Tradin expands sourcing in Africa

Author: Karin Heinze

The Dutch company Tradin is one of the leading traders in organic raw materials and basic commodities worldwide. Tradin Organic Agriculture B.V. has been focusing for three decades on its own projects all over the world. Its aim is to supply all the available organic raw materials in the best possible quality and to meet customers’ demands for raw materials at fair prices. This approach means that the farmers in the countries growing the crops do not lose out. For some years now projects have been developed in various African countries. In Ethiopia a sesame project is following on the heels of a coffee project. (Picture: Young sesame plants)

 

“Tradin’s involvement in Ethiopia began about five years ago,” explains Precious Mugazda (picture), the project manager in East Africa for the Amsterdam company. The former Tradin subsidiary Trabocca B.V. started with a coffee project in 2005 in the well known agricultural regions Harar, Sidama and Yirgacheffe in the Ethiopian highlands in the south of this huge country (more than three times the size of Germany and with about 70 million inhabitants). Before the first coffee beans were harvested, training and certification of the smallholdings had to be carried out. With the help of the Dutch government the infrastructure, drying, cleaning and storage facilities were created. The boss of Trabocca, Menno Simons, is in charge of the worldwide marketing of the organic and Fair Trade certified coffee. The Trabocca coffee project has developed extremely well. According to information supplied by Heiko Grobecker from Tradin Germany, around 1,500 smallholdings are involved. “The families, and the seasonal workers with their families, that’s approximately 30,000 people, benefit from this project,” he explains.

In the meantime, there have been changes in the ownership of the Dutch group: both the original company Tradin and Trabocca now belong to the Canadian SunOpta group (see our earlier report) and it was their first investment in Europe. The management of Tradin stayed the same, and Wim Rabbie and Gerard Versteegh have retained a high level of operational freedom. Because the coffee project is running so successfully, and because Tradin can draw on market experience and qualified staff in Ethiopia, some two years ago they began thinking about launching a new raw materials project in East Africa.

“For several reasons we decided on sesame,” comments Heiko Grobecker. “Ethiopia has excellent, mild varieties of sesame.” The humera type (picture) is big, white and has a sweet aroma. “The Japanese all try to get their hands on Ethiopian sesame because it is top quality,” says Mr Grobecker. Another factor in all of this – and perhaps more important according to Mr Grobecker – was the problem of the quality of sesame from supplying countries in the past. There was often the question of residues that arose because of storage of the product and the gas treatment to combat pests. He said that cleaning was critical in the case of sesame. “Our aim is a 99.95 % pure product. What we used to get, and are still getting, is mostly well below that, and it’s causing us problems,” says Mr Grobecker. “Bearing all these factors in mind, we took the decision to start our own sesame project. Now we can find solutions to these problems ourselves.” As well as cropping sesame in Ethiopia, processing will be carried out there too.

After taking the decision and looking for suitable locations, the next step was applying for a partner project in a development programme financed by the Dutch government – and Tradin was successful. With financial help from the development programme, the joint venture firm Selet and the sesame project were created in Ethiopia. Tradin Organic Agriculture B.V. and the Ethiopian firm Kaleb ServicesFarmers House PLC are partners in this group, with Tradin opting for a 35 % share. Even the Ethiopian state is involved in the project: it has made land available for growing sesame. The farmers in the Humera district in the north western region Tigray deliver their harvest to the Selet factory in Addis Ababa where around 50 employees are engaged in processing activities like cleaning and hulling. A new technology, dry hulling, is used for the difficult hulling process. “By processing locally we ensure that the value added stays in the country. Also one of our concerns is to develop skills, at both the agricultural production level and in processing, in order to guarantee top quality,” says Mr Grobecker. (Picture: Project manager Cor Jan Zee with farmers)

The management of the 500 small farmers currently involved is the responsibility of Cor Jan Zee, a Dutchman who has farmed for many years in Africa (Zimbabwe) and is now helping to set up the project in Ethiopia. Another Dutch citizen, Roel Engelen, is in charge of the factory. The plan is for the number of farmers to increase to 1,500 by 2010. “The small farmers in the region are very experienced in growing sesame. What is more, they have scarcely used any synthetic fertilisers or sprays,” says Precious Mugazda. She adds that their problem has been treating the crop after harvesting. “This is where we start, and we give farmers advice and training (picture) to improve both the cropping methods and processing.” She is 28 years old and an agricultural engineer who comes originally from Zimbabwe. She started working for Tradin three years ago. She says the farmers quickly realise that better quality commands a higher price and raises the standard of living. The first harvest of non-hulled sesame went to Holland by ship this March. Once the factory has been completed in Addis Ababa this summer, the consignments will be of hulled sesame. “Samples have already been tested in labs in Europe, and the results are good,” Heiko Grobecker points out. “So far, so good. We are on the right track.”

In the Humera district there is one growing season a year in the case of sesame. Precious Mugazda adds that the north of Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan, is very hot and dry (picture on left), ideal conditions for cropping sesame, especially as at sowing time at the beginning of the year there is enough moisture for germination and growth (picture below right). After harvesting, however, it is so dry that a second sowing is not possible. The crop will mature in only 90 days. At the moment, the farmers harvest about 500 kg per hectare, whereas double that amount is the norm in other farming areas. This should change as cropping methods and training improve. Mugazda emphasises another positive effect of the sesame project: in the sparsely populated lowlands, it provides a source of income and is helpful to the government that is planning to settle people there from the highlands. At harvest time the project already needs around 3,000 seasonal workers, because it is important to harvest quickly – over-ripe sesame falls to the ground and is lost.

“Selet is anticipating a harvest of 2,000 t in the first year, and the factory has a capacity of 10,000 t a year,” Mugazda explains. Sesame for inclusion in organic products is in demand all over the world. The planned capacity of the sesame project is in keeping with demand worldwide: Europe, the USA and Japan will almost certainly be the main customers. “In the next few years, this project will set new growth records for Tradin,” Heiko Grobecker confidently predicts. He says that trading 2,000 t is not a problem, although marketing up to 10,000 t will be a challenge. His solution: “We’ve got to keep up with the growth.” And we don’t need to force up the growth, either. “The Japanese are desperate to get our quality product.”

Ethiopia has a lot to offer. The next crops that are planned are pulses, various beans and lentils. Mung beans, for example, are already being grown in rotation with sesame. Pulses are traditional crops in Ethiopia, that used to export them on a large scale. In this region millet was the crop that usually followed sesame; in other regions it was maize and the ancient Ethiopian grain variety called teff (exports not permitted). Along with others, Precious Mugazda has implemented the project. Her job is to develop new projects for Tradin in Africa as a whole and not just in Ethiopia. For example, she is already thinking about new locations and future projects for more varieties of beans and lentils.

Precious MugazdaThis young agricultural engineer opted for the organic sector because she can see that organic agriculture offers many poor small farmers and their families the opportunity to raise their standard of living. Moreover, she is convinced that it is agriculture without chemicals that will determine the future of the planet. In her view, in many cases in Africa the transition from traditional farming to organic agriculture is only a short step. Moreover, there is great potential for producing crops in a healthier and more environmentally friendly way, increasing yields with the right methods and increasing incomes with organics that sell for a higher price. The next project, that is already planned and will be implemented by Precious Mugazda for Tradin, will be growing groundnuts in Zambia. Tradin is also interested in moving into organic cotton on account of the boom in this sector. It may be that cotton can be used as a rotation crop on the sesame fields.

Tradin is focusing on its own projects worldwide

The company was founded at the end of the 1970s by Wim Rabbie and Gerard Versteegh, and it trades exclusively in certified organic raw materials and basic commodities. The network of the Amsterdam enterprise’s own companies stretches from China, Thailand, Ethiopia and Serbia to Mexico. There are also farm projects under the management of Tradin in, for example, Bulgaria, Ghana, the Philippines and Vietnam. Approximately 70 % of the goods traded by Tradin come from these projects. In China alone around 8,000 farms and numerous local processing facilities operate for Tradin. The worldwide sourcing strategy guarantees very high quality and good availability, as well as fair prices without the middleman. Tradin concentrates on sourcing and trading and has no part in further processing, packing or brand policy. The variety of traded products is huge, ranging from grain, seeds and pulses, oils and fats, nuts and all manner of dried fruits to cocoa, coffee, sugar, sweeteners, purees, juices and frozen fruit and vegetables. As well as having its headquarters in Holland, Tradin has offices in Germany, France, the USA, Thailand and China.

www.tradinorganic.com

19.05.2009

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