Looking for an Answer in the Private Sector

It started with a question. “What would I do if I were spending my own money?” asked Daniel Knoop, co-founder of the blog and private agriculture trading business, Congo Business Case.

Planning to take advantage of a concentrated consumer base in the nearby capital, Daniel’s business will help the farmers store, transport and sell their surplus harvest. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A Dutch development worker with three years of experience in Africa with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Daniel felt that he had seen the limits of the non-profit sector’s ability to alleviate hunger and poverty in the long term. And he wondered why development workers and organizations spend so much energy advising entrepreneurs instead of actually investing in the enterprises themselves.

So he quit his job at the FAO and, with his business partner, Joris Heijne, decided to see if the answer to his questions could be found in starting an agricultural commodity trade company of his own in one of the poorest countries in Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). By creating partnerships with local farmers and providing a market for their produce, Daniel and Joris hope to improve livelihoods and create food security. And they are hoping to make a profit for themselves, as well.  The profit-driven nature of this project, they hope, is what will make it self-sustaining in the long term.

With the support of the organization HUMAN Media and cameraman, Hans Bouma, every step of their business and development experiment is being recorded and featured in regular video diaries on their blog.

Currently the DRC imports more of its food than it produces to sell locally, but Daniel and Joris hope that their business will help to reverse the country’s dependence on imported food. One of the early videos on their blog shows Daniel leading a workshop with a group of farmers in the area of Mukila, about 30 km outside the capital city, Kinshasa. “What I’ve learned,”  said Daniel to the group of farmers, “is that there is a lot of agriculture produce that never leaves the village [.. .] that even rots away.”

Planning to take advantage of a concentrated consumer base in the nearby capital, Daniel’s business will help farmers store, transport and sell their surplus harvest. Kinshasa, says Daniel, is “10 million people crammed together who have little to eat and are paying too much for their food. Well, that’s the market.”

But getting the maize, peanuts and beans grown by the farmers in Mukila to Kinshasa is not an easy task. The lack of paved roads makes transportation difficult, and creating fair and equitable partnerships with the farmers is a complicated task.  Daniel and Joris describe their first meeting with the farmers as “a pleasant chaos,” with many conflicting desires and ideas to be considered and incorporated into the business plan.

To follow along with their project as it develops in real time, see The Congo Business Case.

You can join the Nourishing the Planet’s conversation about where agriculture funding should go, as well. To read how others have answered Daniel’s question, and to include your own answer in the discussion, see the series: Where Would You Like to See More Agriculture Funding Directed?

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