Opening of the Dutch Agri Food Week

Speech by the Dutch Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam, at the opening of the Dutch Agri Food Week

Arnhem, 13 October 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

Back in 1998, in the city of Eindhoven, a number of people organised a small event. They brought together a handful of designers and a couple of entrepreneurs to talk about their ideas. The whole thing lasted just one day, but it ignited something and the next year more people joined.  

Over time this event transformed into the Dutch Design Week: nine days, 2,500 participants and 275,000 visitors. It’s become a key industry catalyst that has launched careers and boosted businesses. I have visited a few times myself and always return full of ideas.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the Dutch Agri Food Week has taken a similar approach. My congratulations to the organisers for creating a nation-wide programme with more than 100 events. These show the dynamism of the industry, from 3-D food printing and the bio-based economy, to food as medicine and aquaculture.

These and other agri food activities are significant. Together they generate more than 10 per cent of our GDP and more than 700,000 jobs. And they provide 17 million people with affordable, high-quality food and have turned us into the world’s second-largest agri-food exporters.

This position is the result of several ingredients. A highly efficient and knowledge-intensive agri-sector. A strong food processing industry. And food logistics that is among the world’s best. Dutch agri food is in good shape and we can be proud of that.

Having said that, we cannot rest on our laurels. Dutch dairy, pigs, vegetables and horticulture are facing tough competition. Other countries are threatening to beat us at our game, which means competing on price and volume is not sustainable in the long run.

Instead, we need to distinguish ourselves through the quality and sustainability of our products. And by exporting our agri-food knowledge and technology, so they can help feed the 9 billion people that will walk this planet in 2030. 

So to stay ahead, we need to innovate. And create an environment that is conducive to innovation. We’re doing well on both counts. We are home to giants like Friesland Campina, Unilever and Wageningen University and top-notch players in areas like greenhouses and seeds.

We are also pioneering new ways of thinking about food production, transport and waste. Solidus Solutions, for example, has developed a type of card board packaging that uses tomato fibres. And Utrecht University has launched a masters programme dedicated to bio-inspired research and innovation.

It’s exciting, cutting-edge stuff, but I wonder if it’s enough. Because when I look abroad, I see dynamism in other parts of the world. Novel ideas being generated and ideas being brought to market. And that is what we need. More initiative, more co-operation, and more ideas.

While every success story starts with a good idea, some ideas never come to fruition because of lack of funding or support. My government is trying to make sure this doesn’t happen.

In September, for example, we issued a tender for a Seed Capital Fund for agri-horti-food-tech start-ups. The tender invites the private sector to submit ideas for a 6 million euro investment fund, which the government will match with 6 million euros of its own. The winner will be announced in December.

We are also encouraging innovation across industries, which I believe is a fertile approach. The Dutch agri-food, horti and high-tech systems topsectors have worked on a promising joint High Tech to Feed the World roadmap. 8 million euros is available for cross-over projects in areas like precision farming, robotics, IT in the value chain and sensors. The expectation is that the private sector will double this.  

In addition, we have earmarked 500,000 euros for a number of agri-horti-food-tech accelerators. The country’s technical universities and the private sector will mentor promising start-ups and spin-outs  until they are attractive enough for investors. The first accelerator will begin mentoring five horticulture start-ups from early next year.                                        

Beyond start-ups, I am eager to encourage other stakeholders as well. The government will invest 5.7 million euro per year to educate children, something I personally feel strongly about. If we want to make our agri food system truly sustainable, we need to involve the generation that will inherit it.  

Now, innovation doesn’t only revolve around funding, it also requires organisation and concentration. By clustering businesses, education, research and start-ups, innovative ideas can be more effectively generated and brought to market.

Which is why I am pleased with the January 2018 launch of the Dutch Food Institute, which combines the resources of TNO, Wageningen Research and the agri-food top sector in Wageningen.

This instantly creates a global powerhouse that will conduct applied research in food products, efficient production processes, sustainable value chains and the industry’s capacity to innovate. I am confident that the Dutch Food Institute will catalyse innovation and boost our exports.

Also Unilever just announced the start of their Food Lab in Wageningen. This also means a significant boost for the campus.

For this reason, I am eager to work with Wageningen to see what else is needed to turn this cluster into a global hotspot for agri food innovation. More broadly speaking, I would like to extend an invitation to the entire Dutch agri food industry. The government wants to be a supportive partner that helps you create and capitalise on new opportunities. So feel free to contact me with your ideas, requests and suggestions and I will do my best to help.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Innovation can sound mysterious and complex, but in essence it’s simple. It starts with creative and enthusiastic people meeting and building on each other’s ideas. It’s how discoveries are made and opportunities are created to strenghten society.

The Dutch Agri Food Week can spark such changes. Many people will meet this week and discover their  ideas are worth exploring together. My hope is you will feel inspired and encouraged to realise your dreams. Thank you.