Podcast: Self-reliance for 4 million smallholders

Pim Mol on Rabo Foundation: “This isn’t philanthropy”

45 years. 22 countries. 350 cooperatives. 4 million farmers. These are easy numbers to share, admits Pim Mol, Director of Rabo Foundation. But they don’t tell the whole story of how a corporate foundation is empowering farmers to become self-reliant.

Listen to this episode of Food Forward (25 min)

A resilient global food system starts with the smallholder farmers who grow a staggering percentage of the world’s food. “Rabo Foundation focuses on economic, social, and ecological impact,” says Mol. “It’s easy to state the big numbers, but what is happening with the smallholder farmers?”

There are more than 500 million smallholders around the world, most living in rural parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Something as simple as a loan, a data-collecting app or administrative tool can transform their livelihoods, Mol explains. Working with cooperatives and entrepreneurs, Rabo Foundation is making it possible for farmers whom lenders would typically view as high risk to access finance, earn a credit rating, and ultimately become “bankable.”

But don’t call it philanthropy, cautions Mol. “We should stick to the heart of the bank: and that’s giving credit.” The goal is not dependency, but financial self-reliance and resilience. In turn, the success of these farmers is intimately connected to local economic development, social welfare, and positive environmental outcomes.

In this episode of Food Forward, Mol takes us on a journey from a pineapple-processing plant in Uganda to a women-run chicken feed factory in India, from dairy cooperatives in East Africa to coffee growers and traders in Latin America. He shares how smallholders and subsistence farmers are collecting data and using the latest agtech and fintech-driven solutions. And he tells us why every Rabobank employee would benefit from being involved with Rabo Foundation.

From the podcast:

On inclusive finance: “Smallholders are often ‘unbankable’ in their own countries. We give them a loan so they can become independent and, after some time, they can become bankable in their own country.”

On staying close to the bank’s origins: “How did Rabobank come into existence? It was farmers who stuck together because one needed money and the other one had money. It kind of started as a microfinance company. These roots are exactly what we’re doing at the Foundation.”

On financing sustainable agriculture: “Since last year, we have KPIs for ecological impact.”

On keeping the next generation farming: “How can we use agtech, fintech, and data management to make farming better, but also to make more attractive jobs in the countryside for the youth?”

On agtech and fintech for smallholders: “With a very small tool, one computer, a simple system, we can have a huge impact for the farmers and their cooperative.”

Looking to the future: “Climate change is keeping me awake at night, and the impact it has on smallholders. If you don’t have a lot, the impact is incredible and really brings you to the edge.”

Food Forward is a new Rabobank podcast featuring the innovators and agriculture experts who are changing the way we produce and consume food. Listen and subscribe on iTunes, RaboCasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.