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Can they help each other?

Agriculture, horticulture and healthcare faced with major challenges

"I do not agree with you at all," exclaims one of the attendees at the seminar in Amsterdam, which was organised in the last week of June. The woman is addressing Peter Maes of Koppert, also chairman of Eatthis. Peter, who asked for some concluding words about the afternoon, has just said that the transition of the food sector must ultimately start with the individual, the individual in the room. Something with which the discerning listener thus disagrees. "You are falling into the trap of the neoliberal system..."

"You are falling into the trap of the neoliberal system."

Whether the discussion on this continued at the subsequent dinner is unknown to yours truly. At any rate, this afternoon succeeded in provoking thought. Connecting people too, during the content sessions, viewing the Food for Thought exhibition at the Scheepvaartmuseum and undoubtedly also during dinner. Eatthis, Pakhuis de Zwijger, the City of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Green Campus of the University of Amsterdam organized the (mid)day.

The motley collection of people who turned up for the afternoon, including many people from the Amsterdam region but also some horticultural acquaintances, were first served a short introductory plenary talk by Atoesa Farokhi of the Amsterdam Green Campus of the University of Amsterdam on Wednesday. Peter Maes and Frank Bakkum also talk briefly about the importance of Wednesday's meetings. Frank: "I am happy that, unlike last Friday at the Day of Food Transition here in Amsterdam, I am actually seeing a lot of people I don't know."

Frank Bakkum and Atoesa Farokhi.

Open door
The focus on connecting people and sectors recurs several times during the afternoon. Mike Gitzels is quick to point it out during a session focused on action perspectives for food production. "Our door is open," he speaks invitingly. Indeed, the brand-new business owner (since 1 January, Mike has taken over from father William, who turned 60 on Wednesday) feels that the whole thing seems to be drifting apart at the moment in particular. Polarising is popular, but how far does that ultimately get you?

Ruud Zanders, progressive chicken farmer, enters the room slightly late (not because of a farmers' protest) but still on time. The man from Kipster talks about how he has made a big turnaround with his business and is still able to operate economically and profitably with more attention to animal welfare. Something he couldn't have imagined when his business went bankrupt.

Peter Groot Koerkamp of Wageningen University & Research is also on the panel. He reflects on the phenomenon of regenerative agriculture. Over the next seven years, a project aims to transition 1,000 Dutch farmers to this way of agricultural production.

Ruud Zanders, Peter Groot Koerkamp, Atoesa Farokhi and Mike Gitzels formed the panel for a session focused on agricultural production.

Consequences of green ideas
But can it work out economically, in today's society and food system is invariably then the question, also from the audience. Ruud has an idea about it. "It is possible to produce cheaper and cheaper again and again. If you look at money, you can, but there is always something or someone who is going to pay for it. If you include everything, you can't produce eggs cheaper and cheaper."

Mike also points out other practice points. "I think it's great that people are so concerned about our food now. That's good because then we can pull those people along and also make them realise that we still need people who want to do the agricultural work as well."

Changes take time, thinks the specialist in growing open-grown vegetable plants. Not all 'green ideas' always seem to be thought through very well by policymakers about the consequences for the further future. Reason enough for Mike to provide some food for thought for the policymakers present on Wednesday.

The afternoon took place at the Maritime Museum.

Certainty about sales
The chicken farmer in the room noted that agricultural producers should also be helped to make the transition. After all, those who are only busy producing every day can easily forget to also look beyond, let alone make a transition.

Mike acknowledges the picture. He finds that in greenhouse horticulture, it is precisely the large companies that are able to look beyond the short term. Growth in acreage, building up a mature organisation, but also, according to Mike, the certainty of sales, for example thanks to a good retail contract, gives room to think about a transition.

Ruud has that sales partner in Lidl. With Mike in the chain, he sees that of the 130 or so buyers of vegetable plants, about 15 are able to look further ahead thanks to such a sales contract. For smaller companies, whose owners are busy with (too) many tasks at once, looking ahead is more difficult. There were also few, if any, people in the room from those smaller agricultural production companies. For an afternoon of discussion in Amsterdam, perhaps they did not have time? Or do they not yet know how to find this kind of session focused on connection?

Evening session after dinner, with moderator at Pakhuis de Zwijger Sara de Boer, far left and Kadir van Lohuizen, Hanno Pijl and Atoesa Farokhi.

Not finger-pointing
When talking about the future of the food system, policy also comes into play. There is always criticism of policy, on Wednesday as well.When asked, Ruud acknowledges that starting up Kipster succeeded thanks to help from Lidl rather than government help. Had that help from the government been there, he could have made the transition faster, he now thinks.

With Mike and also Ruud, there are entrepreneurs in the room on Wednesday who are determined to take steps, and who will not let a little opposition stop them. Pointing fingers, no, they are not into that. But they are critical. Ruud: "Policy-makers do not always have enough knowledge. Surely it's crazy if the minister in the VAT discussion doesn't know what is a fruit and what is a vegetable?"

The agricultural sector in the Netherlands is under pressure. Not every business has a future. Is that a bad thing? Ruud wonders and questions the farmers' protests. Mike also feels that when the supply of agricultural producers decreases and there is more scarcity, people are more likely to seek connections. More competition? That's a good thing, thinks Ruud.

Stanley Brul, Patrick Deckers, Hanno Pijl and Lotte Vermeer, the panel of session 2 on healthcare.

Sectors under pressure
A second session is about healthcare. Patrick Deckers of Caring Doctors, Hanno Pijl of Leiden University Medical Centre, Stanley Brul of the College of Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam and Lotte Vermeer of Lots of Vega cast a scientific eye on the matter, but also managed to engage the audience with their warnings.

The speakers see a parallel between healthcare and agriculture and horticulture, and it is not a positive one. Both sectors are no longer sustainable without change, Peter says. The Dutch healthcare sector, like the agricultural sector, is under pressure. The 'giga pandemic of chronic diseases' has to be stopped, and food has a leading role in that.

For a long time, too little attention was paid to nutrition and lifestyle in healthcare, Hanno acknowledges. In recent years, this has changed and doctors in training are taught more about this in the basic curriculum. For instance, more attention is being paid to the relationship between food and disease.

Kadir van Lohuizen, known from the TV series and the exhibition Food for Thought. Kadir deliberately chooses not to pass judgement. He did reveal, however, that he was often bewildered and amazed during the making of the series.

Participants in conversation with Peter Groot Koerkamp next to moving images during the exhibition, here at Plant Nursery Gitzels. Thanks to the exhibition at the Scheepvaartmuseum, many school classes have already been introduced to the internationally operating sector, and many large companies have already come with delegations to take a look, Kadir said.

Plant-based hospital
When Ed Smit of Eatthis raises the question of why there is no 'plant-based hospital' yet, the discussion erupts again. Here more unanimity than during session 1. According to Hanno, it is still mainly economic cold feet that are holding back the arrival of such a hospital, although steps are being taken on a small scale, for instance in one of the hospital's wings where the restaurant has undergone a healthy transition.

The major challenges in both sectors make Peter Maes joke during his closing remarks that he has gone back to walking a little crookedly. The challenges for agriculture and horticulture are great, but for healthcare they are even greater, if possible. Peter therefore calls on the individual to take action, to initiate a transition. And the beauty of it is that those who disagree can always decide to do something else themselves, until the market or government start pushing in a certain direction, of course....

Some of the group joined for dinner.

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