We eat wrong. The Dutch buy far too little organic food. Supermarkets are not doing enough to help their customers with sustainable food. Multinational corporations, banks and the government avoid their responsibilities. This makes it very difficult for farmers to produce food in harmony with nature.
This is the analysis of two organizations on the eve of the presentation of an action program by Minister Piet Adema (Agriculture, CU) to expand the organic sector in the Netherlands. Action is required; in the Netherlands, only 4.4 percent of agriculture is organic, while the EU aims for an average of 25 percent by 2030.
Too often, say Michaël Wilde, director of the organic farming and food chain organization Bionext, and Kathleen Goense, director of the southern agricultural and horticultural association ZLTO, the discussion about agriculture is limited to farmers’ working methods. Goense: “As competitive entrepreneurs, farmers cannot deliver another system alone. We will have to go through the transition together: farmers, chain parties, government and consumers.”
You can only get more sustainable or organic agriculture, they say, if society values organic products. Goense: “We can produce much more organically, but if it is not consumed, it stops. Then a supermarket stops. This means bankruptcy for a farmer who has become or was already organic.”
The Dutch have to learn again how important food is in life. Wilde: “In the Netherlands we have very little connection with what we eat, we grab something from the supermarket and that’s it. So start with education.”
It is true, the farm managers acknowledge, that sustainably produced food is more expensive than, for example, products from less sustainable foreign agriculture and horticulture. Wilde: “We in the Netherlands have become accustomed to far too cheap and not too sustainably produced food. But you really should pay a fairer price, rewarding farmers for more than just the one crop, and also taking into account the negative environmental effects. There is a large middle group that can be tempted to make more sustainable choices. We spend 5 euros on a pumpkin spice cappuccino, but 20 cents more for organic potatoes is considered too expensive.”
Goense: “It would be nice if the right price was finally paid for food. We spend 9 percent of our income on food. It used to be 15 percent.”
For too long, the Netherlands has steered towards a culture of ‘cheap is better’. Wilde: “We’re all in deep shit. The system is bankrupt. We need to hold people in companies personally accountable for what they do to the world; are they part of the problem or part of the solution? We’re not going to say our children later: sorry the world has been destroyed, but we have created a lot of value for shareholders.”
Don’t let dairy associations and supermarkets give their customers a choice, but guarantee, for example, that all organically produced dairy is actually sold. Goense: “In practice, buyers from supermarkets are required to buy a little cheaper every day. Last week I spoke to a strawberry grower who produces for the largest supermarket in the Netherlands. He will have higher costs next year, partly due to energy, and would like to be reimbursed one way or another. But what does the supermarket do? He gets the strawberries from Spain. And the Dutch strawberry grower is emptying his greenhouse.”
Wilde: “Indicate with the strawberries in the supermarket that they have become a little more expensive, but that the customer has made the food system a little more sustainable. I think many Dutch people think it’s fine. You have to explain it, you have to have a story.”
The banks also have a role. Goense: “When you assess a loan application, you often only look at what someone will earn in the future so that they can repay the loan. Not enough attention is paid to what business operations mean to the environment or natural resources.” Wilde: “Only give a loan to future-proof companies, not others.”
And don’t forget the large multinational companies, says Goense. “Everyone looks to the farmer when it comes to sustainable food. But there are a few lots that determine 80 percent of food production: seeds, seed potatoes, plant protection products. You never hear about that. Let them take responsibility.”
The director and director state that farmers should not be dismissed as dirty companies that emit too much nitrogen and that it is better to stop, but as indispensable for the necessary change. The farmers should not get less, but more land, says Goense. “The Netherlands should not cultivate all the land, because we desperately need it for more extensive forms of agriculture.”
Farmers are “keepers” of the land and in that respect “heroes”, according to Wilde. He was recently in Denmark, where a farmer had collected all the tools from the soil that had been lying in it for centuries. Wilde: ‘His land had been cultivated for more than two thousand years and he said, ‘Who am I to deplete this land and make it impossible for future generations to still be farming here in two thousand years?’ That’s what I mean by heroes.”
Sustainable food with inflation E6-7