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Biotrade SME market access and compliance challenges

The Opens external link in new windowABioSA project is helping the southern African biotrade community to understand challenges faced by small businesses in complying with international regulations and accessing export markets.

Three innovative SMMEs presented to the 11th biotrade stakeholder forum, hosted by ABioSA with two other SECO-funded projects, UNIDO’s Global Quality and Standards Programme and the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO).

Opens external link in new windowQobo Qobo is a social enterprise in the Eastern Cape which has had a difficult transition from dependency on funding to become a sustainable business. Its farmers have produced 200kg of high-quality Rose Geranium oil, but the business is struggling to access international customers because it lacks knowledge of regulations. This has left it with unsold stock and cash flow challenges that put jobs at risk, Qobo Qobo chief executive Tafara Shuro told the forum.

Lorrain Goodman is founder of Opens external link in new windowLavenderlane essential oils business and coordinator of the Mzanzi Retail consortium of 60 small biotrade companies. One of her challenges is getting reliable information about certification required in different markets, and like many SMEs she struggles with the cost of securing safety data sheets (SDS) and product information files (PIF) required by cosmetics market regulators. Goodman urged companies to work with technical experts like Opens external link in new windowLISAM, which is contracted by ABioSA to support sector-wide compliance. She recommended that business support organisations create a single source of information on compliance, and that government ensure small businesses are compliant before helping them participate in international trade shows.

Opens external link in new windowEsse is one of the region’s most successful biotrade businesses, with 121 compliant products sold in 42 countries. Founder Trevor Steyn encouraged early-stage biotrade SMEs to see compliance as a business success strategy, and not risk exporting without a PIF.

UNIDO-GQSP chief technical advisor Elsie Meintjies told SMEs that they needed to recognise that compliance was an investment, not a cost.