Sharing Dutch agricultural experience

Sharing Dutch agricultural experience
February 23 16:02 2022
By Dr Margret Verwijk

Before arriving in Zimbabwe for this posting, I had visited a few times, and I am so excited to be back in a country with so much to offer – a warm, resilient and educated people, huge opportunities for development and social progress, and scope for business growth, hopefully in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.

I think the word that sums up this country is ‘Potential’.

I am confident too that the Netherlands is an ideal partner to help unlock this potential. For although we are continents apart, we have common goals, and ideals, and even share some of the same challenges.

Let’s see why.

For one thing, both the Dutch and Zimbabwean people share a love for agriculture. I have seen in Zimbabwe how many people are growing food. This is happening not only on any patch of land available in the cities, but most city residents also have rural linkages and are involved in some way in food production kumusha.

It’s not quite the same in The Netherlands of course. For one thing, we have a lot less land, being just 10% of the size of Zimbabwe, and home to a slight larger population of 17 million people.

Perhaps it is because space is so tight, and the weather not as sunny as in Zimbabwe that pushed us to pursue intensive and high-tech solutions that have enabled the Netherlands to become the world’s second biggest exporter of fresh produce.

The Dutch export of agricultural goods was estimated at US$110 billion in 2020, not far off the US$25 billion exported by United States which has 237 times more land.

Some of our key exports include horticultural produce especially fresh fruit and vegetables, but we are the undisputed world leaders in flowers, plants, bulbs and plant reproductive material.

This has been enabled because of excellent agricultural research and development including at various universities now world famous for driving innovation and entrepreneurship in the food sector.

I think it’s important to know that our high exports are based on value, and not on volume. We generate this value by producing high value crops of excellent quality, and through advanced and extremely efficient supply chains and trade networks that stretch across the globe.

I think the key word is efficiency. It underpins the whole system and our farming methods, which are known to represent the best of what is called ‘precision agriculture’.

It is this concept that has enabled us to do so much with such limited space. So much of our produce is grown under tightly controlled greenhouse conditions. These are notable for a range of technologies including GPS, sensor technologies, ICT and robotics. All these allow our growers to tailor conditions to meet the needs of each plant variety at each stage of its life cycle.

In the greenhouse, farmers can control the levels of different nutrients, the composition and temperature of the air, and the levels of different kinds of lighting.

In the long run, knowing exactly the parameters for rapid growth, and using a controlled environment means greatly increased productivity, whilst using fewer chemicals including pesticides, and up to 90% less water than conventional methods.

Precision farming allows for us to do more with less, by cutting out wastage especially of land, water, fertilizer, and labour. Fewer inputs make farming more economically and environmentally sustainable – both critical considerations as humanity faces crises especially food insecurity and climate change.

In line with a key policy principle of my government – that is ‘solving global challenges together’ – the Netherlands is sharing our expertise in agriculture worldwide. This includes in Zimbabwe where it forms the backbone of our private sector development initiatives.

Let me share some recent and ongoing projects with you. As you will see these emphasise technical support and knowledge sharing

PUM

PUM is a voluntary senior export organization funded by the Netherlands Government which sponsors the more than 5.000 experts from many different sectors to support business development especially in emerging economies.

In 2016, PUM and ZimTrade signed an MoU aimed at enhancing productivity and export competitiveness through in-house training and consultancy. Since then, more than 130 missions to Zimbabwe have been completed.

Visiting experts have worked with businesses and BMOs in horticulture, food processing, leather, engineering, furniture, dairy, and clothing and textiles. PUM consultants are requested by the local organization, and tasked with solving a specific problem to take the company forward.

To be eligible, an organization must have conducted at least 2 years of formal business and have 5 employees or more. In terms of cost, the experts are volunteers, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs pays the cost of air tickets, so it is up to the farmer or factory owner to pay just the costs of accommodation, meals and to provide transport in-country. The average visit is about 2 weeks.

The programme has been very well received in Zimbabwe. The final reports and recommendations by the visiting experts most often enable companies to up their game and become more competitive including on the international market.

A great example of this is the recent success of the Rusitu Valley pineapple farmers who were among the first, if not the first Zimbabwean producers to get European organic certification. Organic produce fetches 30% more value, especially among high-end shoppers looking to make healthier and more sustainable choices.  PUM played an instrumental role in giving technical advice on methods and soil quality, as well as market access.

PUM are also working with three farms in Zimbabwe under the Model Farms project that will become hubs for expertise and best practice to collectives of out growers. These are targeting export crops that Zimbabwe is well known for – especially peas and blueberries which are well-loved by shoppers in the Netherlands and across Europe.

Green Impact Centre

The Green Impact Centre is a collaboration between four Dutch horticultural companies and Chibero College in Norton. The centre offers farmers classroom and field-based training on the latest technologies and growing methods suitable for Zimbabwe’s excellent climate. It serves two purposes – allowing farmers to up their game and improve output, which is already happening even though they only really got going late in 2019. The other benefit is for the companies – they use the space to demonstrate and promote their agritech innovations and products with a view to establishing a market in Zimbabwe. The centre represents an investment of USD $1.2 million project including a 50% subsidy from Dutch Government. They are also working with local partners including SPAR, Fresh trade, ZimTrade, Sustainable Agricultural Trust, GOAL and Chinhoyi University.

Food for Export Masterclass

FEM is a joint initiative between my Embassy, Zimbabwe Agricultural Development Trust (ZADT), ZimTrade, PUM and Hivos. It is a masterclass for women entrepreneurs in the food processing sector. The end goal is to take their businesses into export markets. Our inaugural class of 2020 included women working in dairy, honey, mushrooms, sauces, health additives known as super-foods and more. The training covered various market access processes such as research, packaging, market access among others. Participants were also given on-site technical advice specific to their products with consultants including from PUM.

It started in February 2020, and ends next week after some COVID-delays when our first group graduates. We are hearing that already some of them are starting or increasing their exporting activities which is really very exciting. I hope you will help us identify the next group of women entrepreneurs.

Support for Horticulture Development Council

The Dutch government through the embassy is also supporting the set-up of the Horticulture Development Council in partnership with FAO and UK-based Palladium. HDC will become a national coordinating body representing associations in the horticultural export industry at various fora and levels of the economy and government. Emphasis will be placed on increasing the capacity of smallholder farmers working alongside commercial farmers.

Dairy Sector Support

The Netherlands is also a giant when it comes to dairy farming. Kanters BV is a well-known Dutch dairy equipment company. In 2020, Kanters provided US$250.000 worth of equipment to small scale farmers and dairies. The equipment enabled quick and hygienic milk production and treatment. It included two sets of milking machines, pasteurizing machines, cooling tanks and solar boiling systems. The equipment is the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.

I hope these projects have made clear the enthusiasm for cooperation in agriculture that the Netherlands has in Zimbabwe.

A key role of my mission here is to strengthen trade ties between our countries. Currently, Zimbabwe enjoys a trade surplus with the Netherlands. Dutch buyers absorb up to 80% of Zimbabwe’s fresh produce in some years. This is facilitated by Dutch carrier KLM Cargo which has three flights a week from Harare to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport – the gateway to Europe for Zimbabwe’s fresh cut flowers, peas, berries and more.

The opportunity to grow these figures is immense. The Netherlands as a global trade hub, is ready to trade much more with Zimbabwe. Our relations with Zimbabwe extend back to the 1960s, and with the right policies and partnerships, can reach new heights in the future.

H.E. Dr Margret Verwijk, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Zimbabwe presented these remarks during the Diplomat Business Networking Club breakfast meeting held at Golden Conifer Functions venue on 5 November, 2021.

The Diplomat Business Networking Club was established by the Diplomacy Appreciation Trust in December 2020. It is a high-profile social and business networking organization that connects diplomats, senior business executives, policymakers, government officials, civil society, media, and other key stakeholders in a diverse and multicultural atmosphere of positive dialogue, goodwill, and opportunity. The Club is a unique platform for decision-makers and influential members of society to share knowledge and experiences, discover opportunities, and cement collaborations. [email protected]

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