Following the impressive interview with H.E Hans Sandee, we are now featuring another exclusive conversation with Mr. Erik Smidt, the Agricultural Counsellor of the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture who elaborates on the pioneering Dutch technology featured throughout the Netherlands pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Tell us more about your role:
I am the Agricultural Counsellor of the Netherlands for the GCC countries. This means that I am the contact person at the Netherlands Embassy for all agro-related matters in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. In contrary to most diplomats at the Embassy, I am working for the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
What benefits are there towards food waste being reused as compost in horticulture and how it is going to help us in the future?
First of all, I want to say it is important to reduce food wastage as much as possible. Especially as it is a common practice in many cultures and considered ‘normal’ to offer about 2- 4 times as much food as you can eat. In this way, you spend a lot of energy and water on food which will not be used. Having said this, if you do have food waste, you can use the nutrients in this waste for re-use in the production cycle as a compost, so you do not need to produce (chemical) fertilizers, which require fewer fossil fuels. Furthermore, it does not have to come from phosphate mines, which will be exhausted once utilized.
What are some examples of pioneering Dutch technology and agriculture success stories? And would they be featured within the pavilion?
Worldwide, the Netherlands is the 2nd leading exporter of agricultural products (after the US), which means that even though our nation is small, we are well aware of how to produce efficiently to provide on a large scale. Our aim is not to produce and export as much as possible in the Netherlands. Instead, our aim is to produce enough food for the increasing worldwide population, preferably as close as possible to the consumer. We want to share our knowledge and technology with the rest of the world to let you produce your own products or to do it together with you in your own country.
Some examples of pioneering Dutch technology are:
High-tech greenhouses (AgTech – Agriculture Technology as they say in the UAE). The Netherlands is number 1 in advanced state-of-the-art greenhouses. Examples can be found in the UAE (Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai), KSA (Riyadh, AlKharj, etc.) and other places. In high-tech greenhouses, vegetables are produced in the desert with a minimum water usage for competitive prices.
Vertical farming is one of the most efficient solution to grow edible plants in the desert. Examples from the Netherlands already can be found in the UAE, but also in other Gulf countries, like KSA.
In case of poultry, stable equipment and slaughtering lines of Dutch origin can be found in majority of poultry farms in the UAE, KSA and other Gulf countries.
Within the Netherlands pavilion in the Expo 2020 Dubai, visitors will discover more about sustainable verticle farming and learn more about our story of 'uniting water, energy and food' – which is also our main theme.
The Netherlands is aiming for sustainable agriculture, how do you plan to accomplish that-and within what time- frame?
The process of the Netherlands going towards sustainable agriculture started about four years ago. The Netherlands is combining agriculture, nature and food. We are now more aware of how much input is actually wasted to produce all the quality products we produce and how much effort (work, water and energy) this does cost. This is also very crucial for the Gulf countries. The nexus approach on water, energy and food should be the leading principle in developing agriculture in the region. The key message is: conserve natural and scarce resources as much as possible, do not use all natural water or energy resources, but efficiently manufacture produce with ‘water reuse’ methods and alternative energy sources, like solar and wind energy and others.
Can you tell us more about how the Netherlands became the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world?
The position of the Netherlands as the second exporter of agricultural products worldwide goes a long way back - in the middle-ages, when agricultural activities were shifted from the Mediterranean to North-West Europe. The circumstances in the Netherlands were perfect for agriculture, fertile soil, good climate and irrigation facilities. The export model that the Netherlands has at the moment is from centuries ago. During the golden age, horticulture started and after the split with Belgium, the agricultural sector was growing even more rapidly. After the Second World War, intensive agriculture started and it became more massive production. For instance, small farms grew into large scale meat and poultry farms. Enlargement of production was needed as the Netherlands required income to rebuilt its cities that got destroyed during the war. The Dutch invested lot of their time and efforts in learning and gaining expertise in the fields of agriculture, which ultimately paid off in a positive way nationwide!
In what ways do you believe sustainable agriculture can make a difference in our daily life?
Sustainable agriculture is more environment friendly (control in air pollution, prevention of soil erosion etc.) We need less inputs to grow our food which further implies that we will create less wastage. It is a healthier option too! Our highest ambition is to build a greener, safer and sustainable future. We work towards achieving this goal in many ways like collaborating with other government organizations, knowledge institution, like- minded business partners- as well as through awareness programs in the form of various agriculture related trade missions.
We now move on to exploring 'Rijk Zwaan'- a Dutch vegetable breeding company, ranking in fourth place of vegetable breeding companies worldwide. Our questions were answered by the communication department of the Rijk Zwaan.
Do you think that Rijk Zwaan will have an effect on the world in terms of living sustainably?
Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a natural part of Rijk Zwaan; you could say it is in our genes. We firmly believe that our specific knowledge and techniques relating to vegetable seeds enable us to contribute to a healthy future. By targeting our breeding activities to develop more robust and resilient varieties with better resistances, higher yields and a longer shelf life, we support the more sustainable and efficient production and processing of vegetables. To improve the accessibility and availability of fresh nutritious vegetables for people all over the world, we collaborate with countless partners in the food chain. In our everyday work, we contribute to a better world through the things we do and the way we treat people. This is how we give meaning to our mission of ‘Sharing a healthy future’.
Read more about our CSR initiatives on www.rijkzwaan.com/csr
Have the aims and objectives of this project changed at all through the Covid pandemic?
Governments were quick to realize that vegetable seeds are important for the world food supply. Thanks to the ‘green lanes’ approach, the international borders remained open for our sector and, as a company, we were able to keep our processes operational – albeit with a few changes sometimes – in order to continue to supply vegetable seeds to our customers around the world. There are also opportunities: We fully support the growing societal focus on making healthy food available to all people worldwide. As a vegetable breeding company we are keen to contribute to this cause by laying the foundations for healthy and appealing vegetables.