This week should present a turning point in human history with the new Global Goals being launched amidst a very high-level audience addressing each other and the world. After the Secretary General delivered his opening speech, Pope Francis was given the floor in a unique going together of state and church in terms of the urgency of change required at the eve of a conference that is to adopt a new set of global goals. However, the Pope was pretty straightforward in mentioning the shortcomings of the institution that had welcomed him to their gathering. He also presented his Theory of Change and pointed to a basic minimum with regard to livelihood security: Lodging, Labour and Land (a place to stay, a skill to put to work and productive assets to do so) and education in tune with peoples value systems and local community. Find a transcript of his speech here.
While seeing the world leaders, including my own government, lining up for New York, I was privileged to attend a few gatherings in Kenya that brought together farmers, other entrepreneurs, business managers, importers and exporters, university staff and students and government representatives from several African countries. They exchanged products and services for a variety of agricultural commodities. My focus while traveling to Kenya was on the african dairy exhibition, this year held in Nairobi. I met quite a contingent of Dutch businesses active in dairy and dairy chain support in Africa. Preceding this exhibition I had the opportunity to attend a conference in connection to DairyTrain, an EP-Nuffic supported project implemented by Egerton University in Nakuru. By chance this same week an Agri-Business Fair was opened at the University of Eldoret. The Agricultural Attaché of the Dutch embassy together with Dutch entrepreneurs had organized a Holland Pavilion at the fair. A representative from the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a potato chain platform called www.potatovaluechainafrica.com.
Unlike the high-level talks in New York about global goals the conversations at this fair in Eldoret were very practical, showing an eagerness and appreciation for new technologies that really revives hopes while offering good business opportunities for Dutch investors. It is the place where the aid and trade agenda's meet. Especially the combination of young energetic innovators with a desire to use creativity to solve common problems faced by a multitude of farmers and the no-nonsense evaluation of business opportunities by international experts and business people provided the right mix for exchange.
However, talking with Dutch entrepreneurs on the ground the number of contacts with formal educational institutions even in the recruitment of staff is minimal to non-existent. Two friends who just started a horticultural farm reflected on their recruitment processes and had to conclude that the turnover was very high. Quality staff is hard to come by and difficult to keep. There is a clear mission to make education more relevant to jobs, and available land for agricultural production. A direction where also Pope Francis would like education to evolve towards. Rather than meeting some universal standards in abstract thematic areas, basic nummeracy and literacy are still in short supply with workers. Also technical skills are limited and middle management is weak. Too many educated youngsters are overqualified and do not see themselves working the soil. With the agricultural sector presenting itself as a business this perception may gradually change. The very presence of big farmers who make big business out of farming is a case in point.
This week also revealed to us that Big Business cannot be trusted to take good care of standards, with Volkswagen showing the limited capacity of industry to live up to environmental standards, possibly signaling a much wider corruption problem. Despite all great ambitions, practice seems to be lagging behind. It is therefore high-time to unleash maximum creativity amongst the younger generation who are able to break through some of the barriers that some insitutions have put in place to protect the interest of the powerfull. This is the exact reason why institutions should not be set in stone but should evolve and reflect the common understanding of good behavior that will reward responsible business people and punish irresponsible acts. As one of the potato-experts entrusted me during the business fair: producers will Always listen to consumers. So change should come from consumers. It is here where education comes in to instill values in people that are rooted within local community and are in harmony with local conditions. Will this always provide the best business case? It depends how you define a successful businesscase. Responsible entrepreneurship and good citizenship go hand in hand and is hopefully also followed by good governance.
growth and transformation
Next week I will be in Ethiopia where I will hopefully get more details on the new Growth and Transformation Plans of the Ethiopian Government. From hear-say it seems that the focus will be on improved business development and industrialization, aiming at better processing adding value locally, focussing on product quality, a major driver being quality education. Small improvements in the chain, like good storage facilities allowing farmers to regulate their supply to the market a bit better will already make significant improvements to rural livelihoods. Proper soil management is another area where a lot can be gained. Entrepreneurs supporting both were present at the fair and farmers were clearly happy with solutions provided, especially those that catered for small and medium farmers. It is good to see that ambitious policy goals in the area of sustainable development can be linked to business cases that will provide the jobs required, feeding the population in the meantime. I sincerely hope that the outcomes realized bring hope to people through improved livelihoods in terms of lodging, labour and land. Education may well be used to put all labour and land to work and attract further investment to make it profitable.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.