A couple of interesting and potentially surprising announcements arose in January from DLG, the German Agricultural Society, which organizes the world’s largest farm machinery show called Agritechnica.
First, DLG revealed it is creating an independent subsidiary organization in Russia.
Second, it announced it had reached an agreement with the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture to help improve farming in that country.
The surprising part — to this writer, at least — is these two countries rank among the globe’s list of problem children. Making progress in any endeavour in these places isn’t likely to be easy.
“I believe that by using our know-how not only in the field of trade fairs and field day events but also in machinery and food testing as well as in the training of farmers, we will be able to contribute to the development of Iran’s agriculture,” said DLG president Carl-Albrecht Bartmer in the press release announcing the partnership.
Those announcements made me think back to a conversation I had with the CEO of DLG, Reinhard Grandke, in November in the sunny International Visitors Lounge on the grounds of the last Agritechnica machinery show in Hanover, Germany. As we sipped our coffees, we talked about the unique structure and aims of DLG.
“I think the concept of DLG, in Germany, is really unique,” he said. “I don’t know of any comparable organization of this size with its core competencies.”
And neither do I. It’s unlike any other farmer-focused group I know. As it has evolved, it has grown well beyond Germany’s borders, and every year it becomes a more prominent global clearing house for agriculture, focusing on the dissemination of knowledge.
Grandke’s comments that day in Hanover help explain why the organization is willing to make the kind of bold moves it recently announced.
“We’re a very strong organization, but we’re not strong enough to really influence world politics,” Grandke went on. “But I think agriculture is really every country’s base for development. Where we can, we help. We bring experts from machinery, but also from plant production and fertilization, and we try to start projects that offer the best solution for the region.”
But the recent announcements of DLG’s outreach into countries that are generally difficult or impossible for others to get a foothold in may be proving Grandke wrong — in a way. By being apolitical and providing the basis for these countries to improve their economies, DLG might actually be flexing a kind of invisible political influence.
Here’s what I mean: nothing ties people and nations together like economic interdependence. Although the aim of the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture is to make the country a little more self-sufficient in agricultural production, anyone in the business these days knows maximizing farming productivity means taking advantage of the many kinds of inputs and machinery that are only available through international trade. To become more independent by producing their own grain and foodstuffs, countries must give up some of their independence by adopting technologies and equipment from others.
That’s how an isolated country begins to merge its economic prosperity with that of other nations. As the fortunes of those nations — and those of the influential people within them — become more economically intertwined with the rest of the world, they have a greater incentive to play nicely with others, so to speak.
Realistically, no one believes all the extremism we see in Iran will just fade away over some improved wheat and barley production. But it could help tone down the hostility.
“Normally, when we go into developing regions, it is with some initiative of the German government,” said Grandke.
A friend of mine who works for DLG has actually been involved in creating relationships with people in Iran for a while now. She has been regularly travelling to that country to invite delegations from there to come to Agritechnica and participate in the ag knowledge-related activities that go on there. And the country’s leaders have responded to this approach, sending several representatives to the last couple of Agritechnica shows.
These associations with Russia and Iran are far from the first time DLG has helped underdeveloped countries improve their agricultural bases.
“We have a lot of experience in such projects,” said Grandke. “We did a real unique project in Turkey. Turkey was an emerging country. In 1985 we started a project there together with the German Ministry of Agriculture. The main point of the project was to help farmers build self-help working groups.”
And since Grandke has taken on the role of CEO, the organization’s international focus has grown significantly.
“In 2002 when I started, I think we had two employees from abroad. Now we have 80 or 90 international employees. So at DLG we’ve improved our international view and possibilities.”
This year DLG will also co-organize Iran’s Agrotech-Agropars International Trade Fair of Agricultural Technology, Specialty Crops, Fertilizers and Pesticides, Seeds and Irrigation. DLG also organizes a couple of farm shows in Russia: AgroTech Russia and AgroFarm. But Agritechnica remains by far DLG’s flagship event.
“Agritechnica is very important because it’s the largest ag machinery show in the world,” said Grandke. “We organize about 30 different exhibitions now. But Agritechnica is the most important, not only for DLG but also for the industry because we have so many exhibitors from all over the world. We can demonstrate and create some impulse for business for the next year.”
Since its rise to prominence, Agritechnica has changed the ag machinery industry. Companies now see it as a showcase they can’t afford to miss, and they often plan their most significant machinery introductions to coincide with the bi-annual event.
Despite DLG’s participation in the German government’s foreign aid programs, which have helped it earn a global reputation, arguably it is Agritechnica that has put DLG on the map as the major global player among agricultural associations. Farm machinery innovations on display there have been the lure to bring nearly half a million farmers and industry players together, giving manufacturers what they really want: a big audience and global publicity.
While most farm groups have a national or even regional focus, which limits their scope, DLG, was originally created with a wider perspective in mind.
“That comes from our founder, Max Eyth, because he was really international,” said Grandke. “He travelled all around the world to get ideas for the challenges facing agriculture. His idea was to build a platform, a non-profit society to improve progress in agriculture and food businesses. We are organized from farmers for farmers. We include the views from scientists and industry along with administration advisers.”
But it may not be the views of scientists and industry people that will steer agriculture in the future as much as those of consumers and activists. Grandke thinks DLG’s ability to disseminate information may eventually need to be aimed toward society in general.
“I think this will be one of the most important themes over the next 10 or 20 years, to find a new way of communication with society,” he said. “We work together with NGOs, but we also work together with farmers to support communication between them and society. We think the farmer is important and key to creating a positive image to society. We try to support the farmer to do this.”
This article was originally published as, “International influence” in the March 29, 2016, issue of Country Guide
Photos: DLG and Scott Garvey