Expertise Foundation aids African agriculture
Africa is able to produce more food than it does now. That’s not only a question of technical solutions but also of farmers combining forces – and that’s where the expertise of Rabobank Foundation comes in. That’s why the Foundation was closely involved in the Food First conference on African agriculture on June 22. Experts from Africa and the Netherlands discussed the future of farming and food production in sub-Saharan Africa. Questions centred on how African smallholders can work more efficiently, how to achieve food security in former conflict regions and farming can be made to attract the young.
Cooperatives offer prospects
Rabobank Foundation has an active presence in Africa. The Foundation helps farmers to combine forces by forming cooperatives. That way they can boost their purchasing power, enhance their sales position and obtain financing to develop their farming operations. All in all Rabobank Foundation reaches out to 1.2 million farmers, mainly in East and West Africa. ‘People gain more expertise, more market opportunities, more income and better prospects,’ says Rabobank Foundation’s director Pierre van Hedel. ‘I sometimes call what we’re doing in Africa “Rabobank on repeat”. What we’re doing there is what we did when we started out in the Netherlands, what we’re good at. And that’s how we’re seen in Africa too.’ Van Hedel says that this image is further strengthened by the fact that Rabobank also does business with major international players in the food and agricultural sectors who are seeking high-quality suppliers in Africa. Rabobank links these international players to the local farmer cooperatives.
Few attractions for African youth
But combining forces is not in itself sufficient to aid the further development of African farming and food production. Setting up a cooperative is one thing, but in the final analysis those cooperatives have to do what they’re there for. For Van Hedel, helping farmer cooperatives to work well is a focal point in the further development of African agriculture. Cooperatives can play a key role in promoting farming among the young, one of the conference’s major themes. The average age of African farmers is around 50 to 55, Van Hedel estimates. ‘Among young people, selling mobile phones in the big city is considered a far more modern and attractive occupation, but there are already so many such salesmen. Youngsters need to be attracted back to farming. And for that they need to be given buying and selling opportunities via a cooperative, they need to have enough land for their operation and they need to know that their farm will generate sufficient income. Once their farm is a bit bigger, they can introduce mechanisation to replace manual labour and start using more up-to-date techniques. Those kinds of improvements need financing. Rabobank Foundation can play a part in that, but we’re also there to stimulate farmers to play their own role in this by setting up savings and loan cooperatives.’
The Food First conference on the future of agriculture and food production in Africa. Students pose for a group photo with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Rabobank board member Berry Marttin presented her Royal Highness with a copy of the cookery book ROOTS published last year to mark the 40th anniversary of Rabobank Foundation