In 1986, Calgarian Robert Francis opened the doors of a new business which, more than 25 years later, is a recognized facilitator for change around the world.
Very early on, two Agriteam Canada offices emerged. One located in Calgary, and the other in Gatineau, Quebec. The handful of employees has grown to more than 200 full-time and support staff who travel around the world delivering the most advanced expertise in project management and technical assistance. Agriteam has field offices in Amman, Jordan, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kiev, Ukraine, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Lima, Peru.
At any given time, the company has a portfolio of 30 plus projects running in 25 to 30 countries. The project delivery ranges from facilitating a change in governance for agribusiness commodity and producer groups domestically and
internationally, to multi-year management programs to develop and enhance livestock industries in countries such as China.
“Robert graduated with an agriculture degree and a background in livestock genetics. One of his first endeavours was to consult with a group from Arabia to develop farming opportunities in that country, a referral that came through Alberta Agriculture. He soon recognized the opportunity to market Canadian expertise and technologies around the globe,” says Debra Rasmussen, Senior Project Director with Agriteam Canada.
“My background is as an agriculture economist and I’ve been with the company almost 25 years. Our two vice presidents were an integral part of the early success of the company. Alex Schumacher has a background in soil science and agronomy and environmental management and Gayle Turner has expertise in education and community development.”
Rasmussen says that when the company first began, agriculture represented about 25 percent of the available international development projects. Today, while the nature of the aid industry has changed, agriculture is still a core of the work they do.
The company has expanded into several sectors including: agriculture and agribusiness, community development, education and education reform, environment, gender equality, governance and public sector reform health, infrastructure development, legal and judicial reform and private sector development. They’ve also advanced into the extractive sector such as oil and gas working on policy development.
One of Agriteam Canada’s first big projects was the Lean Swine Project in China. It involved three project sites stocked with 700 purebred Canadian swine and multiplier herds. The object was to develop a more efficient and profitable pig industry in that country.
“Supplying Canadian genetics was only one part of the project. We worked on housing design, built a feed mill, taught workers how to balance rations, how to identify and treat health issues and covered all sorts of swine production practices,” remembers Rasmussen.
“One of the difficulties with this type of project is developing project training suited to the labourers involved in the project. Probably 75 percent of the work is done by poorly educated Chinese women from the countryside and some are from an ethnic minority and don’t even speak Chinese well.”
Developing a livestock industry under these conditions is not an easy task. Without the proper training and pillars of support within the country to ensure that management and techniques are continued – the project is doomed to fail.
Agriteam also worked on a big multi-year beef industry development project between the World Bank and the Chinese government. It was a comprehensive program with the WB contributing $100 million which was matched by the Chinese government.
The project was to develop the cattle industry in China to meet growing consumer demand for beef and provide income opportunities for farmers. A cross bred beef program using foreign beef genetics and incorporating some of the Chinese breeds was an element of this project. Agriteam worked on the project design, which included the breeding program, facilities, a silage program, plus processing and training for workers on other production techniques.
“When you approach this type of project you can quickly assess what is going on at the farm level, but when you peel back the layers, you must determine what infrastructure is in place to support the industry,” says Rasmussen.
“For instance, is there a veterinarian service qualified to handle the livestock, or an extension service, and some form of continuing education? Is there a marketing or pricing system? All these things must be considered in establishing and maintaining this type of start-up program.”
Those are just the tiers involved in designing a sustainable program. The third level of investigation is to ensure there is a policy or a law in the country to aid in the success of such a project.
In China, for quite a few years, Agriteam Canada and others worked on the assumption that producer cooperatives in that country would move the livestock industries forward. Both the Chinese government and Chinese producers were interested in forming cooperatives. But, it was discovered there wasn’t a legal framework for the cooperatives to operate under and it would have been illegal to set them up. The country’s law makers had to develop a policy to accommodate them.
“A lot of the problems are the same no matter where you go,” suggests Rasmussen.
“Most of our work is overseas, but we do work in Canada usually with producer or commodity groups, and strategic planning for government agencies etc. The Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA (now the Department for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), is just one of our long term clients.”
“The first order of business is always to develop or identify a common vision. There must be a consensus about what needs to be done. That takes time. But when everyone is on the same page – then you begin to see the energy for change grow. Pushing an idea forward is like dragging a large rock up a hill. We work in a participatory way. We are facilitators who work with people to discover first the opportunities for the organization and secondly identify the challenges needed to be successful.”
Rasmussen accepts that the solution for all is unique based on what they aspire to achieve, and the availability of both human and financial resources.
One of the things Agriteam is called in to help businesses identify is a measurement framework. It is important for an organization to define what their success is and how they measure it.
One of the Canadian organizations Agriteam recently worked with was the Canadian Beef Breeds Council (CBBC).
“It wasn’t an easy task to break down a successful operation and rebuild,” remembers Byron Templeton, who served as president during the restructuring process.
“Really nothing had changed since our inception almost 20 years before. Agriteam helped us with a change in governance. We pared down our 26-member board of directors to nine. Standing committees were set up.”
“We realized if we were to hold onto turf and territories, it wouldn’t work and we were ready for a mindset change. We no longer view ourselves as a stand-alone “purebred” model but refer to ourselves as the purebred sector of the Canadian beef industry.”
Always, at the core of Agriteam’s approach to project design and implementation is capacity development, which helps to build long-term sustainability into projects. Their four-stage development model includes:
• Establish local ownership and consensus about the need for change
• Develop capacity in priority areas
• Ensure that capacity is applied to improve performance
• Support internalization of changes for sustainability.
• Agriteam Canada’s mission is to provide management and technical expertise characterized by:
• Results-based project design
• Participatory methodologies
• Local input and ownership
Agriteam Canada has worked with such funding agencies as CIDA (now DFATD), the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and United Nations agencies. They’ve also partnered with numerous Canadian universities and colleges.
Their mission statement pretty much sums up their business acumen. “We aim to be catalysts of change and opportunity – not imposers of “solutions”.