Blog / 12 oktober 2022

Op-ed in Trouw: "Give more money to local sustainable food producers in developing countries"

The Dutch government and Dutch businesses spend a lot of money on food production in developing countries. But, according to Karin van Boxtel, policy officer at Both ENDS, far too little of that money finds its way to sustainable, nature-inclusive producers.

This is the English translation of Karin's op-ed in Dutch newspaper Trouw. The original can be found here.

With problems relating to food supply, drought and climate building up rapidly, World Food Day on 16 October seems more topical than ever. The international agrifood sector is awash with Dutch money, yet it offers no solution to these crises. And worst of all, everywhere there are local communities and organisations that possess a great deal of knowledge on how to tackle these problems but often lack the resources to do so.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of our money reaches these actors, while we have learned from the nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands that sustainable farmers like Caring Farmers – number one in this year's Sustainable Top 100 compiled by Dutch newspaper Trouw – must be included in the dialogue on how to set up the food system. And that applies not only to Dutch sustainable farmers: in the debate on food and agriculture in the Netherlands, hardly any attention is given to global pioneers in sustainable land use, or to their tried and tested ideas. And that is a missed opportunity.

Farmers in Niger, for example, know how to triple their food production in arid areas by using centuries-old methods. By passing that knowledge on to others, millions of hectares of dryland have been made fit for cultivation. Good examples like this can be found all around the world.

The Netherlands can have an impact by supporting these 'food leaders'. We are the world's seventh largest investor in land beyond our borders. Rabobank, for example, has 65 billion euros in ongoing loans in the worldwide agrifood sector. And the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs rightly wants to spend 400 million euros in the coming year on strengthening food security in developing countries. Money and opportunities aplenty, you might think.

Women and young people

To achieve real change, that money needs to go to the local farmers, women and young people who produce the food and who are leaders in sustainable food production. But that is not happening. Unfortunately Dutch public and private financiers are still putting their money in completely the wrong places.

Much of the Netherlands' funding for sustainable development and climate is currently being spent through large institutions like the World Bank, the Dutch development bank FMO and the UN's Green Climate Fund. In recent years, more than a third of Dutch agriculture-related development assistance has been spent through such institutions on large-scale projects. In the past decade, only 9% of that money has been spent on nature-inclusive, community-led sustainable food production. And finance by private banks generally doesn't find its way to the food leaders at all.

The Netherlands can change that. The climate conference in Egypt at the start of November and the budget debates in Dutch parliament this autumn are perfect opportunities to redirect the flow of money. It would be a step in the right direction if the Netherlands were to spend a large proportion of its development and climate funding on regional funds, which distribute money from large funds and donors in the form of small donations to local organisations and groups that offer sustainable solutions.

In this way, our government can set an example for private banks. They, too, should transform their financing to focus more on long-term investments and returns. And returns should be seen not only as financial but also in terms of the benefits for climate, environment and welfare.

By making such a change of course, the Netherlands can considerably support worldwide leaders in the food and agriculture transition. It is crucial that they become the main focus of how money is spent. That will make a significant contribution to achieving real solutions to the food and climate crisis.

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