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A voyage of discovery

Luuk Zonneveld has had both feet on the ground since the start of his career in development but it wasn’t until he became the CEO of BIO that he saw at first hand the impact of a long-term commercial strategy on alleviating poverty. By Jack Aldane
Luuk Zonneveld on his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo

”Even talking about it I get emotional. Going down the Congo River, along the borders there are, well, settlements. You can’t even call them villages. It’s mud and poles, and a little bit of fishing. People have nothing. Most of them don’t even have clothes, some walk around in rags.”

Luuk Zonneveld, CEO of Belgian’s development finance institution BIO, has just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo and it has clearly left a profound impression.

Born in the Netherlands in 1957, Zonneveld is no stranger to Africa having started his career there as a 29-year old journalist but the sights he met on his recent trip brought back how desperate the poverty can be.

In 2017, the African population stands at more than 1.2 billion but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to 77 million, is still by far one of the poorest and most politically fractured places on Earth.

Zonneveld spent two days on a boat in the Congo to get to the remote site where BIO and several other DFIs have financed the rehabilitation of a palm oil plantation built by Unilever in the early 20th century. Plantations et Huileries du Congo started eight years ago after an equity investment in Canadian agribusiness Feronia by the UK’s CDC led to a US$49 million syndicated loan in 2016 involving BIO, Germany’s DEG and the Dutch development bank FMO. CDC owns a 67 percent stake in the company.

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