Bertken de Leede is the business advisor of January for the Small Farmers, Big Deal Campaign! She shares with us why advice and training is often more relevant to local development than development aid.
Farmers in the driving seat
Bertken: “Agrittera’s approach has always been to put the farmer cooperatives in the driving seat instead of NGO’s or governmental organizations deciding for farmers. Bottom up investment creates the most sustainable growth. But Agriterra has also changed a lot over the last few years. When I started working here Agriterra was mostly a project- and financing organization in the development aid-sector. We have evolved into an advisory organization, and financing farmer organizations is not our core business at all. Our dependency on subsidies will gradually reduce.
I think this is a very good development. People always say that there is too little money for development aid or local initiatives. But I do not think that a lack of (external) money is the problem. There is almost always money available from local banks, (inter)national financiers or governments. The problem is that local farmers or organizations are not able to write a proper financing proposal and ‘sell’ it. That is exactly where Agriterra comes in to fill this gap. We help farmer cooperatives become more professional in many different aspects. So, even though Agriterra’s organizational structure changed, our goal and focus hasn’t changed: we work to create professional, flourishing farmer cooperatives in lower income countries.”
Cost of potatoes
Bertken: “As the business advisor for Nepal, I work every day to connect Dutch and Nepalese organizations. A large part of this is focused on knowledge transfer from the Netherlands to Nepal. My role is to facilitate all of this. I try to match the needs of local farmer cooperatives with advice missions. I scout the Dutch agrifood sector for experts on different subject matters to provide trainings to farmer cooperatives. I organize and prepare all of these trainings and workshops with the experts. You can imagine that the education levels vary widely in a country like Nepal, so a customized approach is necessary.
The subject matter of these trainings is for example record keeping and benchmarking. How do you keep records of how much you produce and how much you earn? And once you have this info; what are you going to do with it? Most farmers in Nepal put very little information down on paper. They usually tell me that they already know on average what they earn in a year. But if you don’t know how much it has cost you to produce a pound of potatoes, then you don’t know what the minimum price should be. This kind of commercial thinking is a very essential part of making the transition towards producing for the market.”
Bertken: “Last year Agriterra trained about 75 of what we call ‘lead farmers’ in this subject. These are usually community leaders or very active farmers with extra education, motivation or a better track record than average. These lead farmers are expected to train each about 20 farmers themselves on issues like book keeping. This month, a team of two advisors will return to Nepal to check on their progress and give them a follow up course. Shortly after, I will travel myself to Nepal for further follow up and defining the action plans for 2017 with the organizations involved. I will tweet about my experiences on @sfarmersbigdeal
Most of our trainings and workshops are led by Dutch ‘peers’, usually agricultural entrepreneurs. A man or woman who is rooted in the daily practice creates an enormously good vibe in the class room. The interaction between trainer and farmers is markedly different when the trainer can share his/her experience with difficulties. As part of our guidance and coaching, we encourage farmers to organize themselves into study groups in order to exchange knowledge on best practices. That way Agriterra’s investment is safeguarded for the future.”
Next week, Bertken will share how Agriterra helped to set up a business deal between a Dutch food entrepreneur and a tea cooperative from the Himalaya, resulting in high-end tea for the Dutch market. Read more about making a deal in Nepal and contact Bertken.