Shepherd Sagne, is my resident photographer, printer and graphic designer. On one occasion when I was quite unhappy with the work he had done for me, he was quick to point out that; “I am ISO certified”. I, however, discovered that it’s a term he uses loosely to enhance his brand strength. But the fact still remains, Shepherd is aware of how an international certification from the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) will augment his business. I backed away and have treated him with “much more respect” since that outburst. He has since acquired a drone which he uses to take photographs at all functions and is doing very well.
Unfortunately, not all Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are “quality savvy”. Research by Southern Africa Development Consultants (SODECO) revealed interesting trends. A majority of the SMEs interviewed “endeavour” to adhere to financial standards. They are afraid of penalties from regulatory bodies such as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA). However, it was refreshing to note that all of the SMEs interviewed felt strongly that they needed to adhere to some sort of standards. SMEs are forced to adhere to standards that are specified within the supply chain.
What is a standard?
According to the International Trade Commission (ITC) a standard is a “required or agreed level of quality of attainment”. Standards can be set by public or private enterprises. The ITC also delineates between a standard and a regulation. A regulation is a “rule or directive made and maintained by an authority often a government. Thus a standard becomes a regulation when it is written into law”.
Overview of standard organisations
There are a plethora of standardisation bodies throughout the world. Mostly, these bodies are industry specific, but according to the ITC the International Standard Organisation (ISO) remains the most recognised standard body that has designed and published a wide array of standards. Since its inception in 1947, the organisation has published more than 19 500 standards. In Zimbabwe, we are proud to have some companies that are ISO certified. Petrotrade one of Zimbabwe’s fastest petroleum group, the first company to be certified with the ISO 9001-2008 certification in the petroleum industry. Sector specific standards such as in the electrical industry, are governed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which publishes and creates standards for electrical and electronic technologies.
In the Food industry some of the most important bodies regulating the industry are Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and the WHO Standard Programme to name just a few.
Share of imports affected by Standards
According to the ITC, the share of imports affected by technical regulations is most prominent in the fresh food industry, followed by the Processed and Wood Products industry respectively. Clothing, manufacturing, minerals and transport equipment have the lowest technical regulations for import. These findings imply that those SMEs who wish to venture into food manufacturing, should be prepared to invest in some sort of standard certification.
In addition, SMEs should ensure that their labour practices are aligned to international best practice.
Why do SMEs need to adhere to standards?
Any certification with a reputable standards body is a positive development for brand strengthening. According to Sagne, an ISO certification can potentially build his customer base. Vandudzayi Zirebwa, the general manager of Buy Zimbabwe, points out that any standard certification can be used as a marketing tool and is an “endorsement on quality assurance”.
Standards certification also creates checks and balances on the quality of products. In Europe, horse meat circulated the market for a long time until the Irish food Authority found out during a research. Virgin Oil can be labelled as Extra Virgin oil without the requisite properties.
Currently the Zimbabwean market has been flooded with sanitisers. There is a huge possibility that some of these products might not meet the required quality standards. However, if an SME is endorsed by a standard body one will not have to spend time to convince the market. In Zimbabwe a bone of contention with many consumers was the false labelling of honey which is deemed “pure” while it is just syrup.
What factors hinder quality certification in SMEs?
According to the Emerald Journal, there are many factors that hinder SMEs from meeting expected quality standards. These factors include; training level and priorities, costs and actual performance, resources overload, lack of resources and prohibitive costs of training.
According to one SME in the food industry “I find the costs of compliance very high especially those of exporting outside the country.” Justin Mupeti, a leading agricultural economic development expert, blames the prohibitive costs of international certification bodies as a major factor to SMEs not achieving required standards certification.
What should SMEs do to enhance quality?
- Knowledge is Power
SMEs should familiarise themselves with the various regulations and standards that govern their particular industry. In Zimbabwe, the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) is the foremost organisation that is mandated to deal with quality issues. For those in the sweet potato industry, the Zimbabwe specification for sweet potato flour is available for review. The organisation now offers online training sessions. Other key organisations include; Zimtrade for export and import regulations and the various National Employment Councils (NECs) that regulate labour related issues within various sectors.
The African Organisation for Standardisation to which Zimbabwe is affiliated is responsible for harmonising standards in Africa. It is important to be familiar with these standards as Zimbabwe is signatory to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) which aims at strengthening and positioning Africa in the global market. To this end, SMEs who wish to export into the African continent should ensure that they familiarise themselves with these standards.
- Stay Alert for Technical training Opportunities
Several NGOs conduct standard training within various sectors. SMEs should make it a habit to constantly search for these opportunities on the internet or within the local press. In addition, SMEs should affiliate themselves to associations who also conduct trainings in various aspects.
iii. Seek Local certification
It is important for SMEs or be part of an organisation that creates and enhances quality standards. Buy Zimbabwe is one such organisation that has sought to elevate products of Zimbabwean origin. For a product to have the Buy Zimbabwe logo, it has to be certified by a recognised certification body, be environmentally compliant, carry minimum local content threshold of 10 percent, be registered in Zimbabwe and be compliant to labour laws.
In conclusion, it is important for SMEs to work towards upgrading their product quality so as to be competitive within the global economic arena. I sign off with a quote from Dr Mahembe, a development Economist and Entrepreneur based in South Africa. “An SME needs to be different and quality is the differentiator” Stay Safe.
Joseline Sithole is an SME consultant and founder of Southern Africa Development Consultants (SODECO). For comments write to her on [email protected] or whatsapp +263773634062.