In early 2012, Sidley launched a unique program of pro bono work designed to support market-based economic development and growth through legal assistance to eligible African and Asian smaller agricultural enterprises. Today, more than 100 Sidley lawyers are participating in the Program representing a wide range of clients.
The Project harnesses the experience of Sidley’s team of lawyers around the world by using their strategic and technical know-how for the benefit of the poorest people in rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and less-developed countries in Asia. The focus of the Project is to empower farmers and businesses to expand their operations to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest farmers and their communities. Sidley’s Project supports the growth and success of agricultural producers and businesses all along the agricultural supply chain – from seeds to production and ancillary services such as microfinance and insurance. Access to Sidley’s international legal experience can eliminate a host of finance, investment and trade challenges to grow and pave the way for future successes.
Examples of work under this Project include:
- Trade advice: Helping exporters understand and navigate international trade agreements and rules can help unblock barriers to markets as well as increase the potential value of the product.
- Sidley is representing the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation to advise on standards for exporting into the European Union, and to help reduce trade barriers when they arise.
- Sidley is advising Tolaro Global (Benin) on regulations and disputes arising from cashew exports to the US and EU. Profits from the activities of Tolaro help pay for investments in education and healthcare in the community as well as improve livelihoods for those processing cashews in West Africa.
- Market access through advice on compliance with regulatory measures: Complex and restrictive regulatory requirements can shrink global market opportunities and present an onerous barrier to trade, especially for producers in developing countries who are neither aware of nor able to cope with such regulations. Being able to navigate such regulations will empower producers to reach larger markets and potentially generate significantly greater earnings.
- Sidley is representing the Alliance of African Shea Associations to facilitate access to the US market through regulatory advice on US food standards. Sidley’s work in this area will greatly expand the potential market for West African Shea producers, and diversify their markets from the EU.
- Intellectual property / Trademarks / Plant Variety Protection: Registering a unique characteristic of a product or commodity, whether it be a technological improvement, a specific process, or a geographic provenance, could help differentiate the product in regional or world markets and enhance prices. It can also be important to be able to license a protected technology or seed variety to improve yields and quality.
- Sidley is working with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture to pilot protection and licensing of improved seed varieties to create incentives for seed producers to market such varieties more widely among farmers in Africa.
- Sidley is representing One Acre Fund to register trademarks to allow the organization to market and fundraise more effectively, thereby also helping to expand its work from 135,000 farmers in East Africa today to more than a million farmers across Africa and Asia in 5 years.
- Sidley is working with the Alliance of African Shea Associations on negotiating branding regarding the provenance of the shea butter used in beauty products. This work will generate funds for projects to empower the 4,000,000 women shea producers in West Africa.
- Sidley is advising the Indonesian Fair Trade Association, which represents coffee producers in Northern Sumatra, on a geographic indication for its unique coffee beans, popular with US consumers.
- Investment & Finance Advice: Drawing on Sidley’s commercial work in fund and corporate services, the Project assists entities seeking additional financing to meet donor / fund eligibility requirements and also helps clients to structure equity or loan deals of various sizes. Sidley lawyers also provide best practice advice on governance for microfinance and other financial entities working in the agricultural sector, as well as advise on innovative forms of collateral.
- Sidley is representing One Acre Fund to obtain a multi-million loan facility from a major public investment agency. This will enable One Acre Fund to provide much needed microloans to small-scale farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.
- Sidley is representing Green Village Plan Development to review and update microfinance documentation for farmers and rural communities in Ghana.
- Sidley is working with USAID and CNFA on a Community Owned Finance Institution for pastoralists in Northern Kenya as part of the Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program. The institution is a Shari’a compliant cooperative where the pastoralists are members and which aims to use mobile phone technology to facilitate access to funds for 50,000 households in this remote area.
- Franchising and Dealer Networks: Franchising is a huge opportunity in rural communities in the developing world - by extending distribution networks to reach the village level, they create entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals; by bringing agro-inputs and processing such as seed, fertilizer, herbicides, and drying / storage facilities closer to the farmers, they facilitate access to methods of higher productivity and access to markets (and therefore improved incomes).
- Sidley is working with Technoserve and Moageiras Milenio de Mozambique on a project to establish a network of mills in rural areas in Mozambique.
In developing the Project, and in developing clients for these pro bono services, Sidley engages with a range of entities working toward agricultural and economic growth in Africa and Asia. These include producer and trade associations, cooperatives, not-for-profit organizations, foundations, funds, banks, microfinance and insurance providers, private sector advisory services, intergovernmental organizations, universities, and individuals. For example, Sidley cooperates with a range of NGOs, consultancies, Government and private sector entities, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Bank, Ernst & Young, Technoserve, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, CNFA, ACDI/VOCA, FairTrade International, Trustlaw, Self Help Africa and Government Aid and Finance Agencies. Sidley is honored to be working with these organizations to secure a common objective of benefitting the world’s poorest farmers and fisherfolk through enhanced trade and enterprise opportunities.
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