Meet Our Director: Cees van Rij

A Journey from Farm Roots to AgriGRADE Leadership

At AgriGRADE, we believe in showcasing the personal stories behind our leadership, emphasizing the human touch in our mission towards sustainable agricultural development. Spearheading AgriGRADE’s mission is Cees van Rij, a figure synonymous with cooperative business development. His recent interview sheds light on the philosophy, ambitions, and innovative strategies propelling AgriGRADE towards transforming cooperatives into catalysts for economic growth and community well-being.

AgriGRADE Director

Early Beginnings: From Farm to the World

Cees’s story begins in the southwest of the Netherlands, on a mixed dairy and arable farm. Expected to take over the family farm, his journey took a significant turn at the age of 21 when personal circumstances made him rethink his future, steering him towards international development, particularly in the agricultural sector. Cees’s commitment to “talking with farmers, not just about them” has been the cornerstone of his career.

Global Experiences and Achievements

Cees’s dedication led him to Ecuador, where he worked with a national farmers’ organization, contributing to among others impactful projects on farmer-based lobby & advocacy, extension services in organic farming, rural tourism, and the role of women and youth in agricultural development. His efforts in establishing a savings and credit cooperative and a farmer-owned tour operator are testaments to his belief in what is possible when farmers come together and pool their ambitions, interests and resources.

His work with Agriterra further honed his expertise in cooperative business development, emphasizing the transformation of cooperatives into inclusive, market-oriented businesses. Cees’ efforts have always been driven by the ambition to make farmer cooperatives bankable and self-sustainable.

AgriGRADE: A New Chapter

The conception of AgriGRADE was a collaborative effort, born out of discussions on professionalizing technical assistance for farmers’ organizations and cooperatives. For Cees, AgriGRADE represents the culmination of his experiences and the embodiment of his belief in the power of partnerships and the cooperative model in transforming the agricultural sector.

AgriGRADE’s approach on graduating-the-cooperative-landscape, aims to professionalize the cooperative sector in emerging markets, making it more attractive to farmers, off-takers, and investors alike..

Fostering International Collaborations

Supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pilots in Kenya and Tanzania have been set as the starting point. Cees aims, together with the partner organizations, to globalize AgriGRADE’s concept, offering a comprehensive and systemic approach to cooperative development. This vision includes creating partnerships with governments, private sector entities, and financial institutions to foster a sustainable agricultural ecosystem.

Personal Reflections and Hobbies

Drawing inspiration from the visionary leadership of Sicco Mansholt, who is regarded as the architect of the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe, Cees has shaped his approach to transforming agricultural practices and policies on a global scale.

Away from the professional realm, Cees shares his personal side, revealing his love for running, hiking, and cycling.

A Vision for the Future

Cees van Rij’s journey from a farmer’s son in the Netherlands to leading AgriGRADE is a narrative of passion, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of making the farmers’ voice heard in agricultural development.

At AgriGRADE, we are proud to have Cees at the helm, guiding us towards making a meaningful impact in the lives of organized farmers and contributing to the global agricultural landscape. The future of sustainable agricultural development looks brighter than ever, promising significant benefits for farmers, communities, and economies across the globe. Join us in welcoming Cees and embracing the journey towards graduating the cooperative landscape.