28 November 2019

The Dutch agricultural crisis: A call to action from farmers, scientists and civil society

Photo: Kristel Runhaar

A biodiversity crisis, phosphate crisis, soil crisis, peat meadow crisis and now the nitrogen crisis. What next? To avoid this continuing, the government must take serious steps towards an agricultural system that does not overload our ecosystem, with a big changes in the way we do agriculture the only way for problems to be solved in a sustainable way. That is the main message of an open letter to Prime Minister Rutte and Minister Schouten, sent today by a group of top experts including Utrecht University’s Prof. Hens Runhaar.

"Many, farmers included, feel duped by the Nitrogen Emergency Act, and recognize that completely changing the agricultural system is necessary to future-proof agriculture and save biodiversity," write Prof. Hens Runhaar (Professor, Copernicus Insitute of Sustainable Development), along with Fred Wouters (Director, Bird Protection Netherlands), Alex Datema, (Chairman, Boerennatuur) and two other leading scientists Kees Bastmeijer (UvT), and Jan Willem Erisman (Director, Louis Bolk Institute) on the eve of parliamentary debate on the Nitrogen Emergency Act. They say that the act “will cause deterioration in the protection of nature areas."

Broken intensive agricultural system

The many crises hitting Dutch agriculture have their origin in intensive agriculture. "Short-term solutions are mainly in the form of small incremental shifts from the norm and are within existing frameworks," say the five signatories. The result is a dramatic decline in insect populations and farmland birds, and uncertainty for farmers. But it can be done differently, they say.

They argue that dairy and arable farmers, banks, feed and dairy companies, supermarkets and investors must no longer focus on profit maximization. Instead they must focus on quality and sustainability, which is only possible with government intervention through measures such as tax-favorable conditions for nature-inclusive farmers. With this the five signatories call on the prime minister and Minister Schouten to take steps towards nature-inclusive agriculture. 

Download the letter to Prime Minister Rutte and Minister Schouten