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First Field Trip of New CEO: “Building Trust With Banks Is of Utmost Importance”

“With some relatively simple business skills and technologies, we can support farmers” says Sybren Attema. As a dairy farmer with lots of expertise in the public-private partnership, he feels already confident in his new role as CEO of ICCO. And he sees chances for improvement in projects.

First Field Trip of New CEO: “Building Trust With Banks Is of Utmost Importance”

Sybren Attema and ICCO’s former CEO Marinus Verweij visited Ethiopia, to open the new country office in the capital Addis Abeba. Attema’s first field-visit was organized around the STARS project. STARS is the abbreviation for ‘ Strengthening Rural African Smallholders’; the project enhances productivity and further improves agricultural businesses for smallholders. “We took an i-pad with us, to test A-CAT, an agri-credit assessment tool that STARS has supported. With this tool farmers can collect and digitalize data that is important for their business. E.g. they can add data about the condition of the soil.”

Transparant Agricultural Business

Attema understands how the tool supports both farmers and banks: “Farmers can organize their credit demand, and bankers get a better understanding of the business they are going to finance.” In his younger days Attema was a dairy farmer in Friesland, a province in the North of the Netherlands and talks from this experience: “Building trust with the bank is of utmost importance. Tools like A-CAT make the agricultural business transparent, build trust and thus strengthen a business approach of farming. A-CAT shows whether farmers work profitable. That is crucial information for the bankers. The tool is also helpful to farmers as it tells them where they can get the loans they need.”

Before Attema became CEO of ICCO, he was the global manager of the ‘Dairy Development Program’ of FrieslandCampina. In this role he was responsible for big public-private partnerships aimed at the training and further development of local farmers. He was also responsible for the setup of local distribution-systems to enlarge the incomes of smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.

“Modern technologies are needed for farmers who otherwise receive little to no guidance”, says Attema: “With an excel sheet full of data and a written agreement, farmers can’t get loans. They need to modernize first: show they can work in an accountable way, and are willing to adopt new technologies. I’m sure they want to do that when they see advisors with i-pads in the field and realize knowledge is power. They definitely want access to finance and they welcome technical assistance too.”

Creating Ownership

But the new ICCO CEO doesn’t applause just any ICCO project – he is critical too. “Another day we visited a fishery project which was set up with a grant of ICCO and a subsidy of the Dutch embassy. We saw buildings to facilitate fish farming, there was extra oxygen for the fish and chicken manure to feed the fish. But I sensed the hygiene was not optimal and the amount of fish swimming in the pool was disappointing. When I raised a question about that, the answer was trainings on how to use these facilities had not taken place.”

Sybren Attema sees room for improvement. “The missing link was ownership. The project was not a response to a local request or demand. I feel it is okay to subsidize maybe half of a project with a grant, but at least a reasonable percentage should be covered with own money or by loans. That is my business approach, and I’m sure I’ll share more of my commercial mindset with my new ICCO colleagues.”

 

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