Increasingly more companies in the agro-food sector are becoming convinced that our food system is in transition and are looking for their own action perspective here. The lectorate group Future Food Systems at HAS University of Applied Sciences is developing an effective approach to help entrepreneurs elaborate their action perspective in the subsidised innovation programme ‘Space for Agriculture and Food transition’. The approach from the barnyard is truly unique, where interests groups and business service providers play an important role.
‘Space for Agriculture and Food transition’ started 5 years ago with a project where cooperation partners HAS University of Applied Sciences, Rabobank, Flynth, ZLTO(Southern Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation), Waarde van het Land (Value of the Land) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality asked what the future of our food system looks like, and what this means for the entrepreneurs’ action perspective. “Meanwhile, the necessity of the food transition is acknowledged by many of them and they want to get to work on it”, states programme manager Coen van Ruiten of HAS University of Applied Sciences. He carried out the programme with lecturer PJ Beers and researcher Myrthe Maurice. “However, they often miss a breakthrough to actually be able to put their plans into action. We developed a working method within the project to make this happen.”
What will the food system look like in 2050?
He continues: “In order to get a perspective of the future of our food system we held various brainstorming sessions about what the world could look like in 2050. After putting down our ideas on paper, we reasoned back from 2050 to 2030 to the present day. This resulted in three realistic scenarios which show which direction the food system might move towards in the coming years: the All Inclusive Social Farm (social vision of the future with local chains placed at the centre), Deltastad NL (international view, high-tech, with global sourcing and export) and Personalised Food (a view based on the perspective of consumers and their needs).”
Scenarios and their influence on companies’ actions
“With the help of these scenarios we subsequently analysed the obstacles and opportunities in order to work towards an action perspective of companies and how organisations can support them through business service provision, supply, or public parties, for example. We then looked for practical cases to match these. We asked the entrepreneur the same question in every case: name two parties that you need to implement the desired switch. What do you dream of, who assists you and who hinders you?”
Shape the switch together
One nice example, according to Coen, is a farmer who wanted to work in a nature-inclusive way, but faced limitations in the area of water management. “He said that he needed the water board and a drinking water company to achieve his plans. We then connected the entrepreneur to these parties and got them talking to each other. This resulted in a breakthrough: the parties both got to work to make the farmer’s plans possible and recoup the investments in the farm within the system. They finally shaped the switch together.”
Everyone’s role in the bigger picture
Central in this approach is therefore the role of every party in the total picture. Coen: “Sustainability does not end at the farm's borders. Making the switch only succeeds when all involved parties think together and take their responsibility. The added value of HAS University of Applied Sciences is that we can connect parties and determine their direction together. In addition, we work with innovate forces within the established companies and organisations, not only the forerunners." The consortium has now been extended with partners such as NAJK (Dutch Agricultural Youth Contact), LTO-N (the Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Association), Nature and Environment Federation of North Holland. In addition, 4 graduate projects and additional research is currently being carried out, on the basis of this approach.
The subsidy for the current innovation programme ends in August 2021, but there are plans for a follow-up programme. “After the compilation of the future scenarios with the associated cases, the collaboration partners aim for the continued development, expansion and future implementation of the approach with a new subsidy application. Forming networks and partnerships is at the heart of this. In addition, it is important that the working method not only ensures breakthroughs and therefore creates an impact, but also that it gleans knowledge by making new research possible in the coming years”, says Coen.