Sustainable Agriculture in the NetherlandsDespite its small size, the Netherlands has established itself as a major agricultural powerhouse in the world. Driving from one side of the country to the other takes less than four hours, illustrating the nation’s compact size. Yet, the country ranks as one of the top food-exporting nations in the world in relation to gross value largely due to sustainable agriculture in the Netherlands.

With a population of just over 17 million people, the Netherlands has developed a highly efficient and innovative agricultural sector that produces significant amounts of food. In fact, it stood as the fifth-largest food exporter in the world in 2017, with an agricultural sector that generates billions of dollars annually. The country’s impressive agricultural production is a testament to its ingenuity and commitment to sustainable practices.

This success is due in part to the country’s innovative and sustainable approach to agriculture. The United Nations recognizes the crucial role of sustainable agriculture in reducing poverty and promoting food security worldwide. The Netherlands illustrates this with a highly efficient and innovative agricultural sector contributing to an extreme poverty rate ($2.15 per person per day) of zero in 2020. Sustainable agriculture in the Netherlands holds valuable lessons that can help the world meet the food needs of more than 9.7 billion people by 2050.

4 Sustainable Agriculture Practices

  1. Precision Agriculture. One of the key ways in which the Netherlands has become a leader in sustainable agriculture is through its use of technology. Precision agriculture is a farming technique that uses technology to optimize agricultural production. This involves collecting data on various factors that affect crop growth, such as soil moisture, nutrient levels and pest populations and using that data to make decisions about how to manage crops. Precision agriculture can help farmers reduce waste and improve efficiency while minimizing environmental impact.
  2. Indoor Farming. Indoor farming involves growing crops in a controlled environment, such as a greenhouse or vertical farm. This can be done using hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants without soil, or aeroponics, which is a method of growing plants in mist. Indoor farming can significantly reduce the amount of land and water needed to grow crops, while also reducing the use of pesticides and other chemicals. According to the Washington Post, the Netherlands has close to 24,000 acres of crops, “almost twice the size of Manhattan,” growing in greenhouses. The greenhouses rely on lower amounts of fertilizer and water but “can grow on a single acre what would take 10 acres of traditional dirt farming to achieve.” Furthermore, “Dutch farms use only a half-gallon of water to grow about a pound of tomatoes while the global average is more than 28 gallons.”
  3. Implement Integrated Pest Management. The Netherlands is also a leader in implementing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies. IPM is a method of pest control that aims to reduce the use of pesticides by using natural pest control methods, such as biological controls and habitat manipulation. Biological controls involve using natural predators, such as ladybugs or parasitic wasps, to control pest populations. Habitat manipulation involves creating habitats for natural enemies of pests, such as birds or beneficial insects, to thrive. IPM can help reduce the environmental impact of farming while maintaining crop yields.
  4. Sustainable Animal Agriculture. The Netherlands has been a leader in promoting sustainable animal agriculture. The country is one of the largest exporters of meat and dairy products in the world but also stands at the forefront of efforts to reduce the environmental impact of livestock production. For example, many Dutch farmers use anaerobic digesters to convert animal waste into biogas, which can be used to generate renewable energy. The Netherlands is trying to cut down on resources to produce animal feed by using algae or insects as a protein source, which can reduce the environmental impact of livestock production.

Benefits and Challenges

According to the United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” SDG 2 “recognizes the interlinkages [between] supporting sustainable agriculture, empowering small farmers, promoting gender equality, ending rural poverty, ensuring healthy lifestyles, tackling climate change and other issues” in the 17 SDGs. In the Netherlands, sustainable agriculture proves to be economically viable, with many farmers reporting that sustainable practices have led to increased yields, reduced costs and improved soil health.

However, there are also challenges to implementing sustainable agriculture on a larger scale. For example, the high-tech approach to agriculture used in the Netherlands is not scalable to larger, less developed countries, where resources and infrastructure may be limited. Additionally, there may be cultural barriers to adopting new farming techniques or changing traditional farming practices.

Despite these challenges, the Netherlands has demonstrated that sustainable agriculture is not only possible but is also economically viable. By embracing technology, prioritizing soil health, implementing integrated pest management and promoting sustainable animal agriculture, the country has shown that it can produce high-quality food while minimizing environmental impact. These lessons can serve as a model for other countries looking to implement sustainable farming practices.

Looking Ahead

The Netherlands’ smart and sustainable agricultural practices have immense potential to strengthen global food security. In developing regions where poverty levels are high, food production can be increased by adapting and tailoring the Dutch agriculture practices as per the needs of the region.

– Sarmad Wali Khan
Photo: Flickr