Henk Schoonbeek:

"Withdrawal was to be expected"

He has been coming to Kazakhstan and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, and is even expected to move there with his family, as Kazakhstan currently houses many American partners with their families. Dutch national Henk Schoonbeek is a bit aggravated with the Dutch fruit and vegetable sector and the recent media coverage. According to him, the industry could have predicted that the Russian market would sooner or later withdraw. "We are partly responsible ourselves," he argues.

Henk is Principal Advisor & Partner of US-Dutch Agro Service Kazakhstan. The newly established company (2014) of former growers, counsels the agricultural sector, mainly in Central Asia, as well as focusing on all segments within the agricultural industry.

Years of investing
According to Henk, Putin has been working to become self-sufficient for years. Other countries in the region, such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, who want to grow economically, invest primarily in the agricultural sector. "The fruit and vegetable sector and greenhouse builders could have seen this coming. We’ve been selling our seeds and techniques for ages, walking in and out of embassies and participating in trade missions in order to get contracts. And now we complain they don’t need us anymore," he says wryly.

Henk has noted for a long time that it’s mainly Uzbek traders who are active on markets in Kiev and Moscow. "On all of these markets you see Uzbeks. They have excellent internal trade lines. In the days of the Soviet Union, they were already pretty successful, despite technological backwardness. But these countries have spent the last 20 years catching up with the rest."

Henk also points out that the trend has been visible in other sectors as well, something the fresh produce industry had done well to notice. "In the 90s, we saw same thing with roses. In Central Asia, in those years, they ended up starting their own rose production, with seeds and cuttings from the Netherlands. The Dutch flower sector was slow to respond, and now we have the exact same thing with fresh produce. If you sell a greenhouse and glasshouse cultivation to a buyer, you can safely assume that your buyer will use these to grow food, right?"

Ambitious plans feasible

Reports of major investments in the agricultural sector and ambitious plans to supply the domestic market and perhaps increase exports, says Henk, are certainly attainable. "The potential is definitely there. First of all, there is no shortage of money, and secondly they are adamant to succeed on their own accord." Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are fertile countries that invest heavily in agriculture, animal husbandry and poultry farming.

The frequently heard argument that the quality of these countries is somehow substandard, is nonsense, says Henk. "The apples they grow over there are excellent, and the Kazakh-Uzbek -Kyrgyz fruits, vegetables and melons are far tastier than the Galia melon that we have over here. Besides, these growers are using Dutch greenhouses, Dutch techniques and Dutch seeds. Why then would their products be sub-par? "Another advantage for the Russians is that the seasons and climates in Central Asia are pretty similar to Europe, making production in these countries overlap with the European season.

More information:
agro@gmtholding.nl


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