The Regional Organizing Group for the Implementation of the One Country One Priority Product Initiative in Africa meets for the first time.
The One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) initiative, launched by FAO in 2021, aims to promote agricultural development by identifying and prioritizing one essential agricultural product per country that has the potential to increase farmers’ incomes and improve food security. Since the launch of OCOP, over 80 Members from all five FAO regions have expressed their strong interest in promoting the green development of over 50 Special Agricultural Products. With 27 African countries expressing their interest in joining the initiative, Africa is leading the implementation at the global level.
The OCOP initiative in Africa so far focuses on developing 18 Special Agricultural Products (SAPs), including avocado, cashew, meat and teff, which have unique qualities and special characteristics associated with geographical locations, farming practices, and cultural heritages.
The first official meeting of the Regional Organizing Group (ROG) for the Implementation of the One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) initiative in Africa was held on 8 March and saw the participation of FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel, and Deputy Regional Representative Yurdi Yasmi, joined by key regional stakeholders and technical experts. The first meeting of the OCOP ROG for Africa endorsed the group’s Terms of Reference, including its responsibilities, tasks, composition, and working mechanisms. The group’s duties will range from organizing, coordinating, and supporting the planning, implementation, monitoring, and reporting of OCOP at the regional level to providing technical advice and enhancing partnership and resource mobilization.
“Since its launch, OCOP has been gaining traction in Africa. It is an opportunity for countries in the region to revisit or revamp value chains of important local agriculture products, in collaboration with FAO and other partners, to reap the rewards,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director-General and Chair of the ROG.
A specific characteristic of the group is the involvement of key regional stakeholders and experts. Representatives from the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), African Development Bank (AfDB), and the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO) will be acting as vice chairs. They will provide significant expertise and contextual knowledge to the group’s activities and proceedings.
Malawi’s production of bananas in the spotlight
The meeting was also an opportunity to provide updates on the implementation of OCOP in Africa, especially in Malawi, which has identified bananas as its SAP and was chosen as the first-round demonstration country for the region. Since the initiative started, the country office has worked closely with government counterparts, subregional and regional offices, and the OCOP secretariat. It has progressed in several vital areas, such as mobilizing resources, planning the implementation, and initiating activities on the ground.
“Malawi has set a very good example of how OCOP is being implemented at the country level. Malawi set the scene on how to prepare, organize, and link OCOP to other projects. We use Malawi to inspire other countries in our region and perhaps beyond to showcase how OCOP is implemented at the country level,” said Yurdi Yasmi, FAO Deputy Regional Representative and co-Chair of the ROG.
Gaining momentum in 2023
The SAPs are important examples of underutilized resources that have received lower attention than commonly known agricultural products but can significantly contribute to ensuring food security and healthy diets, supporting a sustainable bioeconomy, and improving farmers’ livelihoods and economic growth while protecting the environment and biodiversity. The OCOP program aims to promote these priority products by providing technical support, capacity building, and funding to farmers and other stakeholders involved in producing and marketing the product.
The OCOP initiative recognizes that African countries have diverse agricultural landscapes; hence, each country has a specific priority product that can contribute to agricultural development. In addition, each country is characterized by distinctive farming practices, traditions, and various plant species of agricultural products. Many of the selected SAPs have great potential to enhance nutrition, diversify diets and sustainably improve livelihoods.
2023 will be critical for implementing OCOP as several new countries in the region and globally have joined the initiative and shown interest in developing their SAPs.