SARA 2019 : A strong presence from the Netherlands in seeds and poultry
The Dutch pavillon at the Agriculture and animal resources fair in Abidjan (SARA), which was held in Abidjan at the end of November, was impressive. It showed the ambition of this country, small in size but of world class in a number of agriculture sectors and in livestocks, in West Africa where its embassy has an agricultural Counselor for two years now, Bram Wits. CommodAfrica interviewed him at the SARA.
The Netherlands were present at the SARA 2019 with a very big pavillon. Is this a sign ?
In 2017 we had a similar pavillon as the Ministry of Agriculture in the Netherlands decided a bit over two years ago to have a stronger presence in West Africa. It was when my post as Agricultural Counselor in West Africa was created in Abidjan.
This year, for the SARA 2019, with 18 companies, our pavillon was a bit bigger than the last one as we always make sure we have enough space for interaction and presentations by the companies that are represented. So it is not only about selling stuff but it is also about knowledge transfer, about people from the Netherlands telling their story about how they grew their business.
What are the main sectors where the Netherlands can bring something to Côte d'Ivoire and West Africa ?
I dare say we are world champions in a couple of sectors. Obviously, we are huge in dairy production, but we are also in horticulture. In the seed sector, we are very big : 40% of all vegetable seeds in the world come from the Netherlands. For potatoes, it is even 80%. In poultry, we are big as well.
We did a study on what sectors would be best for us to get involved with in Côte d'Ivoire : dairy is very difficult in this part of the world because we are specialized in a form of dairy production that suits our climate. So to produce dairy with our cows in a low land tropical area like West Africa is very difficult. Because every degree above 24° means a drop in production. So our system does not work.
Is it a question of breed or system ?
It is breed and the system. We have a system that is based on our breeds and on feeding them grass which grows perfectly in the Netherlands but not necessarily here. So our system is difficult to translate to West Africa.
What does really work here is our seeds. So our vegetable seeds is really a sector we are going for. We have a program "HortiFresh" which focuses on developing the horticulture sector in West Africa : in Côte d'Ivoire, we mainly focus on fruits and in Ghana we also look at vegetables.
We also see huge opportunities here for Dutch poultry. In the Netherlands, we have an extremely important poultry sector : we produce three times what we can eat so we are a big exporter. Côte d'Ivoire wants to be an exporter and we really have an understanding on how to produce chickens and eggs, but also how to organize the whole sector and what role the government can play in helping a sector forward, in getting everyone to work together. Because you do not need necessarily to have one company that goes from feed to egg. Companies can specialize in one part of the value chain and see how they can work together.
Are projects ongoing ?
One of the goals we have during the SARA is to form what we call "impact clusters" where Dutch companies group together, they get sponsored by the Dutch government to set up demonstration farms, new ways of producing, and really show what is possible in the country.
So we have a lot of companies that are already active like Koudijs/De Heus in the feeds but they see that in order to be able to sell their feeds, the whole sector needs to be developed. So they are investing in that.
Who are your main competitors in West Africa ?
France is huge in almost every sector in Côte d'Ivoire. When it comes to the import of poultry meat, that is usually done from Brazil and America. They are competitors but we don't really like to think in terms of competitors because the market here will need a lot of inputs to grow the pie. And whoever has the product that fits best the Ivorian or Ghanaian market reality, that is the one who will sell the most. We are entrepreneurs and we think we have really good products to be sold but we also believe we need to develop the sector and the market here. It is also a sense of responsibility that we feel as the Dutch government. We became world champions in agriculture but, altogether, we face a huge challenge on this planet : how are we going to feed 10 billion people in a way that the planet is still capable of surviving.
How many Dutch companies are today in the agri sector in West Africa ?
That is a difficult question as they differ greatly in size. We have companies like Heineken or Royal Friesland Campina that are huge. It also depends if it is agriculture or food. A company like Unilever, we consider as Dutch, is strongly present here. In the seed sector, you already have 5 to 6 of the bigger Dutch seed companies that are active throughout West Africa, like Bejo, Enza, Rijkzwaan, East West and others.
Is Africa a priority for the Dutch government ?
Yes. In Sub-Sahara Africa, the Ministry of Agriculture has posts in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, Ethiopia, and my post here in Côte d'Ivoire was created two years ago and is the first one in West Africa. But we are already starting to realize that my region is too big and we see a lot of potential . So in 2020, we are going to probably split it into francophone West Africa, with a person based here or in Dakar, and we keep Nigeria and Ghana as one block, anglophone.