Making global agrifood supply chains more sustainable. That, in a nutshell, is what the study programme International Food & Agribusiness (IFA) is all about. This past academic year has seen the first IFA graduates entering the workforce. These new graduates have a foundation in business studies in addition to technical knowledge about realising sustainability in one of the specialist domains: plant, animal or food. Once they graduated, IFA students are qualified for positions as a supply chain specialist, buyer, exporter, consultant or manager, with specific knowledge about sustainable trade and business. Prospective employers are companies and organisations in the global agrifood business. Some of the students carried out their final-year project abroad.
Three of the projects where financed by the Rabobank Foundation. “The Rabobank Foundation supports farmers’ cooperatives in developing countries and upcoming economies. It is a part of the Rabobank and an important partner of the HAS,” explains HAS lecturer, Toon Keijsers. In the context of this cooperation, Cas van Loon and Rik Verhoeven went to Vietnam to carry out a project on cashew cultivation. Other students left for Indonesia, to focus on prawn cultivation, and to Kenya, to carry out an assignment about financial services. Local companies were also involved with the assignments.”
Cashew supply chain disorganised
Cas and Rik carried out their assignment in Vietnam, in collaboration with the Dutch consultancy firm, Kenlog, an important HAS partner on one of our international horticulture projects in Vietnam. Kenlog and the Vietnamese company My Le want to set-up a training centre in Vietnam for cashew farmers. “The Netherlands is the third largest importer of cashew nuts”, says Cas explaining the situation in Vietnam. “But the cashew supply chain is pretty disorganised. That’s why we were given the assignment to map out the supply chain.” Rik goes on to add: “We first did this from the Netherlands, as a continuation of the research we had done in an earlier module with the entire class. In April, we went to Vietnam to carry out our supply chain analysis in situ.”
Conquering cultural differences
Cas: “That wasn’t easy. For example, we struggled with people not sticking to agreements, people who couldn’t speak English, bad weather, and we were nearing the end of the cashew season. The culture there is very different to Dutch culture. In the end, we still managed to speak to 6 farmers, 2 traders, 1 breeder, 2 cooperatives and the national Vietnamese Cashew Association. These discussions enabled us to identify a few critical factors. The management of My Le said they had the same problem. So we were able to all discuss possible solutions and convert those critical factors into potential success factors.”
But what is a critical factor? Rik: “A critical factor stops the supply chain from working as it should. One example is the presence of intermediaries. They have lots of power and create major fluctuations in the price. The farmers are very dependent of these intermediaries and it’s difficult for them to generate a reasonable income for themselves. Another example is that there is almost no data available. This makes it impossible to optimise cultivation methods.” The students didn’t only think about possible solutions, they also looked at how these solutions could fit within the growth strategy of My Le. A training centre could help set some of these solutions in motion.”
Toon is proud of the students, because not only were they not discouraged by cultural differences and unsuspected setbacks in their research project, they also helped My Le with crucial improvements which will be able to optimise the supply chain and help the company grow. They also did some research for the Rabobank Foundation regarding business succession. Because other than mapping the current supply chain, it is also important to know who the farmers of the future are. Toon: “The companies Kenlog and My Le are pleased about the result that there might be a follow-up project."
Applying available expertise
Sustainability is an important aspect of these projects. Toon: “All 3 facets of sustainability are evident in the Vietnam project: it was about the farmers’ right to exist (people); advice on the use of good agricultural practices, in the form of a training centre (planet); and an analysis of the long-term profitability for the entrepreneurs (profit).” Cas, Rik and Toon have positive memories of the assignment. “Assignments like this help the students grow. They also learn how to succeed in other cultures,” says Toon. “Furthermore, the International Food & Agribusiness study programme can contribute to the development of upcoming countries with our available expertise.”