ifoam'96 ifoam'96
Book of Abstracts
11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
11-15 August 1996, Copenhagen, Denmark
EcoWeb Denmark

Organic World

The Netherlands:Organic Agriculture Past And Future O13

Goewie, Eric A.

Dutch certification organisation for organic production systems,Postbox 384,8000 AJ Zwolle, The Netherlands.

In contradiction to other European countries, organic farming in the Netherlands does not grow significantly. Even after the Dutch government has launched an aid-programme to stimulate conversion, the number of organic farmers hardly increased, nor did the number of consumers of organic products. That might be remarkable, since the environmental and natural awareness of the Dutch always caused innovations in industries and current agriculture. Prospects of significant improvement seems hardly to be present. What are the reasons? That question will be answered in this paper. The poor development of organic farming in The Netherlands is related with the following phenomena. Farmers invested capital borrowed from banks.Therefore they are tightly bound to bank's policies of which a quick return on investment is one of the criteria. However Dutch consumers are very much interested in organic products, they only want to buy organics when market prices are fair in comparison with current prices. Organic products should also be available in current supermarkets and have a recognizable hallmark. Only the latter has been realized in Holland. Retailers are affraid to discriminate their own products or hallmarks as »unhealthy or not so safe«, when exposing organic products at the same shelf. Dutch agriculture exports more than 70 % of their production. That makes growers less sensitive for local arguments related with environment, nature or human health. In order to be able to compete at foreign markets, Dutch government supports primarily a sustainable and commodity agriculture »by best technological means«. So, legislation favours industrialized, commodity oriented or farming segregated from nature, rather then farming based at farmers skills, farming systems or integrated with nature. Dutch agricultural research became very much dependent from money coming from stakeholders. That raises developments only where the money goes. And money will always be invested where quick returns on investments are expected. Therefore fine tuning of present technological production systems happens rather than complete conversions to other production systems. Dutch agricultural policy spent billions of guilders to develop productive farming systems in the country. That led to highly specialized, capital intensive production systems. Since conversion to organic farming is easier when farming is based at principles of mixed farming, conversion to organic farmic in The Netherlands at a large scale,has no embedding. Are there no opportunities by then? There are. European agricultural policy will become dependent from prices of agricultural products in general. At the moment, prices seem to rise. The higher prices the more current commodities come near prices of organic products. When cooperation between trade organisations becomes better because of getting better efficiencies, organic products might be included more easily. I believe that there are two chances for establishing a stronger positition of organic products in Dutch consumer markets. First: for a country as The Netherlands it must be possible to become competative not at the level of quantities, but at the level of quality in relation with low prices as well. Quality becomes more and more a discriminating factor at consumer markets. No chemicals, no damage to water, safety for labour, children and pregnant women and more animal welfare become aspects of certification of agricultural products in the future. The open society of The Netherlands, which stimulates critical approaches of agricultural production systems helps to integrate social demands and stakeholders needs step by step. Second: when markets become open, that is to say, not obeying associative economical structures any more, but obeying principles of free competion, then there is only one economical factor left: the consumer. Farming in general is strongly dependant from the demands of consumers. As The Netherlands export nearly all their commodities abroad, and foreign markets only accept certificated organic commodities, all farming in The Netherlands will convert to organic definitly. So, organic farming in The Netherlands is strongly dependant from consumers abroad.