By Aman Sharma
The Dutch are famous for a number of things; cycling, canals, their tolerance towards alternative lifestyles, tulips, and windmills, to name a few. What might come as a surprise to many though is that the Netherlands is also the second-largest exporter of agricultural produce in the world, only to be surpassed by the United States. Together with the USA and Spain, the Netherlands is one of the top three leading producers of fruit and vegetables in the world. These are extraordinary figures for a country one-tenth the size of California.
In 2015, exports from Dutch farming were worth a staggering 85 billion Euros – an all-time record. At a time when trade volumes continued to fall, the Russian boycott, the horsemeat scandal and the outbreak of bird flu didn’t make matters any easier. Yet, astonishingly, the Dutch agricultural sector continues to thrive, in a country where much of the land area has been reclaimed from the sea, and an average of 4 hours and 17 minutes of sunlight is all that can be hoped for per day. The Netherlands, First of the Name, the Lowlands of the House of Orange-Nassau, Ruler of the Fruits and the Vegetables, Commander of the Cheese and Dairy, Guardian of the Tulips, Caliph of the Beer, Pride of the Potatoes. How did it ever become so high and mighty?
Despite its small size and apparent lack of natural resources, the Dutch republic became so economically powerful in the 16th and 17th centuries that this period came to be known as the Dutch Golden Age. Their role in the establishment of the first ever stock market in Amsterdam taught the world the power of investment and trade in global commodities. The adoption of this very creation is what abetted the British Empire in becoming the largest colonial empire in the world. As a matter of fact, this is why the modern world predominantly speaks English today, and not Spanish.
At around the same time, an agricultural revolution was taking place in Europe, when agriculture shifted away from the rudimentary techniques of the past. New patterns of crop rotation and livestock utilization paved the way for better yields, a greater diversity of what could be sown, and the ability to support more livestock. The flat land and fertile soil, coupled with moderate climatic conditions, have proved to be fundamental to the success of the Dutch agricultural industry. Moreover, they have built upon this strong foundation, and have become rather proficient and skillful in the field of agri-technology.
All over the world, the production and supply of food is on the decline, while demand is on the rise. Basic economics tells us that this will cause the price of food to skyrocket. Soon there will be no food at any price. The world would do well to take notice of the prowess in the Netherlands, and take cue from their research and development in the agri-business.
Estimates suggest that we will need to feed a population of 9 billion by 2050, and if we continue at our current pace, 70% of this population is doomed to face food insecurity.
A nation whose capital city of Amsterdam is built on 11 million wooden poles, and with a flood defense project covering 16,500 km, the Dutch have been pioneers for the last five hundred years. No doubt they will have much to contribute to save the day tomorrow. Quite fittingly, a Chinese proverb states, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls while others build windmills.”
Aman Sharma has a degree in Economics from Netherlands, where he currently resides. He is now working as a Business Analyst in a tech firm.