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Dutch horticulture in the tropics
On behalf of PUM, Jos Janssen recently completed an advisory mission to Basic Necessity. This company, a pioneer in the growing of salad crops and herbs on the Philippines, was struggling with a massive downturn in production – a problem Jos was able to tackle.
Lyndon Tan, recognised throughout the Philippines as an innovative, highly driven entrepreneur, has established a remarkable business Basic Necessity. Within this business he commissioned the construction of an 80,000 m2 greenhouse to do something that many believed impossible: growing crops of salad and herbs in a monsoon climate. His goal was to end the reliance of the Philippines on the import of these products. He divided the land into 20 sections, and awarded each plot to a family. These ‘family businesses’ purchase the young plants from Mr Tan, which they then grow and eventually harvest. Following harvest, Mr Tan buys back the salad and herb crops, before getting down to work washing, drying, refrigerating, sealing and eventually selling everything to restaurants and supermarkets. The initiative not only enables the permanent employees of Basic Necessity to build up a sound existence; it also generates an income for the 20 family businesses (together representing around 100 people).
‘Every morning Jos went from plot to plot to watch them at work and if necessary to take immediate action’
Production doubled within six months
“Visiting a business of this kind always means headaches. You first have to analyse what is going wrong. In this case, the problems soon became clear,” explained Jos. The two main problems were that the soil had not been tilled to a sufficient depth and the plants were receiving too much water. “It was all entirely understandable,” continued Jos. “The people thought, ‘it is steaming hot, 35 degrees and the wind is blowing … if the plants then start to wilt, it must be because they need watering!’ Jos issued each family business with a drill, and taught them how to assess the soil: what is moist and what is dry? Every morning, Jos went from plot to plot to watch them at work and – if necessary – to take immediate action. On Jos’ recommendation, two digging machines were also purchased, that made it possible to till the soil to a greater depth than could be achieved with a simple spade. The investment soon started bearing fruit. “When I returned in March 2018, production had already doubled.”
Following the 2nd mission, a business link was also organised. Together with three of his staff, Lyndon Tan travelled to the Netherlands, the ‘Mecca of vegetable and flower growing’. They also got in touch with a Dutch seed company that now supplies seeds to Basic Necessity. As a result, a proportion of the taxpayers’ money that is spent on PUM missions is returned to the Netherlands via the business link, and in Jos’ opinion that is part of the reasoning behind PUM. “A win-win situation.” Jos, who himself ran a horticultural business for decades, has built up a large and valuable network in the sector that he can still call upon and is happy to use for PUM business links.
Room for further improvement
Jos recently heard that Lyndon Tan has applied for a 3rd advisory mission. Is there still more room for improvement? “Absolutely. I think the process can easily be further refined, raising production to an even higher level.” Although Mr Tan is a remarkable businessman, he has little knowhow of growing salads and herbs. The fact that Jos’ recommendations were listened to and that the discussions he had with the growers and the company staff were effective is extremely satisfying. At the end of the day, everyone gains. Making progress, moving forward are features of all Jos’ advisory missions. “Everywhere you go people want to improve their lot,” he explained. “They want to earn money and they want the same things we all want from life: a pleasant existence!”
‘They want to improve their lot. They want to earn money and they want the same things we all want from life: a pleasant existence’
Jos has been a PUM expert since 2007. He has completed around 14 advisory missions. Every mission is a surprise, but he has never been disappointed. He has enjoyed numerous remarkable experiences. He talked about his first mission to Georgia in December 2008, when he was invited to a Christmas concert by the wife of the then President Sandra Roelofs–Saakashvili, who herself had been active as local representative for PUM. He was seated in the front row when she sang a duet, together with the Swedish Consul. Jos has also visited many different countries including Ghana, Mongolia, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh, all of them stricken by poverty; a situation he clearly finds difficult to cope with. Everywhere he has travelled, people have been delighted with his assistance, and have learned from him. He describes how working alongside these people on a daily basis means that in addition to herbs and salad and vegetables or flowers, something else also grows: close ties between colleagues and friendships. “It is deeply moving when the people that come to wave you goodbye at the airport burst into tears. Not only moving but very special.”