Ghana Standards Authority, “so they sponsored the establishment of this department here at the Ghana Standards Authority and helped more than 10 companies to prepare their documentation and systems to receive this certification from us.”
Local companies are indeed benefitting from this initiative. Ama Nyame Mogyabun, Quality Manager at Commodities Processing Industries, an enterprise specializing in processing cocoa paste, compared the before and after scenarios, “In the past, we did not have working knowledge of the ISO 22000 and the ISO 9000 standards, so we could not reach out to the big manufacturers. After acquiring international certification, we are now able to sell to them. We are now more competitive.”
Ghana’s newly strengthened quality infrastructure draws on the best international methods to test food, beverages and drinking water for toxins and pesticides. This, together with recently introduced legislation, marks a major step towards ensuring food safety.
An added bonus is the low cost of testing products locally. Exporters can now avoid the expensive re-testing to comply with standards previously required by importing countries. West Africa can now use the accredited labs in Ghana instead of sending their products to accredited labs in other countries like South Africa, for example.
Now that the national quality infrastructure has been strengthened, the next stage is to sensitize and raise awareness of the existence of these facilities and services to farmers, traders and exporters. This will be done in the second phase of the project, due to start shortly.
Hans-Peter Egler, Head of Trade Promotion at SECO, said, “Our assessment is very positive. We have witnessed the development of a wide array of activities that greatly support the areas of norms, standards and conformity assessments. We hope that Ghana is now able to implement these and we are trying, in a second phase, to support the development of new areas where we can team up and join forces with UNIDO.”