Science - September 16, 2004

Dutch firms to start development help

Last Tuesday 14 September Wageningen UR signed a cooperation agreement with various Dutch companies, the Dutch farmers’ organisation LTO, and development cooperation organisations to strengthen farmers’ organisations in developing countries. It is the first time that businesses from the private sector have shown so much interest in development cooperation.

The intention is to set up a secretariat by January 2005, which will run the joint projects. Participants are expected to make commitments in the form of labour or money. Loans and direct help worth millions of euros are expected to become available for producers’ organisations in developing countries. It is not only the unusual collection of partners that is a breakthrough, but also the speed with which the initiative has been set up.

Many developing countries lack strong producers’ organisations, which hampers agricultural development. The new partnership brings together a range of strengths that can be used to improve local farmers’ organisations. One example is the factory that the Dutch starch company AVEBE has built in China. At present only a fraction of its capacity is being used. If small farmers were better organised they could also deliver their produce to the factory. But this requires advice not only on technology and organisational matters, but also on credit, extension and research. The idea behind the new partnership is to offer a comprehensive packet of services. If all goes well, AVEBE should profit from the improvements, and the small farmers as well.

The project was initiated by the Doornbos committee. At the request of the minister of development cooperation Agnes van Ardenne the committee examined which companies, knowledge institutes, agricultural organisations and development cooperation groups would be prepared to work together to strengthen farmers’ organisations in developing countries. The members of the committee, which included Professor Rudy Rabbinge of Wageningen University, found 23 organisations and firms that were interested. The big ones include the Rabobank, insurance company Interpolis, Wageningen UR, a number of development agencies and the Dutch farmers’ organisation LTO and its development cooperation partner Agriterra. Three ministries are also involved: Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs. / JT

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