Back in Peru with the Swiss connection / by Francisco Blaha

The work I'm doing here is quite a “odd one out” in comparison with my more common work portfolio.  Is not a job for the European Union, FAO, SPC, GIZ, NZAid or AusAID… this is for the Swiss government, a rather odd player in the fish world...

reality is always better than fiction

reality is always better than fiction

Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) (that used to be called OSEC) is a Swiss government organization that carries out its federal mandates of export, import and investment promotion, with «Enabling new business» as its value proposition. 

Under the Import section they have the Switzerland Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) that aims to facilitate the entry of a range of food and non food products produced by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from certain countries into the European Union, Switzerland and other EFTA markets, as indirect way of promoting employment via the expansion of these companies markets.

They provide the SMEs chosen with information about product requirements offer matchmaking services and training courses and put them in touch with potential buyers via trade fair participations as well as buying and selling missions over a period of 3 years.

However, to qualify, these SMEs need to comply with a series of very specific requirements in terms of: structure, capabilities, safety/food safety, social responsibility, sustainability and ethical sourcing to join the programme, and them maintain a reporting schedule of advances

My jobs are: 1) to do the selection of the companies that will be accepted in to the program, by evaluating all the prior mentioned aspects and reporting to Zurich my findings, 2) with the help from my friend Raul from we design SIPPO’s promotional materials for the selected companies, 3) assist the selected companies on technical issues during the Brussels seafood show (the biggest in the world- I wrote about it here), and 4) write and (typeset for pre-press with the help of Vibeke) technical/training manuals in regards seafood safety regulatory requirements, non IUU sourcing and Ecolabels.

Furthermore, my “boss” is an really nice guy, that takes his job seriously but not himself seriously, so the job feels like a road trip with a lot of laughing, great food and good work done.

It is a “refreshing” job, because I don’t deal with any government organization, the assistance is direct to small and medium companies, and I have seen incredible results in really short terms… the type of results they only dream on the more conventional sorts of “international development” work.

For example 3 years ago, I went up to Sechura (really the middle of nowhere) to evaluate a small company that does rearing of scallops in vertical tube nets in a open bay. The company (pompously named Seacorp) belongs to 2 brothers (both surfers) that refined the ideas and concepts behind the process and wanted to do things their own way. I liked that attitude from them and the really open and transparent approach (besides that we belong to the surfers sub-tribe)

initial stage scallops to be grown

initial stage scallops to be grown

The impact of that type of operation is minimal (smaller than a mussel farm in NZ), as the scallops just filter naturally available plankton that grows plentiful in the bay, and (as a difference of the mussels) is much more labour intensive, hence employing much more local people as the scallops require changing positions to different mesh size “tubes” as they grow.

When I went to their “farm” in 2011 they had 7 employees, as shed and few hectares of sea-based production scallop enhancing area, now they have 35 full time employees (plus 50 seasonal), their own ever growing hatchery (hence no impact on natural populations) and the production area expanded to over 200 hectares of maritime concessions of paid local coastal owners and authorities in two different areas.

From the sales from the 1st year in Brussels, they reinvested in sustainable energy and their local crew. All the electricity on the site is provided by wind turbines and solar panels. They only employs people who live locally, and knowledge is willingly shared through training and courses. They also works with young offenders, giving them a chance at a life outside of crime or prison.

Basically a "Feel Good Story" all around, and only in 3 years with no loans, credits, subsidies, nothing just the opportunity to be where the buyers are and a good product with a good story behind

Even the dream trip to surf the Mentawai islands in Indonesia is to be achieved!

And there are other companies with similar stories, so I see results... I see good people getting the outcomes they deserve by doing things right, so what is not to like from this “odd one out” job.