Colleague in the spotlight:
Arindom Datta (India), banker-in-jeans
Arindom Datta doesn’t look like a banker today. Dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, he’s standing beside a cotton farmer in a field in the Indian state of Orissa. It’s a scorching 45 degrees Celsius and he wipes sweat from his brow as he says: "This farmer recently began selling his organic cotton in the European Union as well. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this achievement. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that he started eight years ago with a subsidy from Rabo Foundation!"
Arindom Datta is Head of Sustainability (Asia) at Rabobank in Delhi, but today he’s performing his other role as Rabo Foundation’s Head of Rural & Development Banking. In this capacity he visits cooperatives with no less than 20,000 organic cotton farmer members in Orissa. The relationship with the farmers took root eight years ago. "With the support of Rabobank Foundation, we first provided them with a subsidy so they could organise themselves more effectively. We began investing more at a later stage, through guarantees and loans with a longer horizon. We’ve taken on risks with them that a regular bank would never accept."
Sales to the European market
Today is a moment to celebrate. Because the rewards of eight years of investing and sowing are now being reaped. Datta: "The cooperative’s big dream has come true. The farmers’ representatives have made contact with potential buyers in Germany, the Netherlands and France. And they’ve harvested success. The first shipments of organic cotton have been loaded today and are on their way to Europe."
The cotton farmers’ project is an excellent example of how Rabobank gets a project up and running with the help of a subsidy and then provides support in the form of a commercial loan at a much later stage. "A subsidy can be the seed that will grow into the formation of a cooperative. We make the farmers strong together so they become bankable. Rabobank is the only bank in India with the capacity and courage to do this."
Personally follow the progress
Datta explains that he has known the initiators of the cotton farmers’ cooperative from day one. He and his colleagues have paid many visits to the farmers located in the Indian states of Orissa, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. "Through the years we’ve invested lots of time in guiding and advising these cotton farmers. It’s important to stay in contact so you can track their development yourself and see in what areas they need advice. We support, guide and encourage – but we’re also critical!"
Banking in India places extreme demands on local due diligence. "We have to see with our own eyes where the needs lie and how the cooperatives can become better and stronger. That’s why we invest a great deal of time in personally visiting established and new customers and initiatives. We spend lots of time travelling in cars, trains and planes to get to the remote corners of the Indian provinces. Once we’re there, we stand shoulder by shoulder with the farmers’ cooperative leaders in the field. With both feet on the ground, or mud rather, usually up to our knees," Datta says with a smile.
“It really fills me with a sense of pride and satisfaction”
Cotton, dairy and poultry
This can involve cooperatives in the cotton sector, but equally ones in the dairy sector, in which we support a large number of women’s cooperatives. "The chain from farmer to consumer product must be especially well-organised in the dairy sector due to the perishable nature of the product. That’s why cooperatives are so important." Each step taken in the Indian poultry sector is also carefully planned in advance. "We are currently working with a large poultry farmers’ cooperative for a €1.2 million loan so that it can set up a feed mix plant that can efficiently produce chicken feed. It’s a structural development that will give the poultry business a stronger backbone. I’ve also personally followed the development of these farmers. I’ve seen how they want to approach this process and as a result I am confident that this is the best next step. These kinds of unique opportunities that Rabobank offers makes me a proud Rabobanker."
Arindom Datta has noticed that he has come to think differently about his profession through the years. "I became a banker because I find it exciting and interesting, but I’ve discovered that it’s much more than that. When I think of the 20,000 farmers who are able to sell their organic cotton to the European market in part thanks to us, it really fills me with a sense of pride and satisfaction. The idea that I’ve contributed to their future makes me very happy."
Contact Arindom Datta: Arindom.Datta@rabobank.com