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Dirk Aleven:

“Gas, electricity and internet hardly ever work at the same time”

In December 2014, Dirk Aleven and his family moved to Georgia. He previously worked on the projects from a distance, but by now, he is a partner and co-owner of FoodVentures. He is established near the greenhouse for the Georgian project. “The starting phase of a horticultural project is particularly intense. We started here with nothing, so it was very good to be nearby and follow and work on the entire project from close-by. Now that we are a little further along in the process, I can afford to take a little more distance again,” he says.

Designing and setting up horticultural projects
FoodVentures sets up horticultural companies in the former Soviet Union. Much has happened in these countries after the Soviets collapsed. “Inhabitants have modernised and expect, just as we do, a year-round supply of quality fresh products. We have a company in Ukraine, two in Georgia and we are looking at the possibilities for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.” FoodVentures designs the entire company and is actually involved in the construction and further development of it. 

“We first research which products have the best opportunities on the local market, and which type of horticultural company suits this best. We then put forward a proposal,” Aleven explains. “We invest part of the finances, and Dutch investors and local partners are sought out for the remainder.” Business partner Dick de Jong is active with the horticultural company in Georgia that has a tunnel greenhouse of 5,000 m2 and a modern greenhouse of 20,000 m2 for the cultivation of cucumbers and lettuce.

A large difference with the Netherlands is that cultivators are in direct contact with supermarkets and the catering industry. Because of this, margins are much bigger. According to Aleven, Georgians want to eat locally produced food. Moreover, he notices that much less attention is paid to figures and financial situations, company-wise. More focus is put on personal factors such as background and family ties. “This is gradually changing, though. The longer we are placed here, the more we can prove ourselves. Trust is starting to come now,” he explains. Aleven and De Jong are hoping to further expand their portfolio of horticultural companies in this region in the coming years.

Aleven lives in the village of Samtredia with his family. This is also where the modern greenhouse of 20,000 m2 is, in which lettuce and cucumbers are cultivated for the local market. The greenhouse is equipped with LED lighting and a hydro-culture. The village has hardly any facilities. “It is quite old-fashioned here, the shop is barely a supermarket. We have gas, electricity and internet, but these hardly ever work at the same time.” However, the simple life suits them just fine. “We have more time for our family here, everyone helps each other out, and we have plenty of space. It is also ideal for our children, it is good to let them know not everything can be taken for granted. As soon as the children reach school-going age, we will probably return to the Netherlands, but we will definitely return during the school holidays.” Samtredia is in the west of Georgia. The family enjoys going to the nearby mountains or the Black Sea. 

Culture and traditions
Aleven mostly notices that the Georgians are very proud of their own culture and cuisine. Georgia is well-known for its folk dancing, for which traditional clothes are worn. The folk music is inextricably connected to the traditions of dining, toasting and drinking wine. “The meals are quite an experience here, the head of the table leads the meal and takes the time to toast. These speeches are for the guests, Georgians are very hospitable. Furthermore, khachapuri is served everywhere and always, it is a type of cheesy bread. Every region has its own flavour. I personally tired of it after a few tries, but for them it is just a standard part of the meal.” According to Aleven, the Georgians are particularly interested in Europe and they have had good experiences with the Dutch. “This is quite a benefit for the cooperation. Georgia is quite a small country with short lines. You can just send a text message to the Minister of Agriculture, and expect a response.”

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Dirk Aleven
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