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Interview with Chris Nikoi, Chief of the WFP Logistics & Transport Service

Chris Nikoi is Chief of WFP's Logistics and Transport Service, located in WFP's headquarter in Rome.

In this interview, he talks about the challenges for WFP Logistics when implementing P4P and how these challenges are addressed within the pilot initiative.

As Chief of the Logistics and Transport Service at WFP headquarters, what do you think are the main challenges for WFP Logistics regarding P4P?
“The single most important challenge has been coordination. What we have found through our survey with Logistics staff in P4P countries is that where there are no good coordination mechanisms at the Country Office level between the different units like Logistics, Procurement, the P4P Unit itself, Pipeline and even Finance, to discuss and to plan ahead, things have been difficult. For example, when Logistics receives a last minute request to go and pick up a small quantity, possibly far away, it becomes problematic.
A second challenge has been transport arrangements. I think there is no question that picking up small quantities from small FOs, in some cases in very remote, off-road locations, is in itself difficult. The next challenge would be the quality of the commodities. Our surveys and interviews have shown that on the first or second purchase from a certain FO, quality might have been a problem. However, where WFP has been consistent and stringent in its requirements, subsequent purchases from those same groups have met our quality standards. Lastly, we have to do more on mapping the logistics costs of P4P activities."

How do you address logistics challenges arising when dealing with smallholders?
“Logistics is working on issuing guidelines for the Logistics units in P4P pilot countries, covering a whole range of issues. These guidelines will address issues such as transport contracting; transfer of title; building transport capacity of farmers’ organisations. Today, in most cases WFP sends trucks to the FO’s warehouses to pick up the commodities. Essentially, WFP manages the transportation. We want to help our Logistics units to work with the farmers’ organisations to make them capable of managing the transportation of the commodities and be able to deliver to WFP warehouses.
Why is this important? This is fundamental to the concept of connecting farmers to markets. Because if one goes back to the primary objectives of P4P, which is to give farmers the opportunity and ability to access markets, it is important that we help them acquire the skills of how to negotiate with transporters and how to contract for transportation to their own benefit. WFP will not be engaged in P4P forever, and we don’t want a situation where once WFP stops to buy from FOs, they are back to where they used to be. So it’s really important that we transfer the necessary skills on contracting, negotiating and transporting to the FOs, so that they can confidently negotiate and become players in the larger commercial markets. We consider this as an important contribution that Logistics can make towards WFP achieving the overall objectives of P4P”.

So how do you address these issues in the field?
“We are going to work with our P4P country offices to develop standardized training materials which will be used to teach FOs how to manage transport contracting arrangements. We are also building the general knowledge, interest and buy-in of the Logistics community in P4P. Every regional logistics meeting – a meeting that brings the entire logistics leadership of the region together - starting with the one from our office in Johannesburg in November 2010, now has P4P as a standard agenda item”.

What progress has been achieved in the first two years of P4P?
“Even though P4P takes place only in 21 countries presently, there is now a sense within the logistics community that P4P is as much a part of our work as the traditional one – certainly in the countries that are involved. Logistics has moved from marginal involvement, in some cases, to something we consider as one of our core activities. And it is that change in mindset which eventually makes scale-up possible”.

What were your impressions from the P4P Annual Review in December 2010?
“The sheer size and scale of representation at the meeting in Maputo surprised me. I had no idea that there was such a huge interest and following for P4P, way beyond WFP. The farmers’ organisations, the finance institutions, commodity exchanges, government ministers and others who showed up there really blew my mind. Frankly, I came back from Maputo with a completely different attitude. This is also a bit of a risk because the expectations out there are so high. We need to manage these expectations and be mindful that the stakeholders are expecting a lot of P4P”.

What do you want to tell your colleagues about P4P?
“P4P should not be looked at in isolation, but be seen as one of the tools as WFP moves from food aid to food assistance. If you look at P4P in isolation, it is just another initiative, but if you look at it as one of the new tools, then you see that it integrates into a lot of things that we are talking about at WFP today.
If you look at our beneficiary groups, there is no doubt that a good number of them are farmers – and therefore the attempt to address the structural issues that lead to farmers or farming communities being food insecure has to be one of the central pillars of WFP.
So let’s give it our best, and in five years time, we will know what works and needs to be continued and scaled up; and what doesn’t work and needs to be discarded. In the end, from a learning point of view, it can only make WFP a better organisation”.