News / 3 May 2021

Opinion: ‘The Netherlands, use your influence to protect forests worldwide’

Recently, Dutch media covered the publication of a new report, issued by WWF, stating the big role the Netherlands still has in global deforestation, mainly due to our soy and palm oil imports. To counter this alarming message, Paul Wolvekamp and Tamara Mohr wrote an op-ed about the possibilities the Netherlands has to change the tide, which was published in Dutch on the website Below, you find the English translation.

Opinion: 'The Netherlands, use your influence to protect forests worldwide'

A recent report by the WWF showed that the Netherlands still plays a significant role in global deforestation. We are one of the largest importers of soy in Europe, and the largest of palm oil. That's the bad news. The good news is that, as a large-scale importer of these products, the Netherlands is in a good position to contribute to a solution. We have a number of suggestions for how the Netherlands can turn the tide.

Firstly, the Netherlands can stop cooperating on the construction of infrastructure that facilitates the transport of products linked to deforestation. Our embassies are very keen to sing the praises of Dutch companies with the knowledge to help out with these projects, so that they are awarded contracts to implement them. This happened, for example, with the plans for the Brazilian soy corridor, a mega infrastructure project to carry soy quickly from the hinterland to the seaports, from where it can be exported to the Netherlands, other European nations and elsewhere.

Instead of supporting these projects, the Netherlands could promote our knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food systems – Wageningen University has a good international reputation in this area – so that, rather than feeding our cows, chickens and pigs, the exporting countries can provide their own population with healthy, sustainable and locally grown food.

Secondly, it is time for binding legislation and environmental and human rights standards that production chains have to comply with. The production of soy, palm oil and other products not only destroys ecosystems but also drives local farmers and indigenous people from their lands.

Until now, the Netherlands has preferred to rely on voluntary covenants with the private sector and refer to the EU for binding rules. These covenants have, however, so far led to little or no improvement.

The European Commission is currently working on new legislation to combat 'imported deforestation' – deforestation caused by products that we import – worldwide. As a large-scale importer, the Netherlands is well placed to play a leading role in Europe in this respect rather than adopting a 'wait-and-see' attitude. By approving the proposed legislation on chain responsibility now under consideration by parliament, the Netherlands can set a good example and make a credible case for genuinely robust legislation in Europe.

Finally, this report by the WWF is the latest in a series of wake-up calls that something needs to change urgently within the agrarian sector in the Netherlands. The livestock population needs to be reduced, with better prices and prospects for farmers, so that we can address our international footprint, farmers' incomes and the domestic nitrogen problem at the same time. Food production needs to be more sustainable and the efforts of outgoing agriculture minister Carola Schouten to promote circular and nature-inclusive agriculture now finally deserve broad support. The counter-argument that we in the Netherlands feed the world with our efficient food production is a fallacy because, at the same time, the word is feeding the Dutch livestock population.

Let us ensure that the world can feed itself in a way that protects our planet, the climate and the living environment of billions of people. We need not be afraid of falling out of line internationally. With these concrete actions, a new government can show the world that the Netherlands is genuinely an innovative international actor in the agrarian sector and is seriously pursuing compliance with the international climate agreements.

Tamara Mohr and Paul Wolvekamp are policy officers at environmental and human rights organisation Both ENDS

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