Why is Dutch Agriculture Critically Dependent Upon Technology?

September 11, 2023
David Sunnyside

The Netherlands is the world's largest exporter of cut flowers and vegetables. But it is also Europe's biggest livestock producer and a major contributor to climate change.

After World War II, Dutch agriculture was transformed with a new paradigm known as 'nooit meer honger' (never again hunger). New policies encouraged efficiency, optimisation and food abundance through faster industrialisation, mechanisation, farmer specialisation and larger farms. It worked, and the country grew to be the powerhouse it is today.

But now the Netherlands has a new problem. It is Europe's top nitrogen polluter — its meat and dairy production emits 12 percent of the continent's total. And despite the fact that livestock is not very efficient at converting nitrogen to protein, farmers cannot switch to less-polluting feed.

As a result, the number of cows, pigs and chickens is growing. And so are the greenhouse gases emitted by them, as well as carbon dioxide, which is the main cause of global warming.

Meino Smit, a sustainable farming expert, says that reducing the number of livestock is one way to reduce resource use and environmental pressure. But it is unlikely to be a sustainable solution without also promoting a change in diets. He tells Mongabay that he and fellow experts are investigating 'food forests' and other agroforestry systems – mainly trees that can provide multiple streams of income, such as hazelnut, walnut, cider apple and timber – as another option. This approach, known as silvopasture, can help reduce animal emissions and climate change impacts.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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