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

Sustainable Development Goal 2
In 2015, the United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for creating global change in key areas by 2030, especially in lower and middle-income countries. The second of these goals, Zero Hunger, aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” According to Action Against Hunger, in 2021, hunger affects almost 10% of the global population. Furthermore, just between 2019 and 2020, the number of people suffering from undernourishment globally rose by 161 million. To prevent the dire consequences of not reaching Sustainable Development Goal 2, the U.N. has suggested several steps for individuals to take to support this goal.

5 Ways to Achieve Zero Hunger

  1. Shop Local and In-Season. Eating locally-grown foods helps to support smaller-scale farmers in one’s community. Buying in-season foods also helps sustain local, native crops and plants. Preserving native crops helps increase genetic diversity as it increases the number of plant species in a given area. Maintaining genetic diversity in food production across the globe is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 2 as this allows the plants with favorable traits — those that are resistant to pests or are able to provide higher yields — to proliferate.
  2. Reduce Food Waste. Food waste is one of the greatest barriers to eradicating hunger as food that could serve food insecure populations instead ends up in landfills. According to Feeding America, U.S. citizens waste “108 billion pounds of food” annually, equivalent to 130 billion discarded meals. However, food waste is not an issue unique to high-income countries: the U.N. Environment Programme’s “Food Waste Index Report 2021” has found that lower-middle-income nations annually discard 201 pounds of food per capita at the household level. In comparison, for high-income nations, this amount is 174 pounds per capita per year. To reduce food waste, people can freeze extra produce and save leftovers from meals. They can also buy “ugly” produce from the grocery store, which often ends up going to waste because it is less aesthetically desirable. However, the slightly misshapen produce found in grocery stores is still perfectly good to eat. In addition, staying informed on anti-food waste initiatives in low- and middle-income countries helps to develop global awareness and better understand the progress that these countries are making toward achieving Zero Hunger.
  3. Reduce Meat Consumption. The U.S. imported $216 million worth of beef from Brazil in the first nine months of 2021. Approximately 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is due to cattle ranching. Deforestation can have negative impacts on food production thousands of miles away. For example, deforestation of the Amazon at 40% would significantly decrease rainfall in the Rio de la Plata agricultural basin more than 2,000 miles away. Such droughts lead to decreased crop production, negatively impacting local farmers. To help mitigate the impact of the meat industry on deforestation, the U.N. has suggested that individuals consider vegetarianism for just a day per week. Just one day of vegetarianism could preserve “3 million acres of land.” Even though those who live in North America may be physically far away from local farmers in the Amazon, individual eating habits still impact these farmers.
  4. Support Organizations Focusing on SDG 2. Two organizations working to improve food security worldwide include the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the World Food Program (WFP). GAIN focuses on providing aid to women, children and adolescents. One of its programs is Better Diets for Children, which provides support to small-scale food manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to make nutritious, safe food more affordable and accessible. The program spans eight countries and aims to help more than 120 million people. The WFP provides food assistance to victims of extreme events, such as those facing natural disasters and conflict. The organization operates in more than 80 countries and provides more than 15 billion life-saving meals each year. One of the WFP’s programs is the food assistance program, which provides “cash-based assistance” so that families can afford nutritious food.
  5. Stay Informed and Spread the Word. Staying updated on global hunger reduction initiatives is important for tracking progress made toward Sustainable Development Goal 2. The U.N. SDG website and social media stand as great resources in this regard. It is also important to educate others about Sustainable Development Goal 2 by sharing ways that others can help and the organizations that people can support in achieving this goal. Social media serves as an essential tool for raising awareness of global issues.

Looking Ahead

Minimizing hunger is an important step in the sustainable development of low- and middle-income countries. By taking action to support Sustainable Development Goal 2, each person can help improve food security and small-scale agriculture worldwide.

– Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

Smart Farms Fiji
27-year-old Rinesh Sharma is the man behind the Smart Farms Fiji initiative, which aims to combat food scarcity and malnutrition across Fiji. The idea came from his family’s experiences that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their diet growing up contained few vegetables and fruits because his parents could not regularly afford them.

This is a shared experience across much of Fiji. High food prices have led to high rates of food scarcity and malnutrition. Access to nutritious food supplies has only worsened since the pandemic, as people have lost their jobs and are left with little money to purchase expensive fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, COVID-19 halted or seriously limited food transportation. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to ensure everyone across Fiji has access to nutritious vegetables and fruits. It also wants the population to have a consistent supply of food to put on the table.

Hydroponic Farming

To begin with, Sharma conceptualized a large-scale hydroponic farming system. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants without soil, growing them directly in nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic farming helps plants absorb nutrients at a faster rate, which means quicker, easier and more reliable harvests. This allows more people easy and quick access to more crops and reduces food scarcity and malnutrition. Sharma was granted $20,000 in financial assistance from the government, which allowed him to invest and incorporate hydroponic systems into larger commercial farms across Fiji.

Since the pandemic, the main focus has been on a more localized and accessible supply of food and farming resources. Within the initiative, Sharma has created an at-home hydroponic kit. The kit contains 15 seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, kale, mint, basil and others. It also includes a water tank, net cups, soil nutrient solutions and a step-by-step guide. These kits have been sold and donated across Fiji and provide a local, continuous, reliable and easy source of nutritious food for many families who are struggling to put food on the table.

Reducing Hunger

Energy poverty is common on islands in the Pacific because many people live in remote areas without access to electricity. The Smart Farms Fiji initiative ensures that being remote does not hinder access to food. The at-home hydroponic kits are electricity-free to ensure all inhabitants have access to adequate and nutritious food supplies.

Furthermore, U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is the main objective of Smart Farms Fiji and the reason Rinesh Sharma began the initiative. So far the initiative is having success, as it has helped Fijian families access steady and reliable supplies of healthy food that is full of the nutrition they need to continue to prosper. After only a month since the conception of the at-home hydroponic kits, the initiative deployed 15 kits and conducted 15 educational classes for households. It is well on its way to ensuring local food security.

Influence on Poverty and Education

One of the key points of concern when conceptualizing the initiative was the pesticides used in typical farming practices. Sharma saw how much traditional farming harmed coastal towns that rely on local fishing to earn their wages. The pesticide runoffs harm marine life that coastal workers needed to survive. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to promote pesticide-free farming that will help these coastal communities out of poverty and give them thriving business opportunities.

Sharma has also continued to expand his initiative through education. He has held classes with local communities that have at-home hydroponic kits, educating them about more sustainable subsistence farming and how to get the best out of their crops. Additionally, he has regularly attended schools and colleges where he has discussed with students everything from leadership, entrepreneurship and how students can contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. He wants to inspire and mobilize the next generation to use their education to change the world by combatting poverty, food scarcity and malnutrition.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr