Flevoland and India exchange expertise
Through the Rabobank Foundation’s adoption programme, Rabobank Flevoland has built up close ties with an Indian ginger cooperative. A visit to the project in 2012 showed that the experience and expertise of the bank’s agricultural clients could offer added value in developing the cooperative. This resulted in an expert mission in late 2014, when entrepreneurs Gerjan Snippe and Henk Meijer travelled to India for talks with the farmers and their cooperative. It proved to be a valuable learning experience for both parties.
The city of Udaipur in the north west of India is home to the Udaipur Agro Producer Company Ltd (UAPCL), a cooperative of 2500 small-scale ginger producers. UAPCL was set up with the intention of helping its farmer members in Jhadol, many of whom come from ethnic minorities, to improve their ginger production. The farmers grow various crops, of which some for own consumption and some as a way of spreading risk. Ginger is a profitable product that enjoys high demand. Aided by the Indian development organisation ACCESS, UAPCL was set up in 2010 to improve the situation of ginger farmers. Thanks to support from Rabobank Foundation, much has been done to boost production and product quality and to grow member numbers. This has been achieved through training and consultancy, joint purchasing of raw materials and equipment and the concentration of processing, packaging and marketing within a new, self-owned factory. Together with ACCESS the cooperative is now working on a strategic business plan for the future. The expert mission in November 2014 offered valuable insights in this regard.
Knowledge transfer from Flevoland
In his Zeewolde-based agricultural business Gerjan Snippe and his team cultivate and process organically grown crops using state-of-the-art techniques. At Rabobank Flevoland’s request, Snippe travelled to India last November together with arable farmer Henk Meijer, also from Zeewolde. The aim of this expert mission was to act as a sounding board for the ginger cooperative’s future strategy and its plans for sustainable production. For both men the trip was an eye-opener. Neither was acquainted with India, Hindu culture or ginger farming. ‘Ginger is something I’ve only come across in our spice rack and from eating ginger biscuits’, says Henk Meijer. ‘But as agricultural entrepreneurs we can of course share the experience we’ve built up through our own organisation and the way we work.’ Gerjan Snippe adds: ‘A key consideration of the trip was that we weren’t there to lay down the law. It was purely a question of offering advice and guidance, mainly by explaining our own approaches.’
Back in time
The primitive agricultural methods still being used in India made a big impression on both Dutch farmers. ‘We even ploughed a piece of land using an ox’, Meijer says by way of illustrating the tilling methods and extreme poverty he encountered. Snippe felt like he was going back in time. ‘At one point we remarked to one another that the way they were working reminded us of the polder pioneers here in the Netherlands, but then even further back in time.’
The contrast between the Indian and Dutch local economies is stark. In India, the average smallholder farms a single hectare , whereas in Flevoland 100 hectares is no exception. And in that single hectare the Indian smallholder plots out his entire assortment of crops, including ginger and various vegetables. ‘So clearly you’re not talking about large numbers per smallholder’, says Snippe. ‘That means the yields, harvested by hand, won’t be high either. But that’s the reason why they’ve set up the ginger cooperative – so that together they can generate better volumes and to learn from one another. As such the cooperative also fosters social and economic solidarity in the community, despite the prevailing caste system.’
Tips for better results
The two agricultural ambassadors found a willing ear for their advice. How do you go about setting up the best organisational structure for your business operations and how do you spread the risks? How do you develop a healthy pricing model and how can branding enhance the value of your product? All these issues and many more were covered during the many tours and presentations. ‘At the moment, supply and pricing are all determined by the latest harvest,’ says Meijer, who has years of experience in potato farming. ‘By implementing some form of storage, you could hold on to the product for longer to possibly gain a better price. In addition they could introduce some simple form of trickle irrigation as a sustainable way of keeping the ground moist.’ An analysis of the cooperative’s options has been made together with advisors from ACCESS. The analysis looks at issues of price, competition, markets and other factors, thereby giving the Indian farmers valuable information on which to base their next move.
Bigger isn’t always better
‘Thanks to the ideal climate, ginger represents a real cash crop to the growers there, while we see it as extremely small scale,’ comments Meijer. ‘If you convert from the Indian rupee, a kilogram of ginger earns them just 30 eurocents. On the other hand the cost of living in India is a lot lower too.’ Both men were struck by the fact that despite – or perhaps because of – their simple way of life, the people were happy. Snippe: ‘Take for example their expression “there are no pockets in your shroud”. They’re happy with what they have and tend to live for today; they’re quick to give things away and aren’t always busy saving up.’ And while the living standards of women and children have improved in recent years – thanks in part to Rabobank Foundation’s contributions – the two Dutch farmers try to reflect on the larger perspective. ‘To what extent should you want to have them scale up their operations and get more from the ground?’ asks Snippe. ‘To my mind they’re better off just growing for their own regional market. That’s more sustainable, too. After all, India alone already numbers 1.2 billion inhabitants. In their way, these Indian farmers are already independent although they have few resources. While we in the Netherlands just want to become more and more efficient and bigger and bigger. That sets you thinking.’