Over the past half year, business advisor Aijun Yang in China worked on building up a relationship with the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), an influential Chinese NGO, focusing on poverty alleviation, raising funds from national and international companies and organisations. To date, CFPA has raised total funds and materials worth USD 5.7 billion, and delivered aid and assistance in 33 million individual cases. After a period of trial by error, they are now looking for a sustainable way to contribute to China’s Rural Vitalization strategy. The foundation wants to help 1,000 cooperatives with a total investment of € 640 million euro in the coming years, and is interested in Agriterra as a partner in cooperative capacity building.
To get a better understanding of how cooperatives have developed in the Netherlands, how they have been able to build up their business and how cooperatives are managed as association, CFPA asked us to organise a study tour to the Netherlands. Members of the delegation where diverse, not only CFPA, but also the fruit sales & marketing platform i-fresh, 3 cooperatives, and 1 professor consulting the Chinese government on rural development. Such a diverse group makes it interesting, but also more difficult to organise a program that suits all participants.
The first cooperative we visited was Fruitmasters (apples, pears and soft fruit). After an introduction of the cooperative by Sjors Kruiper (Financial director) and Fabien Dumont (Commercial Manager Export) we visited the storage and logistics center, as well as one of their growers. The delegation was impressed by their efficiency and the stage of development of the cooperative. Moreover, they were very interested in the relation between the cooperative, the company and the members, asking questions like what is the investment of the members, what are the rights and obligations of both members and cooperative, how do they set the price of the fruit, how is the profit divided, how can a cooperative invest in their premises and hardware, and so on.
Already after visiting the first Dutch cooperative of our program, the delegation was mind blown by the development of the Dutch cooperative sector, and how one cooperative can take such a big position in the value chain. From there on, visiting Plantion, The Greenery and FrieslandCampina, their interest and questions went more and more into detail on the above mentioned topics. More knowledge obviously gives more questions. So, need-for-information which was not in the initial requirements popped up during the tour, and the content of the program had some changes over the course.
Of course, Agriterra was also on the program, as well as WUR (Wageningen University), the Chinese Embassy and our ministry of agriculture. The delegation went back with a load of new information and ideas.
To prepare, organise, accompany and close this kind of exchange is of course a lot of work and takes a lot of energy. And it doesn’t stop there. Now the real deal starts; we are working on the follow up of this exchange, discussing how Agriterra and CFPA can partner on a cooperative capacity building program by starting with the assessment of 200 cooperatives and by piloting on building real, strong cooperatives with a dominate position in the value chain. For Agriterra China this would mean a significant step in involving 3rd party funding for existing or new clients, following our own program in China and in close relation to the Agriterra mandate.