Exclusive: How Diana Holding CEO, Rita Maria Zniber, Is Tackling Climate Change Through Sustainable Agriculture
This story appeared in our August 2023 issue, featuring a ranking of the Top 100 Arab Family Businesses.
Agriculture is a serious business in Morocco. After all, the sector accounts for more than 10% of the North African country’s total economic output and 30% of the workforce. Agricultural produce, such as citrus fruits and market vegetables, are among its top exports.
But the country has been facing severe drought and an economic crisis precipitated by global inflation and made worse by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, pressuring its export-led agricultural model. “Drought and climate change have affected us dramatically in these last five years, especially in the oriental part of Morocco where we have our citrus business unit,” says Rita Maria Zniber, Chairman and CEO of agribusiness group Diana Holding. “We have to innovate in irrigation and are looking forward to the building of desalinization plants. We are also still recovering from the Covid crisis and the disruption of logistics chains as well as the Russia-Ukraine war.”
The agri-food group directly employed 7,200 people and had a consolidated turnover of $342.4 million amid the Covid-19 crisis in 2020. This rose to $441.7 million in 2022. An IPO may be on the cards in the future. “Why not? We’re looking for that because we have the proper governance for that,” Zniber shares.
Diana Holding is in the process of creating a more sustainable and innovative agricultural ecosystem. In November 2021, Domaines Zniber, a subsidiary of Diana Holding, partnered with the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) to continue efforts to industrialize Morocco’s economy in the agriculture industry and boost precision agriculture, with a particular emphasis on water. “Today, customers want to know how the companies they do business with operate, what their values are, and how they demonstrate those values,” says Adnan Zaidi, Entrepreneurial & Private Business Leader at PwC Middle East.
In March 2022, Diana Holding and Morocco’s Ministry of Industry and Trade signed a $12.1 million investment agreement for Berkane Juice Processing, a subsidiary of Les Domaines Zniber. “The main objective of this was to create value for the sub-products of our main production,” Zniber explains. “We aim to integrate ourselves into a vertical economy, where we try to optimize our production as much as we can. By doing so, we try to value the entire chain of production.” The company plans to use the funds to establish a citrus juicing and processing unit in Berkane with a capacity of 30,000 tons of citrus and a projected annual turnover of over $7.8 million. It will also create at least 240 direct jobs.
Diana Holding is also capitalizing on nearly 50 years of bottling experience to develop its knowhow in plastic packaging and distribution. The Equatorial Coca-Cola Bottling Company announced in November 2022 that it was acquiring northern Moroccan Coca-Cola bottler Atlas Bottling Company from majority shareholder Diana Holding through its Moroccan subsidiaries. Diana Holding acquired the Atlas Bottling Company in 1975. “At the same time, the acquisition came at the right moment because we’re focusing on developing our agro-industrial sector with the aim of creating more sustainable and innovative agriculture,” explains the CEO. Zniber reveals that Diana Holding is planning to announce a partnership with Alpla Morocco in September, a major international player in the plastic industry.
The CEO is in a good position to revolutionize the industry—she’s been involved in it for most of her life. Zniber spent her childhood in rural Morocco with her uncles and cousins, who all worked in agriculture. Diana Holding was first established in 1956 by Zniber’s late husband, Brahim Zniber, on the family’s Aït Harzallah estate. Zniber officially joined Diana Holding—which was named after her daughter, who currently serves as a board member and communication director—in 1988. She was appointed CEO and Chairman in 2014. “There is a correlation between the business and the family. The family fuels the business, but the business also fuels the family in a sense that the values are co-created and co-shared,” she says. “And that is the case for the majority of the stakeholders.”