Who is to blame for the Dutch agricultural impasse?

An opinion piece – by David Benjamin de Winter

One of the most heated and prevalent discussions in Dutch society right now, and most certainly in the hallways of Wageningen University, is the debate about the reculturisation of our agricultural landscape. The discussion is in full swing at this moment, as many people are afraid of losing their livelihoods – especially farmers -, and/or the livelihoods of future generations – especially climate activists. As of now, the discussions and fights about the ways in which we farm in the Netherlands are put under a lot of pressure, due to the Nitrogen policies that are flowing from multilateral agreements about emissions and the protection of natural areas stemming from our relationships with the world community, and more prevalently, the European Union. In this article we hope to communicate that maybe the discussion about who’s to blame needs to move even more away from farmers and activists, towards ourselves here at Wageningen Campus

I personally do not have all the numbers with regards to these matters – as I am not yet a professor in this area -, but I do know that farmers are being asked to stop farming the way they would naturally think wise, and that they are outraged by this fact. This is very understandable, since it isn’t the first time that Dutch farmers are being asked to completely innovate their entrepreneurship/farmership in reaction to changing political policies over the last thirty years. However, I also know that many dutch farmers have responded to public demand in ways that have not always corresponded with the best science available. The climate crisis – and its assurance of crises in the future – has been well into scientific and political view for decades, as there have been many scientific warnings about the limits to ‘our’ growth and the potential collapse of worldwide ecosystems within an overperforming capitalistic framework (ask the people at Leeuwenborch). Generally farmers and policy makers have not yet changed their business accordingly. 

I am inclined to think neither the farmers, nor the climate activists should stop what they are doing.

Now that the whole debate has become increasingly urgent due to Nitrogen cycle regulations, and with discussions growing more violent, we all raise the question: who needs to stop doing what they are doing? I am inclined to think neither the farmers, nor the climate activists should stop what they are doing. They both hold truth in their ambitions. Farmers are trying their best in the face of many adversities, installed by an overflowing world demand for decades now. And activists are being transported to jail for telling people to take regards of scientific reasoning. So, yeah, obviously not them. But if you follow these lines of reasoning, automatically the question is rephrased to: who else is involved? And maybe to blame?

The following might sound radical, but I actually think there are different stakeholders in the national debate that are rightfully left to blame. One: the scientific apparatus itself, and how we have let our findings to be translated into public policy. And two: the food industry and its ‘scientific’ engineers. The main problem in the specific case of the WUR – the primary scientific source behind all of the changes in the Dutch agricultural sector for the past 100 years – now is that these two – science and industry are in fact the same thing on campus. We can continue discussing discussion on this relationship, and we have in the recent past- however it can’t be denied that middlemen and scientific researchers in the agricultural industrial sector and scientists at WUR campus are often the same people, working for the same interests, with the same conventions and contracts (and now their offices next to strictly university employed scientists on campus). This leads me to really wanting to inquire into their responsibility, faults, and blamable actions over the past decades. As to start moving the discussion – nationwide – from the roles of farmers and protesters, towards the scientifically supported middle people and their go-betweens. Who, as any farmer will tell you, profit from the great margins between locally produced products and supermarkets worldwide. 

There are different stakeholders in the national debate that are rightfully left to blame. One is the scientific apparatus itself

My preliminary hypothesis would be that the extra money of the scientific industry complex is now needed so that farmers can re-envision and rework their production processes with minimal own expenditures (they are right, we can’t ask them again, to carry the financial burden). In addition, these middle people really need to be split into two separate groups again. One group of strictly scientific university employees, and a second group of people from the food industry. This is necessary to make sure our science won’t be corrupted by big administrative business and because politicians will want to start making integral/democratic long-term plans for Dutch agricultural reform from a solid scientific basis 


Towards our common sustainable future…. Of course…

So yes, I think no more debate about the integrity of farmers and protesters is necessary, while more debate about the integrity of systems and people operating within the science/industry nexus on Wageningen campus is definitely necessary. Otherwise, WE – the people – will continue to not be able to find the right informational sources to base our consumerist deliberations and democratically set-up policies on. I therefore think it is urgent time now for critical journalists on campus to show who is really to blame for the impasse in our scientific discourse and the hard-ball developments in our societal debate.

And.. take my esteemed advise to:

Follow the Money!

David Benjamin de Winter is a MSc student at WUR and one of the founders of the Jester magazine. He is investigating money exchanges on campus.