Dutch agricultural expertise makes a difference!


Rien Geuze, a former Agriterra employee, returned to Kenya after ten years to visit the projects he had set up there between 2011 and 2014. He was positively surprised by the many changes he saw, such as factories that had been built, the huge development of marketing and the impact of the exchange visits between the Netherlands and Kenya.  

In 2010, Rien began as an Agripool expert for Agriterra and travelled to Thailand. This went well, and when Agriterra wanted to open a new office in Kenya, Rien was asked to do so. He moved to Nairobi and stayed there for nearly four years. This period was intense, with only sporadic visits to his family in the Netherlands. In 2014, he returned and worked at Nunhems Zaden until his retirement. Rien says: “When I left Kenya, I vowed to return after ten years. The Agriterra team in Nairobi has since grown to 16 people. I announced my visit on Facebook and LinkedIn and received many responses from people who wanted to see me. Wilfred Chepkwony, the first employee I ever hired, still works at Agriterra and put together a programme. It was nice to meet him again.”

Growth and development

During the tour, Rien and Wilfred visited various dairy cooperatives, including Kiambaa. “We were warmly greeted by the chairwoman who was still there. At that time, they had plans to build a new factory to process the milk, but acquiring property was challenging in that area. Nonetheless, they eventually bought a piece of land. When Wilfred and I went to see it, it was so steep that I wondered how they could ever build a factory there. But they did it! The factory that now stands there looked much better than I ever expected.”

A meeting with the Board of Kiambaa

According to Rien, marketing has seen enormous development in recent years. Ten years ago, marketing and market research were unknown to small cooperatives. Rien recalls that he once toured various cooperatives with an Agripool expert from FrieslandCampina. “We developed small marketing plans and conducted market research, which worked surprisingly well. Now they talk about it as if it’s a given. For example, at Mukurwe-ini, they had developed a delicious coffee yoghurt and the marketing for it was already in place. That was unthinkable when I visited in 2012 and they didn’t know how to move forward. Amazing to see!”

"What was once a barren, dry plain is now a green field with all sorts of vegetables." 

The infrastructure and animal feed have also greatly improved. “At Kieni, I helped install irrigation pipes to show what you can produce with irrigation for animal feed. Now, an employee showed me all the trial fields. What was once a barren, dry plain is now a green field with all sorts of vegetables. Those are fantastic and lasting changes.”

Sharing knowledge

Rien is convinced that two aspects have played a crucial role in the progress of the agricultural sector in Kenya. First, the exchange visits between the Netherlands and Kenya. During these visits, knowledge is shared, innovation is promoted, and collaboration is encouraged, which works extraordinarily well. “The best example of this is the chairman of Mukurwe-ini,” says Rien. “Agriterra was sceptical about a visit for him to the Netherlands, but he went anyway. Afterwards, he completely changed his thinking. At that time, I advised him to do more marketing and expand production capacity to 24 hours a day. He didn’t like it, but the visit to the Netherlands really changed his thinking, and now they do what I advised back then.”

"Agripool experts come to delve into a specific subject and give advice. That makes the difference to take a step forward."

Additionally, the deployment of Agripool experts from the Netherlands has brought about significant changes. “They come to delve into a specific subject and give advice. That makes the difference to take a step forward. You notice that it encourages cooperatives to continue on the chosen path. And they can fortunately do more and more themselves. Kiambaa also built that factory on that steep piece of land themselves.”

Rien’s biggest concern was whether everything would continue after he left Kenya. “Fortunately, I’ve now seen with my own eyes that it has. They haven’t yet experienced the rapid development that the dairy industry in the Netherlands did in the 1910s to 1920s, where small cooperatives quickly merged into larger dairy cooperatives. The large-scale thinking hasn’t yet reached Kenya. An exception to this is the BAMSCOS cooperative. There, 20 cooperatives have built a factory together. They have their own brand and are in the process of purchasing machines so they can process the milk from all affiliated cooperatives themselves. That’s a great result. And you see again that the chairman once visited the Netherlands.”

Challenges and future

While he saw many successes, Rien acknowledges that there are still many challenges. The growth of the cooperatives is not yet sufficient to meet the rising demand for milk. Improvements in cow feed, production efficiency, and marketing remain essential for further progress. And the need is great, as one million Kenyans are added each year.

"I would certainly maintain the services of the Agripool experts and the exchange visits to the Netherlands." 

Rien strongly believes that Agriterra should continue to invest in Kenya. “If you have success, you shouldn’t stop. Moreover, various contacts have now been established. The cooperatives that are doing well are those with whom we have built long-term relationships and who are active and take initiatives themselves. They have good ideas and sometimes need a push from Agriterra to take a step forward. I would certainly maintain the services of the Agripool experts and the exchange visits to the Netherlands. Their success is proven and contributes to the development of cooperatives.”

Despite the fatigue from all the impressions and travelling, Rien considers his visit inspiring and valuable. “I’m very glad I did it. Beforehand, I didn’t want to have too high expectations because then it can only disappoint. But it far exceeded my expectations. It was great to see that the people I worked with back then have done well and are still working with dedication in the sector.” When he will visit Kenya again, he does not yet know, but he will keep in touch via social media to stay updated on all developments.

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