Dutch Experience: How Cities Can Produce Their Own Food 

For those who know better, it is not about building a greenhouse. They say it’s about running it successfully in a long term. But, that is somewhat more complicated.

This is exactly what Dutch horticultural suppliers have experienced in the past years. That is why they want to make Dutch expertise work in other countries too. With that goal in mind, a webinar was organised under the ambitious title A One-stop Solution to Feed the World,  in which several Dutch horticultural suppliers shared their experience.

The webinar was opened by Lambert van Horen, Senior Specialist Fresh Produce at Rabobank, who refers to the horticulture sector as a research department of the food sector as a whole, due to the extensive research that is being carried out.

Developments like the implementation of robots and drones offer great promises for the food sector as a whole, with computers assist humans in large-scale decision-making.

Lambert observes that the horticultural sector is becoming very capital intensive. “As Rabobank, we are quite familiar with the capital intensity of the greenhouse sector. But we also believe that innovations should, at least partly, be financed by equity capital.”

Horticulture in China

One of the greatest examples where Dutch horticulture and local demands come together is the horticultural industry in China.

China puts great focus on self-sustainability, both on a national and provincial level, explains Wouter Verhey, agriculture counselor at the embassy of the Netherlands in China.

High-tech horticulture is developing rapidly, and the Netherlands is actively involved in this. Nevertheless, traditional agriculture with open fields and traditional plastic tunnels is still the dominant form of food production.

“Despite the high number of modern greenhouses that have been built in recent years, greenhouse management is still a delicate matter. For that reason, more and more companies turn to outsourcing their management and marketing departments to international companies. This is where Dutch companies turn in.”

Wouter points out that a rapidly growing middle class in China is making higher demands on the availability and quality of products. With the advent of high-tech horticulture, these demands can be met.

He concludes by stating that the challenges in traditional agriculture offer great opportunities for the roll-out of high-tech solutions. Cooperation between governments, educational institutions, and the private sector can answer these questions.

His talk was illustrated with the case study of Yining Wang, supervisor of the Jiashan Greenport in the Yangtze Delta, who illustrated the Sino-Dutch cooperation with his greenhouse complex.

Bringing Dutch experience and local needs together, Karin Bax, director of NLWorks, knows from the inside how Dutch companies can contribute to projects in other countries.

“ NLWorks wants to accelerate the creation of international networks between entrepreneurs and governments for the purpose of building propositions. We match the ambition of Dutch and foreign companies with those of governments. We transform them into a solid business case, benefitting both the private and public coals, creating a social impact for all.”

A great example of such a project is the American state of Kentucky, where 17 Dutch and American organisations, in close collaboration with the Kentucky government and Dutch consulate built up a greenhouse project that is now growing its first yield of tomatoes.

City as drivers of sustainable developments

The webinar was concluded by Meiny Prins, direct of Priva, who talked about urban food production as the biggest challenge of the future.

“Food production is not the issue, as we are capable to feed billions of people now already. The big problem is the distribution of food. Traditionally, cities used to have a green belt close, which produced food for the city. However, traditional agriculture is disappearing because it is not profitable anymore.”

Meiny points to the subsidising of overproduction as one of the main problems for unfair competition and unequal food distribution around the world. “In combination with climate change, we know this has to change. So much energy, water, and labor are being wasted.”

According to Meiny, city governments, urban planners, and architects have to rethink the way cities are designed. “Cities can produce a major part of their own food when space is used in a smart way. The Netherlands is in fact the first food-producing city in the world.  A small area producing huge amounts of food. If it can be done here, it can be done everywhere.”

The next webinars will be organised on June 15 and July 13. Registration can be done via the website.


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