Alien van der Hem about her Agriterra experience: “There is a huge amount of enthusiasm”

23 January 2020

Alien van der Hem, Marketing Manager at ForFarmers, spent a week in Zambia at the end of 2019, where she conducted a ‘Marketing Basics’ training course on behalf of Agriterra, for employees from three different cooperatives. “Definitely hard work”, according to Alien, “but certainly well worth the effort.”

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“I often worked abroad and organised training courses at my previous employers. I love travelling, but particularly enjoy being in a position to help people, to add something with our knowledge”, Alien says. “I didn’t need a great deal of time to think when I was offered the opportunity to conduct a training course in Zambia in my own field of expertise.”

Practical experience: how do you market a product?

‘Marketing Basics’ is a tried and tested Agriterra training course, which has been used for a considerable amount of time. Agriterra now specifically wants to make the training course more practical, with help provided by people from the field, making sure the training becomes more authentic and realistic for the participants. Alien was the first person asked to add her own marketing knowledge and experience to the existing training course. Brenda, a local Agriterra Business Advisor/trainer and Lonieke, a supervisor from Agriterra Netherlands, were on hand to provide her with any required assistance.

The aim of the training course is to teach the course participants how they can market their products more effectively, as well as everything involved with this process. Alien: “The challenge was to keep things ultimately practical. I predominantly focussed on the basic steps in the marketing process and supplemented this with concrete examples, to show them how this is done at ForFarmers.”

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A marketing and action plan as a result

The group consisted of 15 course participants, employed at three different cooperatives. No one had a marketing background and they were all employed in different positions. The cooperatives in question simply send a number of employees to the training course and subsequently give someone responsibility for marketing within their organisation after the training course.

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“We have cooperative members in our own cooperative – FromFarmers – who are our customers and who purchase feed from us. With them, members are the crop growers, the basic product. The cooperative itself has a machine, which it uses to process the crops into an end product”, Alien explains. “What I have done is provide them with an insight into the most effective method of marketing that end product, via six marketing steps. The course participants worked this out per cooperative. They all managed to complete a simple but concrete marketing plan by the end of the week, including an action plan which they will now need to start working with.”

A board full of pink notes

What did Alien herself learn during this week? “You definitely need to get fully acquainted with your target group before a training course like this; what message do you need to get across to them and how do you go about realising this? And that’s even more important in a different culture. The circumstances are completely different in Africa, people’s knowledge of English is limited and the work pace is quite different too. You really need to take this into consideration in your training approach. But there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm.”
The latter was also apparent from the daily evaluation. Alien: “The participants were asked to write down what they thought was positive on a pink note at the end of each training day and use the blue notes to indicate what they would like done differently. It was fantastic to see the board filled up with pretty much just pink notes about the practical examples and ForFarmers’ contribution to this training course at the end of day one.”

It's nice to be able to do something in return

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“Africa is a beautiful continent, one I spent a significant amount of time travelling around in the past. The best thing about the African culture is their friendliness, their openness and their desire to share - with each other and with me too. Then it’s certainly nice to be able to do something in return. No matter how small. I had brought along a bucket of goat feed to the training course, to be used as an example. I gave this bucket of goat feed to two farmers at the end of the training, who, in addition to growing sunflower seeds, also keep goats. It was only a small gesture, but they were so happy with it, so that makes you feel good.”

No sightseeing trip

Does Alien have any advice for colleagues who are interested in an Agriterra assignment? Alien: “It really is a fantastic experience, but you should only be doing it if you really want to help people. It’s hard and serious work and most definitely not a sightseeing trip. This specific mission also required plenty of preparation time, as I needed to familiarise myself with the existing course material. It goes without saying Agriterra provided me with the required support. To me it was well worth the effort.”