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Dutch Food Supply Chain Sector 2020-2021

By Yigit Ispir, Willem van Dort, Eline de Ruyter & Johan Oijevaar.

The food sector is one of the largest parts of the Dutch economy and with a population of 17 million people and a densely populated country of more than 1,300 inhabitants per square kilometer, The Netherlands is the world’s number two food exporter following the United States of America which has for context, 270 times its landmass. Undoubtedly, many innovation industry practices and generations of family farming culture has led The Netherlands and its less than 100,000 farmers to be able to supply large amounts of food to the world. However, even with such a high position in the global food export market, farmers have been protesting in masses since 2019 continuing on to the present day. The reason for these protests has been a build-up of frustrations over the years, with supermarkets setting higher standards and demands over farmers, putting them under stress, consumers viewing farmers as “environmentally unfriendly” whilst expecting all products to constantly be in supermarkets, and the government placing more environmental restrictions each year over the agricultural industry. With such pressures from different sides, the farmers have decided to protest the government and its officials together with the rest of the food supply chain in The Netherlands. Most recently the restrictions proposal by the government on decreasing nitrogen emissions through the cutting of half the country's livestock, has sparked the 2019 countrywide protests. From what is going on within the sector at the moment it is clear that there is a form of disconnection within the sector which leads to miscommunications and frustrations within the entire sector between all parties involved.

As students of Windesheim Honors College, we were highly motivated to delve into the Dutch food supply chain and find out the frustrations of all parties involved and attempt to get a better understanding of why the current complex and wicked situation is the way it is. From the start, all students Johan, Yigit, Willem and Eline have had a personal interest in the food sector. Johan’s family owns and operates a medium-sized tulip farm in the Northern part of the country, Yigit took over a local circular food start-up and research project which he now leads called Zwolsche Zwammen, Willem works in a company called Stadshoevenier which is a green roofs, and ecological garden service and Eline has long experience working on multiple farms together with a passion for cattle. Therefore, we are already integrated into the urban-farming, agriculture and ecological housing/ gardening sector.

Since we already have existing connections to the sector, it was not difficult for us to start. We did so by reaching out to farmers, people in network organizations, government officials, food processors and supermarkets. While waiting for replies, Johan (before the Covid-19 guest visit restrictions) was kind enough to invite the rest of his team to his family’s farm in order to show them around, explain the process of tulip farming and also share the knowledge and culture of farming that his family has accumulated over generations. This was also a time to get to know each other better as a group since we never worked together before.

After waiting, our team received replies, in total we interviewed people and organizations such as AgrifoodCluster, Provincie Overijssel, Friesland Campina, AgriFood Kennispoort, Boerenverstand, J. Overesch, Plus Supermarkt, Salland Boert en Eet Bewust, Korenblik, Ketensief, Land-en Tuinbouw Organisatie, Melktapperij, Netwerk Platteland, Natuur en Milieu Overijssel, Transitie Coalitie Voedsel and Wroetvarkens.

After speaking with the various farmers, industry specialists, food processors/supermarkets and government officials we gained many different paradigms into how each person / organization looks into the food supply chain. Of course, this is not comprehensive research since the group was able to look at a handful of people from each part of the supply chain and therefore have limited perspectives from each side.

Moving on, we had the idea of hosting a webinar / web show, in the beginning we wanted to host it in the studio of Windesheim, however with the restrictions of Covid-19 we decided to host it completely online. We reached out to VKON another network organization that already hosts online-cafes between farmers, they were very friendly and willing to help us in hosting the webinar through their professional Zoom account and also promoting it.

We invited speakers from different parts of the food sector and hoped that their live discussion fueled by our background research and sharp questions, will be able to generate an insightful discussion between all sides and shed some light on the frustrations at hand. Open and clear communication is the best way to resolve all issues.The speakers in the webinar were: Mark de Jong (Land-en Tuinbouw Organisatie), Gerrit Baan (Overijssel Agrarisch Jongeren Kontakt and Dairy Farmer), Ilse Jansen (Natuur en Milieu Overijssel), Willem Lageweg (Transitie Coalitie Voedsel), Erik Valk (Dairy Farmer part of FrieslandCampina).

Within the webinar we presented our research, our idea for an app platform which could all aid towards potential solutions within the food sector. Overall, the webinar was a very big success with over 70 participants all writing comments constantly in the chat and giving results to our polls which we used to collect feedback and data. The speakers were very eager to share their ideas and views on our questions and also gave us feedback on our ideas and research. We will use this feedback to take our project further in MPGW next semester working with Natuur en Milieu Overijssel as our new client.

We finally had a meeting with VKON today and they want to continue brainstorming ideas with us on creating a podcast or webinar that occurs in a more regular schedule and continues to host discussions between the industry specialists, supermarkets, food processors, farmers and possibly also government officials.

Link to full webinar on YouTube of VKON:

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