GET FINANCES FLOWING

As CEO of Netafim, Ran Maidan can get water flowing to the roots of crops everywhere in the world. What he needs now are partnerships that can get the finances for sustainable  solutions flowing.
Ran Maidan
Chief Executive Officer
Netafim
“There is enough money in the world, but we need to figure out how to link the money with the people
who need investments.”
Ran Maidan

The banana grower’s wife kissed him. She had been transporting water to fields for 20 years and now Ran Maidan’s company had provided the drip-irrigation system that not only saved her a lot of hard work but also raised their yield considerably. So when he visited their farm in India, Maidan, the CEO of one of the world’s largest irrigation companies, Netafim, deserved a kiss.

Maidan tells this story and many others hurriedly. He is bristling with stories of the projects Netafim has started globally or is hoping to start. Stories about how Netafim’s drip-irrigation technology is protecting the most vital resources we have,
water and soil, and raising crop yields at the same time.

These are win-win-win stories of using fewer resources to grow more crops, raising standards of living for the rural population and creating growth for society as a whole. When Maidan speaks, Netafim’s product line seem almost made for triple bottom line reporting, and this is no coincidence. The company’s history is full of sustainability considerations.

Netafim celebrates its first 50 years in business this year. The company originally sprang out of the need of Hatzerim Kibbutz to solve its water crisis. Located in the Negev Desert, water for irrigation was scarce and the kibbutz needed an answer. The solution the kibbutzniks came up with was drip irrigation. It solved the water problem, but they soon discovered that they actually got more than they expected. Yields increased even beyond what other farmers with plenty of water could grow.

“We understood then that it brings significantly greater crop yields, but also that in other places where they had enough water they could do much better. They were actually destroying the land by using fertilizers and crop protection in a big way, when they could do much better by delivering water and nutrients directly to the roots,” says Maidan.

The drip-irrigation technology became the backbone of Netafim. Today, the company is a solid success on all three bottom lines, employing more than 4,000 people worldwide, operating in over 100 countries and winning worldwide acclaim for the way in which it addresses the growing threats of water and food scarcity.

However, Maidan’s stories also have an edge. It can be hard when you truly feel that you have a world-saving technology, but the vital funding for rolling it out is hard to come by. “Netafim’s systems are usually paid back in a year or two – and they last for ten,” he says. But still, upfront costs are a barrier to disseminating the technology to emerging markets and smallholder farming, where its potential to create sustainable
development is greatest.

“You don’t need to convince an almond grower in California to go with drip irrigation. Believe me, he knows it and he understands it and he can raise the funds for it. It’s much harder to get the financing to install our system in a sugar cane plantation in India. It’s an emerging market, it’s farming, it’s a smallholding, so it’s difficult to provide security for it. There is enough money in the world, but we need to figure out how to link the money with the people who need investments,” says Maidan.

One example is Netafim’s ambition to bring its technology to large-scale irrigation projects, serving thousands or even tens of thousands of smallholders. But these ‘big-ticket’ projects are hard to organize and fund. He hopes new partnership models
can pave the way.

“This is why it’s important to bring governments or the UN and financial investors to the table. We can arrange it and lead it, but we can’t do it by ourselves. The challenge is really how to create this link between the farmers and the poverty, the  government, the funds and the technology. Currently, it’s being done but not at the right pace, or on the right scale,” says Maidan.


WHAT’S NEXT?
PRESERVING OUR MOST IMPORTANT RESOURCES

Our two most important resources are water and soil, says Ran Maidan. Preserving these will be paramount for any ambition to create a more sustainable and just economy.

“Our children, grandchildren and their children will all be dependent upon these resources. I hope that this realization can occupy a more prominent part of the awareness and decision-making of leaders in general and business leaders in particular,” says Maidan.