Organize your own schedule and reduce CO₂ emissions

Maarten Rijnberg, Marketing Lead at Acorn, walking in the forrest.
Maarten Rijnberg
Maarten Rijnberg
Marketing Lead Acorn
Reading time7 minutes

Looking out for the best waves to surf while a creative idea is brewing back of mind. Never losing sight of the goal: helping smallholder farmers in Latin America Africa and Asia earn a decent living by providing additional income streams. That’s how Maarten Rijnberg, Marketing Lead at Acorn, works to improve himself and the world around him.

Maarten loves to take risks, calculated risks that is. He trusts his own intuition and expertise and stays calm when things don’t go as planned. One of his passions is surfing the waves. When the swell’s right, you’ll find him on a board on the North Sea, not at his desk at home. Once he’s cleared his head and enjoyed what nature has to offer, he goes back to work energized and ready to help smallholder farmers generate extra income. “As a start-up we move fast. But I can always make time and space to charge my battery. If you’re looking for a good work-life balance, Rabobank’s got that sorted.”

Maarten Rijnberg (Acorn) with surf board on the beach.

A start-up at a bank?

“Yes, that’s not what you’d expect, but it’s certainly possible,” Maarten explains. “I’d been working at Rabobank for a while as a finance specialist, then I moved on to several roles in the bank’s marketing department. I got talking to Jelmer van de Mortel, Head of Acorn at Rabobank. I’d never heard of Acorn, so he told me all about it.” Acorn is a program to help smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America transition to more sustainable agroforestry while at the same time sequestering carbon.

Maarten took the leap and applied for a vacancy as innovation manager. Next thing he knew he was in a new job in a different department at Rabobank, working to set up a technological trading platform in the rapidly growing carbon credits market. “Whiteboard sessions, creative sessions, testing pilot projects … There were tons of ideas going in all kinds of directions. The first thing we did was to streamline them.”

Like many start-ups, at a certain point Acorn chose to pivot. They now focus entirely on scaling up the number of projects with the farmers and increasing the number of Carbon Removal Units generated. Given his background as a marketeer, Maarten’s new challenge was to shape this new focus. “What a boost that was. We built the website and infrastructure ourselves from scratch, we created the brand story, ran campaigns to create awareness in the market, and built a high-quality customer base. We do everything in-house with our own team.”

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For Maarten, this is typical of how you can operate as an innovative enterprise within Rabobank. “A large corporate is highly structured and regulated, which is necessary of course. But all those processes can slow things down.” That’s not such a problem at Acorn, says Maarten, because they test the limits of the system to stay fast and flexible. “Acorn gave me a lot of ownership in the projects. Having that responsibility really supports my personal development. I’d never realized how many opportunities there were until I looked at my work this way. We’re free to follow our own path and at the same time we have an amazing impact on people’s lives.”

Maarten Rijnberg standing near some trees.

The positive impact of agroforestry

Smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are some of the hardest-hit by climate change. Volatility in global food prices, drought, soil degradation, and failed harvests all mean lower yields, which directly affect the livelihoods of families and local communities. Acorn helps these farmers through agroforestry. This involves planting fruit and nut-bearing trees (such as mango or cashews) between rows of regular agricultural crops.

Agroforestry has three positive impacts:

  1. the trees capture CO₂ from the air which helps reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere,
  2. the trees provide an extra source of income and food for people and animals in the region,
  3. the local ecosystem improves thanks to greater diversity of trees and crops.

Farmers receive additional income from the fruit and nut harvests and from the sequestered carbon dioxide which Acorn sells in the form of Carbon Removal Units (CRU) to responsible companies who want to compensate their emissions.

"At Acorn I’m helping to bring about a transition, that gives me energy" 
Maarten Rijnberg, Marketing Lead at Acorn
Maarten Rijnberg, Marketing Lead at Acorn, picking red berries

Maarten: “We’re helping over 200,000 smallholder farmers across the world who have committed to Acorn. They receive 80% of the revenue generated by the CRUs. We keep a Rabobank Carbon Registry for complete transparency. For every carbon removal unit you buy, you can check our website to see exactly which farmer and which piece of land it relates to.” Acorn has already paid the farmers EUR 4.5 million and is aiming high. “We want to scale up and work with millions of farmers.”

Maarten is clear about the reasons for putting his energy and expertise into this project: “We don’t want to go back to how things were. There is no going back. We must move to a new reality with more sustainable agriculture and sustainable agroforestry. We have to help to bring about a system change. Acorn gives me the opportunity to make my contribution.”

Keeping up the pace

In two years Acorn has grown from 10 to almost 60 employees, ranging from account managers to data scientists and geo-specialists. The models and technologies to remotely measure CO₂ were developed in-house. The same goes for the technology to read out all the data from the satellite images. The registry of projects and all communication tasks relating to Acorn take place physically within Rabobank, where Acorn has a designated space. How do they keep up the pace in their projects?

Maarten believes it’s a great combination of the mindset of a start-up and the facilities Rabobank offers. “It’s fantastic to work with Rabobank departments such as Legal, Risk, and Corporate Communications. Especially when it comes to sensitive issues like communication, new pilot projects, or privacy issues. But we work at a different speed to the bank. We move fast. And we want to move even faster. We’re always quick to try something new, always with the same objective: to help smallholder farmers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa achieve a system change and a decent income, and while reducing the impact on the climate.”

About Maarten and Acorn

Maarten Rijnberg’s careerpath: Traineeship > Finance specialist > Digital Marketeer > Innovation Manager > Marketing Lead

Acorn supports smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the transition to agroforestry. By planting trees, it improves soil quality and also captures carbon.

Acorn measures the carbon captured and converts this to Carbon Removal Units (CRUs) of 1 ton CO2. The CRUs are sold to companies with ambitious sustainability targets. 80% of the sales price flows back to the farmers. This creates a new source of income for the farmers and helps them make their business more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Maarten Rijnberg

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