Vietnam: The importance of professionalizing smallholders

Business advisor Luc Groot explains why he’s moving to booming Vietnam to help small farmers professionalize.

 

Smallholders should realize they are entrepreneurs

Luc Groot: “It doesn’t matter how small the holding is of an individual farmer; they should always realize they are also an entrepreneur. Next to tending to their crops and animals they need to be savvy about business. They need to know whether they need to plant potatoes or onions this season, for instance. Or how to keep track of their costs. This information is often ‘out there’ and also available to smallholder farmers but they are usually too busy with their daily farm practices to invest in getting this information.

 

Agriterra has a unique approach. We look at each challenge completely from the perspective and long term interests of the individual farmer via their representative farmers organization. In order to improve the economic viability of their individual business they need to be assisted, whether it is choosing a particular cooling appliance or how to utilize their plot as efficiently as possible. We want an honest price for the farmers’ products. Not only for their individual economic benefit but also because it enables them to invest in their farm; delivering better products for society as a whole. An economic and environmental sustainable value chain is only possible when you focus on the farmers perspective. The other value chain partners often still need a little bit of convincing on this, unfortunately.”

 

Working together to everyone’s benefit

“Agriterra supports farmers if they are a member of a farmer cooperative. We believe that professional farmer cooperatives are the answer to many economic and social problems associated with agriculture and food production. By assisting cooperatives to become more transparent and service-oriented towards their members, the members also want to invest more time in money in cooperating with other members. This increases the quality of the product and decreases the cost price, which in turn leads to improved margins.

 

Agriterra also assists in creating a positive business context for farmers. Because even if farmers produce excellent products, there are still many external factors that they have no control over, but which still have a direct effect on their day to day business. Think about taxes or regulations, but also the quality of infrastructure. That’s why Agriterra also engages with government, labour unions and NGO’s. This interplay between the farmers and other parts of society is the most fascinating part of my work.”

 

Moving to Vietnam

“My current activities can be best described as being ‘knowledge brokering’. I find the knowledge gaps at local cooperatives together with my local colleagues and try to formulate a training program or advisory trajectory. For instance: a cooperative is interested in a certain certification program for their rice like global GAP or organic. They want to know if it can improve their margins and if their organization can integrate the changes accompanying a certification. I would then arrange an exchange with another cooperative who already is in possession of these certificates, or invite a certification expert from the Netherlands. The idea is to not prescribe them a particular route or choice, but let them find out for themselves if this is something they want to commit to.

 

 

I was raised in a butchers’ family. My grandfather and uncle were both dairy farmers. So I have always been very interested in the dilemma of the small entrepreneur. I’ve worked quite a while for Dutch farmers to lobby for their interests in The Hague and Brussels, but at a certain moment I felt that farmers in developing countries could use my expertise as well. So that’s why I started working at Agriterra a couple of years ago.

 

And right now I’m in the process of moving from the Netherlands to Vietnam. I visit Vietnam about four to five times a year, but I think I would be of much greater service to our cooperative partners on the ground. It’s a great country with a positive vibe and a booming economy. And the food is amazing of course. I’m very happy that my family wants to join me on this adventure!”

 

Next week Luc explains why Vietnam’s long history of cooperatives is a mixed blessing.