Comoros: Enhancing trade opportunities to reduce poverty, create jobs and boost rural livelihoods
"Vanilla is our oil. I've been farming for the past 33 years and managed to meet all my family's needs. All my children know that they were fed and raised thanks to the vanilla farming." – Ibrahim Bacar, a vanilla farmer father of ten.
The Union of the Comoros is firmly committed to using trade as a lever for its national development. With a strong potential as a tourist destination, the Union of the Comoros faces island connectivity challenges that undermine its potential, and the Government is strongly taking forward the trade agenda to ensure that investments are made in infrastructure and facilities as well as in enhancing the Islands' trading opportunities.
With a high political leadership to the trade agenda and strong partners, including France as an active EIF Donor Facilitator and UNDP support, Comoros' trade and development agenda has been a national-led priority. As a result, Comoros has been one of the first EIF Countries to have developed and validated a Medium-term Programme (MTP) on Aid for Trade (AfT) for 2012-2015 in 2012. The MTP stems from the EIF‑supported Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS), the Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy Paper (PRGSP) and the AfT resource mobilization strategy and was used as the basic document for a Multi‑Donor Round Table on "Trade and Development in the Comoros".
The MTP's objective was to improve the business environment for the private sector, increase services to Small and Medium Enterprises, support the value chain for key exports, such as vanilla, ylang ylang and cloves, and the implementation of an eco-tourism development strategy. It also included support for the integration of Comoros into the Regional and Multilateral Trading Systems, paving the way for entry into the COMESA Free Trade Area and in advancing Comoros' accession to the WTO.
In Comoros, the EIF has been providing support to develop and reinforce existing institutional capacities for the formulation and implementation of trade strategies and their incorporation into national development plans; support to aid coordination; and the implementation of the DTIS Action Matrix. Through this support, the EIF National Implementation Unit (NIU) has focused its efforts on sensitizing stakeholders and strengthening institutional capacities related to trade, especially to support the coordination and implementation of the PRGSP, AfT programmes, WTO accession and regional integration, as well as to mobilize stakeholder support to trade reform and the trade development agenda. As a result, a trade-related institutional capacity‑building plan was validated in 2013 and has been implemented by the NIU since then. In 2014, more than 150 Comorians benefitted from capacity building in trade policy and on the WTO and accession‑related implications.
Through EIF support, Comoros has also worked with UNDP to update the 2007 DTIS, looking at deepening the diagnostic and defining the trade priorities of Comoros within key sectors, as well as highlighting the new challenges linked with integrating into the global economy, including from a regional and multilateral perspective. The 2015-2019 DTIS Update (DTISU) aims to reduce poverty at the national level through the improved use of trade, build institutional capacity for trade policy implementation, increase opportunities through regional and multilateral integration and improve the business climate, particularly through effective private sector development.
Moreover, in cooperation with France, a new MTP is being formulated on the basis of the DTISU and will be presented to donors at a National Round Table in March 2016. To support DTISU implementation, an online platform tracking AfT has also been set up with EIF support, for the Government, businesses and academia. Additionally, the DTISU also contains a detailed roadmap to strengthen the competiveness and the value addition of the traditional export products (cloves, vanilla and ylang ylang) and to develop the eco-tourism market in Comoros.
In partnership with UNDP and ITC, Comoros has been implementing an EIF project to improve the competitiveness of its aforementioned three traditional export sectors. The project looks at strengthening the institutional and technical capacities of producers and exporters to play a more active role in the commercialization of their products on international markets and to take better advantage of international trade benefits.
The vanilla, ylang-ylang and cloves project aims to create a better-structured and stronger cash crops sector, to consolidate and expand Comoros' position in the highly competitive vanilla and clove market and in the ylang ylang niche market and to increase the share of exports of the three products processed in the country. This will include improving the competitiveness of the products and their positioning in quality niche markets, with a specific branding and an internationally recognized label. For ylang ylang, the challenge is to help producers to come together and to share investments in a new and innovative stainless boiler heating mode, as well as to assure traceability along the value chain and ultimately quality.
Plans are now shaping up to establish cooperatives for the three sectors to facilitate access to banking, finance and microcredit to the different farmers, harvesters, distillers, collectors, processors and exporters all involved in the value chain. As a result, seven awareness‑building sessions have been organized for nearly 200 people involved in the sector's value chains. Future plans also include improving production practices, quality, product diversification and packaging and marketing, using innovative technologies, as well as promoting new business opportunities and markets.
Through the project, the Comorian Government is trying to end hunger and improve nutrition, since vanilla is of strategic importance to the economy of Comoros, as it ensures income for tens of thousands of farmers, harvesters, distillers, collectors, processors and exporters in the three Islands, including many living in poverty.