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Certification and improving professionalism of producer-consumer cooperatives' group, Palestine

With each year, the cooperative sector, including the agricultural sector, is becoming an increasingly important element of Palestine’s economic development. Cooperatives provide a chance for self-employment and directly affect the standard of living of households. In spite of this, a number of problems encountered by cooperatives, their inability to develop products or the poor business skills of people involved in cooperatives, make their share in the market small. Another problem in the development of agricultural cooperatives in Palestine is political issues, including limitation of access to land on the Israeli side. At the same time, studies show that the application of solutions that bring cooperative products closer to international standards would allow them to compete in the local market and would create opportunities to take part in foreign markets as well. Improvement is especially needed in the quality and stability of products, but also in packaging and trademark recognisability.

To address these problems and having recognised an opportunity to improve the situation of the beneficiaries, the Polish Centre for International Aid, in cooperation with local entities (ARIJ, NFC), implemented a project involving certificates (BIO-EU, Fairtrade, Halal) for agricultural products manufactured by cooperatives supported by the project. Under the project and the two modules planned for subsequent years, the entities involved in production and sale will receive support in terms of improving both skills and technical capacity. Specialist procedures will be drawn up and adjusted to the developed system of quality and hygiene control in relation to the Mawasem brand’s product production and processing. Certification – the first of this kind in the cooperative sector in Palestine – will create trust among recipients and improve sales of products in international markets, leading to higher income for the cooperative group – the beneficiaries of the project – as well as the Palestinian cooperative sector.

Implementation of the project involves the expansion of the measures focused on the creation of a cooperative agribusiness model in the West Bank. These measures were carried out in Palestine in the years 2014-2017, with financial support from the Polish development cooperation programme (projects Nos 81/2014, 305/2015, 33/2016/M).

Certification and improving professionalism of producer-consumer cooperatives' group, Palestine

The project (Module 1) was implemented from 1 May to 31 December 2017, in the West Bank (Palestine), under cooperation between the Polish Centre for International Aid Foundation and two local organisations: New Farm Company and the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ). The project was a continuation of support for Palestinian agricultural cooperatives grouped under the Mawasem brand and consisted of efforts to further professionalise production and processing as well as to increase profitability for the participants.

Under the measures taken, emphasis was placed on the construction of specialised and standardised systems of production and processing of products from the Mawasem group in order to meet selected quality certificates: Ecocert (BIO-EU), Fairtrade and Halal.

Changes to adjust the cooperatives to the certification requirements were carried out on three levels: the farmers, the cooperatives and New Farm Company – the local entity responsible for distribution of the produced foodstuffs. In the series of training sessions for farmers and cooperatives, the aims and principles of the implemented quality systems were presented. Manuals were prepared on the principles of processing Mawasem food products. Renovations were carried out and additional equipment was supplied for the cooperatives and NFC to improve the efficiency of production and processing, as well as to improve quality and work safety.

The undertaken measures improved the chances of Mawasem on the domestic and foreign markets, which in the future will lead to better economic conditions among the beneficiaries included in the project.

Certification and improving professionalism of producer-consumer cooperatives' group, Palestine

Under the first module of the project, the following certification procedures were initiated:

  1. applications to seek BIO-EU certificates for two products were submitted and paid for, agreements were signed with the certifying institution and the manufacturing and processing entities, which were listed in COAP as pending conversion;
  2. applications for Fairtrade certificates for three products were submitted and paid for;
  3. preparations were begun for the Halal certification procedure.

Moreover, measures were carried out to improve agricultural skills for cultivation of the chosen crops and to improve the capacity of cooperatives in processing and meeting quality standards: five training sessions for farmers and two training sessions for cooperative processing operators were held. For each of the Mawasem products, a detailed manual on processing was drawn up (a total of 14 manuals, each one printed in 10 copies), field inspections were carried out, and quality certificates were acquired for Mawasem products from the Ministry of Health of Palestine. All measures were aimed at improving expert skills in crop cultivation and processing as well as changing the image of cooperatives to a more professional one that meets the requirements of specific frameworks and standards.

Under the project, great emphasis was also placed on the creation of a quality and hygiene control system in the cooperatives operating within the Mawasem group. The cooperatives were subject to regular quality and hygiene monitoring, carried out by production and production environment quality experts. On the basis of an analysis of the technical condition of the cooperatives, renovations of premises were carried out and necessary furnishings and equipment were purchased (production machinery, tables, essential utensils). Support was also provided for the New Farm Company processing and distribution unit. To improve the state of infrastructure and the hygiene and safety rules, two persons were hired to oversee quality control, essential renovations were carried out (the drying facility, the laboratory, the dosing unit, the building’s surroundings, sanitary facilities), and missing equipment was installed (pasteuriser, air conditioning, refrigerator, forklift). A manual was also prepared on hygiene at the workplace, which contributed to the systematisation of the procedures in effect.