The last foodFIRST session in 2020 took place on December 17. This session followed-up our geopolitical series, however this time it had a different format; together with FreedomLab and in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foodFIRST organized a virtual round table on the Netherlands, the EU and the World Order in 2030: the Dutch food security strategy. This particular round table brought together Dutch agri-food actors to provide input for a future Dutch food security strategy that fits within a changing geopolitical landscape. In a globalized world, food is one of the most important and most direct links between countries and therefore also a source of tension. With food security being under pressure due to global challenges (such as the nexus of climate change, instability, protectionism and pandemics due to zoonosis such as the corona crisis), the Netherlands is looking towards developing a strategy that contributes to the solution of the world food problem using an integrated approach.
In preparation of the round table, FreedomLab developed a two-pager in which they provided four suggestions for a Dutch integrated food security strategy. These four points included: 1) a ministry-transcending food security strategy; 2) enabling a policy environment in which the Netherlands can become a leader in the transition to integrated food security; 3) a stronger focus on climate adaptation and sustainable agriculture, because that makes all countries, including the Netherlands, less vulnerable in a changing world order; and 4) in a geopoliticised world, the Netherlands must concentrate more on bilateral and strategic food partnerships.
Based on the thinking of FreedomLab commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two-pager formed the basis on which the discussion took place and was the first attempt at defining an integrated food security strategy. During this round table, we were mainly looking for exciting ideas and blind spots in the current Dutch food policy. With the input of the stakeholders, they not only had the opportunity to provide the building blocks for a Dutch food security strategy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but it also feeds into the Dutch contribution to the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021.
The round table opened with a short introduction from Paul van de Logt, Head Food and Nutrition Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He could set the scene and explain the process of developing the said food security strategy. Julia Rijssenbeek of FreedomLab then briefly set out the two-pager immediately after which we opened the floor for input.
One of the main points of the discussion was about the trade-offs that the Netherlands should consider when deciding upon an approach; most commonly mentioned was sustainability versus yield increase. Increasing global food production can hardly be achieved without an environmental trade-off and there is the affordability dilemma. That is, it is important for farmers to sell their produce at a good price point, while consumers want or need affordable food. To attain the SDGs, we need a structural lowering of prices for certain foods and an increase for farmers’ incomes. The Netherlands must define its own position within these trade-offs. Are we prepared to make difficult decisions for a new strategic positioning? A comment was made that the Netherlands must be aware of the fact that we are at a crossroads and can contribute by taking a leading position and really pushing for change and transition. The Netherlands must set up a global lobby and forge coalitions where necessary. Others agreed that if the Netherlands wants to take the lead in certain areas, it must be prepared to make hard decisions in those areas in order to make a statement. And on which points should the Netherlands make concessions? All of these considerations will be important in the run-up to the UN Food System Summit in 2021.
Another important point that was raised was that we should focus on the ‘how’ questions: the participants largely agreed that the four spearheads identified by FreedomLab are all of immense importance to include in a food security policy but what is more difficult to answer is exactly how you approach it, what the priorities are, what strategic partnerships are required and what geo-political meanings lie behind it. Whether the Netherlands and the EU should make more use of geopolitics in policy - especially in the areas of agricultural knowledge, climate adoption and sustainability - was up for debate. Most recognize the necessity and value of geopolitical thinking while others are especially cautious about global security. The geopolitical aspect of food security is an important question to keep in mind when drawing up a Dutch food security strategy. In addition, in a new world order, it is important to ask where the strategic dependencies of the EU and the Netherlands lie and where the dependencies lie for great powers, such as China or the US; then the Netherlands can focus more strategically on those supply chains. These questions also play a role in the light of climate change and our vision of international cooperation must be in line with them.
It was consensed on that, firstly, in addition to cross-ministerial, we must connect our partnerships and coalitions more substantively. What can the Netherlands do together with the EU, and with African and Asian institutions in which the Netherlands positions itself as a knowledge country? The Netherlands can place dilemmas on the agenda of international forums and provide substantive knowledge there and link our substantive ambitions and expertise to international issues. The Netherlands should also think more European; it could play a greater role in Europe in terms of European common agricultural policy, rapprochement with Africa, geopolitics and trade. This also means that the Netherlands must choose with which European countries it wishes to enter into strategic partnerships. Moreover, the Netherlands should position itself more strongly internationally - as a country that is a global pioneer in the field of sustainable and integrated food security. Our strong suits include the agri-food cluster, food, agriculture, water and climate. The Netherlands can make an important contribution on the world stage by bringing in expertise, innovative strength, activity, knowledge institutions, etc. Secondly, the Netherland has the opportunity to bring out its strengths and must therefore expand this pioneering position by fully committing to a transition to sustainability, climate adaptation and innovation and positioning itself as a frontrunner in this field.
During the table discussion, various aspects were included that could have an important place in a Dutch food security strategy. Other important aspects that were mentioned include the relationship between food and finance, true pricing and youth involvement. FreedomLab’s frame in its two pager is a good starting proposition, from which we can reflect on the position of the Netherlands in this new world order. However, this proposition needs to be explored more deeply. For example, how we strengthen the agri-food sector, make water and food security more inclusive, work on sustainability and position ourselves within Europe and globally. We plan to organize a follow-up session so that we can bring this to the fore by narrowing the question.