Can small be outstanding? Innovative? Inspiring? Is a person or country limited by physical or geographical size or location? One is only limited by thought for as a man/nation thinketh so is he/it. One nation that stands as a testament to being larger than its borders is Holland – the gold standard in food security.
Are you aware that the world faces a major crisis in the production and distribution of quality food? With increasing disregard and degradation of forests, soil, water and biodiversity we are unable to feed approximately 815 million people today and an additional 2 billion by 2050 if global trends persist. Also, an estimated 12.9% of our world population is undernourished. Organisations such as the UN, FAO and World Economic Forum acknowledge the urgent need for investment in agriculture in areas of productivity and sustainable food production.
What makes Holland so special? Firstly, it is a global leader in innovation with 12 of the top 40 food and drink companies in the world having research and development centres located there. How exactly did all this begin? After all the least attractive area of business is working a family plot of land. Did you know that agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40% of global population?
In the 1970s with a prosperous economy, Dutch agriculture was on the verge of disappearing and thanks to social dialogue among government employers, unions, farmers etc, where the farming associations clearly expressed a desire to salvage their livelihood, the government was forced to maintain their primary sector and decided to improve productivity to make it viable. Becoming creative was imperative as they received little funding for agriculture compared to other European nations and little land space since dams were built to reclaim land.
Modern technology is fascinating due to its immense importance as an aid to research, record keeping, sharing of information and making seemingly impossible ideas possible. Agriculture was denied the benefits of technology for too long and thanks to the Netherlands brought into the 21st century. What was once taken for granted such as water, land and yield can all be maximised and sustainably used improving the quality of food, setting a global standard eliminating the use of toxic chemicals and significantly reducing water footprint. Consider the global average use of 214 litres of water to produce 1kg of tomatoes and the best Dutch farms using 4 litres for 1 kg of tomatoes!
Secondly, the University of Wageningen has been referred to as the mecca of research for agriculture. The mission of the university is "explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life". With the quest to improve food quality, huge investments were made in scientific research and practical data generated to assist farmers in decision making. Amazingly, with more than 40% of students being foreign the official language of the university is English. Qualifications are available from undergraduate to PHD level as well as online programs and training. Being the food valley or garden of the world, advancements in veterinary technology has enabled prevention of disease while other countries depend on heavy use of antibiotics. Hydroponic technology has been vital as well. Increased productivity and efficiency have provided both economic and ecological benefits. Even the UAE has gone Dutch to ensure food security.
In addition, Holland's transportation infrastructure facilitated its export capacity with its ports, railway, roads and airports securing its place as the second largest export nation with exports totalling $94b.
What can your country do to address food quality and security? Go Dutch with technological leapfrogging.
By Farah Theodore