IFAD's Near East and North Africa Division holds its annual 2010 Retreat in Tuscany, Italy

Ancient Tuscany is hosting the annual “Retreat” of IFAD’s Near East and North Africa Division (NEN) this year from 3-5 November. The three-day retreat aims to produce the final draft of NEN’s 2011 Management Plan and to increase knowledge of three important operational themes, namely Territorial Development, Rural Finance and the Slow Food Movement. The Retreat also serves to review the achievements in 2010 and work plans for 2011 of the division’s various informal thematic clusters. It also provides opportunities for the participants to acquire more knowledge and develop write ups for knowledge products on the three themes.

The first stop on the road to Chianciano Terme, where the Director of NEN, Nadim Khouri, declared the Retreat officially opened, was the city of Grosseto. Along with four consultants, four guests from the Arab Gulf States Liaison Office (AGL) and a guest from the Ministry of Agriculture of Albania, NEN staff members were received by the local authorities at Sala Pegaso of Province of Grosseto.

The Head of the Agriculture Department of the Province (Assessore di Agricultura), Enzo Rossi, welcomed the participants and gave a brief description of the various on going rural and agricultural development activities in his province. The Assessore di Agricultura of the Region of Tuscany, Dr. Gianni Slavadori, also delivered a welcoming speech, in which he highlighted the various Territorial Development (TD) projects supported by European Union and GoItaly under the Rural Development Programme of Tuscany 2007-2013. Dr Salvadori explained the participatory bottom-up approach in preparation of regional development plans, which the programme follows through the Local Action Groups (LAGs).

Presentations on the on-going programmes, public-private partnerships models adopted in the process of value chain development and the TD approaches to community-focussed rural development were given by other officials of the Provinces of Siena and Grosseto.

Following these initial presentations the Retreat participants were split into two groups on simultaneous visits to the sites of farmers’ cooperatives. The first group visited the Maremma Milk Producers Cooperative, a project that has succeeded in optimizing the milk production chain. The processes of collection, processing, bottling, storage, distribution and marketing of the product have been improved through the automation of the collection, registration and usage of the data relating to milk production with the help of available software applications.

The second group visited the Grosseto Fruit and Vegetable Cooperative, which processes and markets a wide range of products, including biological fruits and vegitables. Luciano Marioni, the Director of the Cooperative, explained to the visiting group how his Cooperative has succeeded in improving both the production techniques at the field level and its packaging and commercialisation systems; thus realizing substantive increases in the earnings of 160 member farmers. Marioni also explained how the cooperative, which benefits from EU support, responds to the needs of it client supermarkets in the North of Italy efficiently and in real time. He also underlined that the Cooperative itself does not make profit since all returns after deduction of running expenses and a 4 percent Value Added tax, go to the member producers.

Following arrival and check it at the Villa Ricci Hotel in Chianciano Terme, Director Nadim Khouri underlined the importance if taking advantage of the hands-on opportunities the Retreat offers to participants to acquire deeper knowledge and benefit from lessons learned. The evening was concluded with a presentation by the guest speaker from Albania, Dr Shkeizen Marku, on his country’s experience in promoting TD approaches and establishment of workable solutions for promoting and valorising value chains and private-public partnerships with direct benefits to the rural producers.