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Trading nation in its infancy


Together with project officer Maribel Monge Perez, country coordinator Kees ‘Cornelio’ Lindenburg makes up team Colombia. The pair, accompanied by CEO Johan van de Gronden, recently travelled to the Latin American country, in the framework of a Country Team Meeting. 

What makes Colombia Colombia?

“In countries with a socialist regime like Nicaragua and Venezuela, the local population have always been highly dependent on the government. That is far less the case with Colombia. Colombia is typified by what I would describe as ‘family capitalism’. The country has a clear trading spirit. Colombians who started a family business years ago are now reaching the point of passing on the baton to their children. The new generation is better educated and open to change.”

So the prospects for Colombia are positive? 

“If I look at Colombia, I see the Netherlands in the nineteen sixties. That was the point in history when the Netherlands started to look abroad and started to produce for foreign markets, and that for example calls for the adaptation of local products. That same sea change is due to take place in Colombia, over the next few years. The location of Colombia is highly favourable. The presence of three huge mountain ranges means a wide diversity of ecosystems in which practically every conceivable crop can be grown. In strategic terms, too, the country has an excellent starting position. To the north is the Atlantic trading route to the eastern seaboard of the United States and Europe, while from the Pacific coast, the country trades with the west coast of the US and Asia.”

Jeroen Roodenburg, Dutch Ambassador in Colombia

“The agricultural sector has a particularly crucial role to play in introducing more stability, peace and prosperity in Colombia. Huge developments will be needed in order to improve productivity and raise income levels. The knowledge and expertise of PUM can be of real importance. Entrepreneurs are looking  for knowledge and technology to raise production to a higher plane, so they can export more to Europe and America. The work approach at PUM is clearly bearing fruit. The interaction between the experts from the Netherlands and local entrepreneurs quickly leads to direct results.”

Where is your focus? 

“Cities like Bogota, Medellín and Cali are already highly prosperous. Rural areas, on the other hand, have suffered for years from the guerrilla terror of the FARC. At its pinnacle, 30 percent of the country was controlled by the guerrilla movement. Now that the FARC organisation has laid down its arms, PUM is focused on developing these rural regions.”

Can you give concrete examples of your work approach?  

Maribel explained, “During the Country Team Meeting, we visited Neiva in the Huila region where we are collaborating with the trading institute SENA. In consultation with local businesses, they identified exactly what professionals are needed. Effectively they offer training on demand. SENA offers both agricultural and industrial training courses, from bakers to ICT specialists and from baristas to 3D print designers. By combining our expertise with the knowledge of local business from SENA, we create clear synergy. Our alliance with SENA is an example of our programme-based work approach. In each region, we go in search of one or more partners. For example, we are collaborating with Sáenz Fety, a Colombian company that imports plant crops and milk processing products from the Netherlands. Because of their size, Sáenz Fety are not eligible for our aid, but their customers are. We can help make sure that Dutch crops succeed in Columbia. An excellent example of aid and trade.”

What else is on the PUM agenda for Colombia? 

Kees continued, “As part of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), we are currently working to establish an incubator programme for demobilise FARC fighters. In the framework of the peace process, the UN is making every possible effort to offer the former guerrillas the prospect of a normal existence. The task of PUM is to offer guidance in the search for work or setting up their own business. There is plenty for us to do over the next few years.”