Toespraak van minister Schouten bij de FoodFIRST Conference


Toespraak van minister Schouten (LNV) bij de  FoodFIRST Conference in Utrecht, op 31 mei 2018. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Verantwoordelijke Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit
Thema Onbekend thema
Documentsoort Toespraak
Geldig van 31-05-2018
Document creatiedatum 31-05-2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that farming isn’t just another job. Since becoming the Minister of Agriculture I’ve visited multiple farms. They can differ in many ways – dairy farms, horticultural businesses, livestock farms; small, medium or big.

But they all have one thing in common: farming isn’t a 9 to 5 job. Farmers are farmers, day and night. In their heart and soul. Farms are often family–owned businesses.

It’s a way of life.

The work farmers do is absolutely vital. They feed us – they feed the world. And even though we consume their products daily, few of us know what a farmer’s life is like. I’m sure that Dutch and African farmers have a lot in common in terms of their devotion to their work.

And we will rely on farmers more and more in the future.

By 2050 they’ll have around ten billion people to feed. But even now, millions of people are going to bed hungry every night. 

In fact, the number of hungry people in the world grew from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. And the number of malnourished people increased at a similar rate.

In order to produce enough food, today and in 2050, we need all the farmers we can get. But in Africa, young farmers are leaving the countryside. Farming has little to offer them.

They’re moving to the city or migrating to other continents.

I hope that we can reverse this worrying trend.

A flourishing agriculture sector in Africa benefits everyone –Africans first and foremost. Between now and 2050 the number of people in Africa is expected to double: from 1.2 to 2.4 billion. A quarter of the world’s population will call Africa home. And all those people will need to work and eat.

The world population as a whole also benefits from a well-functioning agricultural sector in Africa. Africa could make a substantial contribution to feeding the world.

And finally, a prosperous Africa is also an attractive sales market. That’s reason enough to pool resources and invest in Africa’s ‘green revolution’.

Africa has the youngest population in the world. Young Africans must see a future in farming once again. It’s not enough to simply get them interested. We also need to create the right circumstances. We need to give them the tools they need to be successful. In particular, they need access to technology, both to improve production and combat food waste.

This includes crops and seeds that are more resistant to drought and saline soils. Technologies that make precision agriculture possible, so that water and pesticides are used efficiently. But they also need tools to improve cold storage and the agri-logistics that connect farmers to markets. Too much food is wasted. In Sub-Saharan Africa, three quarters of food is lost during production, harvesting and processing. Three quarters!

African farmers also need access to financing that’s tailored to their situation. They need policies that encourage private investment, well-functioning value chains, and access to local and international markets. And they must unite to improve their competitiveness.

Those are a lot of conditions. But that’s what it will take to make Africa an agricultural powerhouse. Where farmers have the opportunity to put their heart and soul into their work. Day and night.

The Netherlands has a special responsibility when it comes to global food security. We are happy to share the knowledge and expertise we’ve built up over centuries with African farmers.

To this end I’ll be working closely with our Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag. My ministry also cooperates with international organisations; with local governments and authorities; with academia. And, last but not least, with you – the private sector.

You have the expertise to help smallholders increase their productivity and develop their businesses. To help them get organised and gain access to markets. It’s about building a successful chain that benefits everyone.

My ministry can make a real contribution by establishing links. By creating an enabling environment for responsible private sector investment. For instance, by working hard to protect plant breeders’ rights. And, in a broader sense, by sharing our agricultural research and knowledge with farmers worldwide.

In the Netherlands, public-private partnerships go back a long way. The UN organisations working on global food production and consumption draw inspiration from the Netherlands’ partnerships between public sector, private sector and academic institutions.

From the very beginning, farming families in our country understood their shared interests – such as protecting land from frequent floods. They worked together and formed farmers organisations. Harsh circumstances kept challenging them to improve their skills.

This ‘triple helix’ approach, as we call it, can be seen all over. On the Dutch island of Texel, for example, we’re experimenting with crops – mainly potatoes – that thrive in salty soil. After all, salinisation is a global problem. It’s affected 70 million hectares of land in Africa alone.

Something else that’s making life harder for many African farmers is drought. In El Oued, Algeria, researchers from Wageningen University & Research Centre and the local university have successfully worked with farmers to reduce the amount of water needed to grow potatoes by 80%.

Our very own ‘national icon’ Groasis specialises in technology to grow crops using less water. Such as boxes in which trees can be grown faster than normal, using a minimal amount of water. Vegetables can be grown in the box at the same time – reducing costs even further. It’s a great way of ensuring local farmers a fast return. And planting trees in arid environments also benefits the climate.

The Netherlands’ strength lies in helping different partners work together. This approach also available to African farmers.

So that they, too, can put their heart and soul into feeding the world. It’s tough work, but we farmers are used to that. And so too are entrepreneurs.

Together, we can do it.

Thank you.