A computer generated image by Wageningen University & Research of what a future farm could look like. Image by Lennart Fuchs.

For Dutch farming disaster, agroforestry affords options: Q&A with Lennart Fuchs & Mark Buiter

  • The Dutch authorities goals to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030 by downsizing and shutting farms, sparking a wave of farmer protests and a shocking win for a brand new agrarian political occasion.
  • Agricultural and environmental specialists are calling for the necessity to introduce meals system options that each tackle farmer livelihoods whereas tackling the local weather and environmental crises.
  • Agroforestry, agroecology and silvopasture local weather change and conservation options that may be worthwhile are among the many options they are saying can contribute positively to the countrys nitrogen targets.
  • Mongabay spoke with two Dutch agricultural specialists Lennart Fuchs from Wageningen College & Analysis, and Mark Buiter from the Dutch Meals Forest Basis on how agroforestry might be a part of an answer that works for each farmers and the setting.

Final 12 months, farmer protests erupted all through the Netherlands, using a wave of rural anger at authorities plans to drastically halve nitrogen emissions by downsizing and shutting farms. This rapidly swept the newly based agrarian occasion, the Farmer-Citizen Motion (BoerBurgerBeweging, or BBB), to victory in final weeks provincial elections, making it the countrys largest political occasion.

Within the face of the farmer and nitrogen disaster, Dutch agriculture and environmental specialists are calling for a change to the meals system in a method that each reduces nitrogen emissions whereas addressing the monetary and livelihood considerations of farmers, lots of whom are in debt.

As they are saying in Dutch, You cant be inexperienced in case you are within the pink, says Lennart Fuchs, an agriculture researcher at Wageningen College & Analysis within the Netherlands.

Among the many options the specialists suggest are agroforestry programs that harmoniously combine decreased livestock with worthwhile bushes and crops akin to hazelnut, walnut, cider apple and timber bushes, Fuchs tells Mongabay in an interview. Also referred to as silvopasture, this can be a local weather change answer that reduces emissions and may deliver massive returns on investmentsby producing a number of streams of revenue.

A pc-generated picture of what a future farm might appear to be within the Netherlands if it used an agroforestry system. Picture by Lennart Fuchs.

The Netherlands has lengthy been a worldwide agricultural powerhouse, and farms there have typically been managed by the identical households for generations. House to some 17.5 million folks, the nation is Europes largest meat exporter and the worlds second-largest exporter of agricultural produce, after the U.S. The nation can be a world chief in agricultural know-how and has lengthy inspired farmers to broaden and put money into know-how, contributing to a part of the debt that farmers battle with at the moment.

Lately, the downsides to its intensive farming strategies have more and more come to mild. As an example, primarily as a result of huge quantity of livestock it holds, the nation, which is the scale of the U.S. state of West Virginia, additionally has Europes highest nitrogen emissions price.

In keeping with Dutch environmental group Milieu Centraal, the nation emits 4 occasions the European common per hectare. In 2020, based on Statistics Netherlands, the nation emitted 124,000 metric tons of nitrogen emissions within the type of ammonia (a dangerous nitrogen emission that stems from livestock manure and fertilizers) and 177,000 metric tons of assorted nitrogen oxides (primarily derived from site visitors and trade). Vegetation and bushes soak up nitrogen, but not in such overwhelming portions.

An extra of nitrogen oxide is a key contributor to local weather change, whereas ammonia can result in acid rain, deterioration of the soil, groundwater air pollution and biodiversity loss, which the Netherlands is experiencing. The European Union has known as on the Netherlands to scrub up its act and meet Brusselss pointers on nitrate air pollution, conservation, greenhouse fuel emissions, in addition to guidelines and laws on air and water high quality.

A farmer uses a manure spreader as a natural fertilizer. An excess of manure from livestock produces an excess of ammonia, a harmful nitrogen emission. Image by CityofGeneva via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
A farmer makes use of a manure spreader as a pure fertilizer. An extra of manure from livestock produces an extra of ammonia, a dangerous nitrogen emission. Picture by CityofGeneva through Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

The federal government goals to scale back nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030, with some areas within the nation required to scale back extra emissions than others. Farms close to some nature reserves, for instance, might want to scale back emissions by 70%. In keeping with the nationwide program to scale back nitrogen emissions, some farms might be made extra sustainable, whereas others might be relocated or purchased out, by power if crucial.

These drastic measures got here after consecutive governments delayed implementing a change of coverage for many years, mentioned Jeroen Candel, affiliate professor of meals and agricultural coverage at Wageningen College & Analysis.

To this finish, some Dutch agricultural researchers want to local weather and environmental options that embrace the livelihoods and desires of native communities, and in consequence turning to agroecology and agroforestry. Nevertheless, regardless of being an historical apply thats widespread internationally, agroforestry is in its infancy within the Netherlands. Up to now, its hardly been mentioned as a attainable method out of the farming disaster. Actually, within the extremely industrialized local weather of Dutch farming, most farmers frown upon the apply, and marvel if it could earn them a dwelling anytime quickly.

To grasp to what extent and the way agroforestry might be a part of an answer to scale back nitrogen emissions whereas defending rural and farmer livelihoods, Mongabay interviewed two Dutch agricultural specialists: Lennart Fuchs and Mark Buiter.

Lennart Fuchs, researcher in soil and farming systems at Wageningen University & Research (left). Mark Buiter, secretary of the Dutch Food Forest Foundation.
Lennart Fuchs, researcher in soil and farming programs at Wageningen College & Analysis (left). Mark Buiter, secretary of the Dutch Meals Forest Basis.

Fuchs is a researcher in soil and farming programs at Wageningen College & Analysis, a world-leading agricultural analysis establishment. Buiter is secretary of the Dutch Meals Forest Basis and works on the Urgenda Basis, which lately made headlines for efficiently suing the Dutch state for failing to implement its environmental insurance policies. He additionally has a consultancy company specialised in sustainability.

The interviews had been performed in Dutch and have been translated and edited for readability.


Mongabay: Can agroforestry kind a part of a transition plan for Dutch farmers that reduces nitrogen emissions (by downsizing livestock numbers and fertilizer use) whereas additionally rising biodiversity and sustaining their revenue?

Lennart Fuchs: Agroforestry within the Netherlands continues to be in its infancy. The curiosity in agroforestry and associated programs has solely actually taken off within the final 5 years or so. Nevertheless, seeing the various challenges going through Dutch agriculture, a rising variety of folks imagine agroforestry can supply benefits in numerous methods.

Im joyful the query mentions the three interrelated issues: sustaining revenue, decreasing nitrogen emissions, and bettering biodiversity. I imagine agroforestry can positively contribute to those points, but it isn’t a silver bullet. It isn’t a matter of planting bushes at the moment and tomorrow all might be nicely. Agroforestry will not be the answer for the nitrogen disaster.

Image of the "farm of the future" research Wageningen University & Research is doing in Lelystad, Netherlands. Image by Lennart Fuchs.
Picture of the “farm of the longer term” analysis Wageningen College & Analysis is doing in Lelystad, Netherlands. Picture by Lennart Fuchs.

What agroforestry will appear to be throughout the Dutch agricultural apply relies upon loads on context and design as there are various kinds of agroforestry programs with totally different constructive results: various from alley cropping [rows of trees with crops in between] with as much as 100-meter-wide [330-foot] crops in between, to the meals forest [productive ecosystem modeled after a natural forest]. In my unit of analysis, we primarily give attention to integrating tree strains in arable farming. We’re in search of synergies between the primary rules of agroforestry, the Dutch local weather, and the crops and markets during which Dutch farmers excel.

For instance, within the Netherlands you’ve gotten much less heat and light than in, say, Brazil, whereas most crops we develop want loads of mild. But, bushes produce shade. Additionally, we need to see what system suits what panorama. What works on the clay soils of Zeeland within the west of the nation could not work on the sandy soils of Brabant within the east of the nation. As agroforestry within the Netherlands finds itself in a pioneering section, there are nonetheless loads of questions.

Mark Buiter: Meals forestry affords probably the most promising various for todays monocultural agricultural mannequin, not simply within the Netherlands, however wherever on this planet. Wherever the place it isn’t too dry or too chilly you possibly can develop a forest. Along with a cover of excessive bushes, a meals forest has at the very least three different layers of vegetation, respectively decrease bushes, shrubs, herbs, floor cowl, root greens and climbers.

Designed by people, meals forests have an incredible range of perennial woody species, components of which, akin to fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and many others., function meals merchandise.

Food and produce from food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
Meals and produce from meals forests. Picture by Mark Buiter.

A meals forest is probably the most lavish type of agroforestry. Different kinds of agroforestry embrace alley cropping and silvopasture, which affords a superb various to monoculture farming, as a result of they’re extra numerous. And, typically talking, the extra numerous a system, the extra resilient and productive it turns into, as you’re working with nature, not towards it.

Trendy agriculture is simply too reliant on including nitrogen within the form of fertilizer or animal manure to extend manufacturing. It’s vital to know that vegetation are additionally able to doing this, like nitrogen-fixing species akin to leguminous vegetation and bushes just like the Acacia or Alder.

Mongabay: What worthwhile crops can kind a part of such an agroforestry system?

Lennart Fuchs: Up to now, the main target is especially on nut bushes. Hazelnut and walnut particularly, and to a lesser extent chestnut and almond. Nuts symbolize a high-quality product and a superb income mannequin. And so they can develop nicely within the Dutch local weather. Additionally, there’s a rising pattern for folks to eat much less meat, so it might play a job within the protein transition.

Up to now, in my work, we’ve probably not been a second, decrease layer of, for instance, fruit bushes. The issue is that the majority Dutch farmers are used to a large-scale mechanized system. With totally different tree strains you should take into consideration how one can harvest. In meals forests all the things may be carried out by hand, however for many conventional farmers that’s not an choice.

Food and produce from food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
Meals and produce from meals forests. Picture by Mark Buiter.

The initiatives I’m engaged on primarily give attention to how one can greatest combine bushes into the system. We typically begin with tree strains [alley cropping]. Solely when individuals are actually , will we go one step additional. For instance, sooner or later you possibly can take into consideration planting herbs below the bushes. For now, nonetheless, we don’t need to complicate issues, as every additional step requires functionality and data.

Fruit bushes might be attention-grabbing, apples and pears particularly. The issue is that this can be a well-developed market in Holland. So, which means you’ll have to compete with current orchards. Financially, with just one or two tree strains in an agroforestry system that’s nearly inconceivable. So, farmers can even search for a distinct segment market. Cider, for instance. Or pesticide-free fruit. Or particular kinds of fruit.

Timber is an choice. Within the east of Germany, farmers are planting fast-growing bushes to primarily produce wooden chips. Because of the excessive land costs within the Netherlands, that’s arguably not worthwhile. Nevertheless, farmers can produce high-quality timber for use within the building sector, as there’s a rising demand for sustainable, environmentally pleasant building supplies. However at this level, as timber bushes take years to mature, this can be a long-term technique for the longer term.

Food and produce from food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
Meals and produce from meals forests. Picture by Mark Buiter.

Mark Buiter: A productive meals forest, on common, has some 15 to twenty edible species per hectare unfold over numerous vegetation layers. Within the highest layer you typically discover nut bushes, akin to walnut and candy chestnut. Beneath that, you’ve gotten hazel and lots of fruit bushes. On the bottom, farmers can, for instance, develop wild garlic, ostrich fern, the younger shoots of that are edible, and Japanese ginger. They’re at present imported and simply fetch as much as 3 euros [$3.20] per shoot. Relating to climbers, farmers might produce hops, grapes and mini kiwi. Worldwide, there are some 6,000 edible plant species, nearly all of that are polycarpic [reproduce more than once before dying]. So, a meals forest affords a sea of selection for farmers in several climates.

Learn extra:Traders say agroforestry isnt simply local weather pleasant its additionally worthwhile

Mongabay: In your organizations idea of a meals forest (not accounting for different agroforestry programs which have house for animals to graze), how do cattle or chickens slot in?

Mark Buiter: [In these densely forested food forests], farmers can have their livestock subsequent to this [type of] meals forest, however not in it. That is for numerous causes. First, cattle hinder forest formation. Farmers will lose younger bushes inside no time. Second, particularly within the Netherlands, farmers might be nearly pressured to place a fence round their meals forest, as they can’t have livestock roam freely. Third, in a meals forest, you need to attain as quick as attainable a fungal-dominated soil, so you can’t have animals graze in that space as manure creates an excessive amount of micro organism.

Food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
A meals forest by the Dutch Meals Forest Basis surrounded by conventional farms. Picture by Mark Buiter.

Mongabay: To what extent can agroforestry assist complement misplaced revenue and tackle farmers wants, whereas balancing the wants of the setting?

Lennart Fuchs: Nut manufacturing on a sure scale definitely has potential, though it stays arduous to foretell what a market seems like in, say, 10 years. On the one hand, farmers take a look at the worth bushes and bushes could produce. Alternatively, we analysis the consequences a tree line could have on the primary crop.

Near the tree line, farmers will lose some yield as a result of a rise in shade and competitors for water and vitamins. Additional away from the tree line or hedge it’s possible you’ll acquire some yield, as a result of much less wind stress and evaporation. Particularly in a dry 12 months this will likely save water. We’re doing a big experiment in Lelystad [in the province of Flevoland] to see how these items work in a Dutch context. With an eye fixed on local weather change and rising drought this will turn out to be a vital issue.

Mark Buiter: Within the medium to long run, meals forestry can absolutely do, however you should make investments earlier than you possibly can harvest. And you should be capable to overcome the younger rising years of a meals forest and harvesting is extra labor intensive. However to not such an extent that it threatens your profitability. Farmers might be able to overcome that by not reworking all the things in a single go right into a meals forest. That can be how we work, in phases. Although in the long run, a meals forest is a really numerous system with a substantial variety of money crops. And it doesn’t require any costly exterior inputs: no manure, no fertilizers, no pesticides, no heavy equipment.

Mongabay: What are the primary challenges going through the implementation of agroforestry within the Netherlands?

Mark Buiter: Farmers must put money into design and building and should be capable to overcome the early years of a meals forest. We reckon a six-year interval for a meals forest to provide any vital portions and turn out to be worthwhile. Incomes again your preliminary funding will take some 10 years, whereas inside a 20-year horizon you should have a really worthwhile enterprise.

Nevertheless, in actuality, this isn’t very totally different from the shortcomings of normal agriculture. If you wish to begin a cattle farm, then additionally, you will need to pump in some huge cash, which you’ll not earn again identical to that. Cattle are costly. Mega stables are costly. Machines are costly. Experience is pricey.

There typically is that this misplaced notion that common agriculture is a worthwhile endeavor. However typically it isn’t in any respect. Financial analysis within the Netherlands reveals that solely a small a part of Dutch agriculture is in actual fact worthwhile and lots of farmers are in debt. And even that worthwhile quantity is as a result of many exterior prices, together with farmers paying for nitrogen air pollution, will not be subtracted from their returns. The polluter doesn’t pay. Thus, a really synthetic distinction is created. A meals forest ought to first show it’s a money-making mannequin. Honest sufficient. However they have a tendency to overlook that common agriculture typically will not be.

People working in food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
Individuals working in meals forests. Picture by Mark Buiter.

Lennart Fuchs: To begin with, the funding. Farmers must make investments now to earn later. There are some state incentives that may assist them finance planting. However nonetheless, farmers can have to have the ability to wait to see a return on funding. Definitely in Dutch agriculture one of many first questions might be: how a lot will it make? It is a nation with extraordinarily excessive land costs. If a farmer goes to surrender a part of his land to plant bushes, which won’t supply a lot of a return within the first 10 years, then that may be a large step that must be justified. On prime of that, many farmers are in debt. And as they are saying in Dutch, You cant be inexperienced in case you are within the pink.

Second, there’s nonetheless loads of concern amongst conventional farmers. What would be the impact of a tree line on their potatoes? In a dry 12 months, a tree line could assist include moisture and save water use. However in a moist 12 months, an agroforestry system may get extra humid, which can result in extra mould. So, we’re additionally trying into this impact.

The third challenge is data. As mentioned, agroforestry is in its infancy and we nonetheless have no idea very nicely what the consequences might be or what the very best combos are. The issue with agroforestry is that if you wish to say one thing wise from a scientific viewpoint, you should be capable to measure it in a mature system. However we dont actually have these. So, this is a gigantic problem.

Mongabay: What different options might play a job alongside agroecology to keep up livelihoods and tackle farmers wants?

Lennart Fuchs: In a wider sense, there’s nonetheless loads that may be gained by way of agroecology. A extra nature-inclusive agriculture, which for instance sees the introduction of hedges and flower beds. At Wageningen we experiment loads with strip cropping [planting several strips of crops that are alternated in rotation], which is one other method of disrupting monoculture and rising range.

The issue within the Netherlands is that for a few years we’ve aimed to provide as homogeneously as attainable. Ideally, each potato needs to be roughly the identical dimension and needs to be harvested at roughly the identical time. The Dutch inexperienced revolution was constructed on homogeneity, so you possibly can effectively harvest with machines. In case you undertake nature-friendly rules, per definition you’ll get extra heterogeneity. The query is how will we take care of that?

Lennart Fuchs being interviewed in Lelystad by a Dutch TV program. Image by Lennart Fuchs.
Lennart Fuchs being interviewed in Lelystad by a Dutch TV program. Picture by Lennart Fuchs.

Mark Buiter: To create a worthwhile farm, a meals forest or different agroforestry system, exploited in an environmentally pleasant method, is sufficient. However trying on the wider Dutch meals provide chain, then it’s after all higher to not begin producing towards the low backside costs on the world market however to promote your merchandise in brief chains close to the meals forest. Localization and regionalization are key: deliver meals manufacturing and consumption nearer to 1 one other.

Mongabay: How precisely would a median farmer go about transitioning to an agroecology system?

Mark Buiter: The very first thing you do when designing a meals forest is zooming out. You take a look at the farm from an ecological perspective. What’s the panorama during which the terrain is positioned? What nature is there? Is it attainable to attach? What’s the highest and lowest groundwater stage? What does that imply for the species you possibly can plant?

Then you definitely zoom in: considering the native circumstances and the farmers private needs, what’s the easiest way to rearrange the forest. At occasions the farmer needs to order a part of the land for folks to go to. In that case you design a hectare for recreation. On a leisure hectare you possibly can simply plant 200 edible species. On a productive one we typically reckon with 15 to twenty.

When it’s time to plant, we begin with hedges and tree girths. Particularly within the Netherlands, wind is a vital stress issue. That’s the reason we begin with the extra sturdy tree species to supply the edible species a cushty micro local weather. It’s thereby crucial that you simply cherish the sprawling weeds within the pioneering section. This creates loads of resistance within the Netherlands. However weeds actually are the primary stage of a forest. Vegetation like thistle and nettle develop in a short time. They create a canopy for the younger bushes and shrubs, which don’t need to be uncovered to full solar or wind.

Food forests. Image by Mark Buiter.
Meals forest plan. Picture by Mark Buiter.

One of many first issues we educate younger entrepreneurs is that this: be a lazy farmer. Do as little as attainable. We now have all been raised with the concept trendy agriculture produces meals. And that agriculture is difficult work. However now you’re working with nature. Now you’ve gotten tens of millions of allies providing a serving to hand. A meals forest is one nice symphony orchestra of cooperation.

A transition of Dutch agriculture must embrace a drastic discount of livestock. And a whole cease on the usage of fertilizers and pesticides. We merely don’t want it and it screws up the very foundation of our existence. Such a transition plan would require political braveness, a robust help coverage and extra ecological data.

Mongabay: Ought to agroforestry programs first be applied near nature reserves?

Lennart Fuchs: The Netherlands has 162 protected nature reserves as a part of the European Natura 2000 community, most of that are fairly small and surrounded by agricultural fields. Within the context of Natura 2000, the controversy is increasingly about issues like transition and buffer zones, and in depth and nature-inclusive agriculture. So, I believe agroforestry and associated programs would match there very nicely.

Mark Buiter: That’s definitely a good suggestion. Within the Nineteen Nineties, the ecological principal construction (EHS) was launched within the Netherlands. The thought was to attempt to join the countrys bigger nature reserves so there might be a wholesome alternate of plant and animal life. However the EHS was at all times a paper idea.

The good factor about meals forests is that you simply would not have to purchase costly agricultural lands to show them right into a viable ecosystem. A meals forest is each an ecosystem and an agriculture house, which might be good to attach nature reserves. As well as, meals forests would kind a superb buffer between nature reserves on the one hand and intensive agriculture on the opposite.

Fields of yellow flowers under the bright sun. Bollenstreek, South Holland, the Netherlands. Image by Stefan Wittebol viaFlickr(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Fields of yellow flowers below the brilliant solar. Bollenstreek, South Holland, the Netherlands. Picture by Stefan Wittebol viaFlickr(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Mongabay: What does the perfect state of affairs appear to be?

Lennart Fuchs: An important factor is, on the one hand, that agriculture meets the calls for of the setting. That it doesn’t contribute to air pollution or produce emissions. Alternatively, I hope we will preserve high-quality meals manufacturing on the fertile land we’ve within the Netherlands.

A extra numerous system than at the moment is fascinating, however ideally one that continues to be economically viable for farmers as nicely.

Mark Buiter: The perfect state of affairs is a way more diversified panorama than what we’ve at the moment. Think about an ecological principal construction during which nature reserves are surrounded and interconnected by meals forests, in between silvopasture and annual crops managed in an ecologically pleasant method. Final summer season, we known as upon the Dutch authorities to intention to develop 170,000 hectares (420,000 acres) of meals forest within the close to future. Thats about 10% of the overall Dutch land dedicated to agriculture.

That leaves greater than sufficient house for cattle elevating and non-perennial crops. That has at all times been our method. You dont have to rework all the things in a single go.


Banner picture: Farmers protest within the Netherlands on June 22, 2022. Tractors from everywhere in the nation drove to Stroe. This image was taken alongside the A27 close to Houten, simply in entrance of the Lunetten interchange. Picture by Frank Magdelyns from Pixabay.

Associated listening from Mongabay’s podcast:We take a look at how agroforestry, an historical indigenous know-how that’s more and more being adopted by farmers world wide, might help resolve most of the main environmental points had been going through, from deforestation and biodiversity loss to local weather change. Hear right here:

Traders say agroforestry isnt simply local weather pleasant it’s additionally worthwhile

FEEDBACK: Use this kind to ship a message to the creator of this publish. If you wish to publish a public remark, you are able to do that on the backside of the web page.

agribusiness, Agriculture, Agrochemicals, Agroecology, Agroforestry, Beef, Biodiversity, Local weather, Local weather Change, Local weather Change And Meals, Local weather Justice, Neighborhood Improvement, Conservation Options, Controversial, Crop Yields, Crops, Environmental Regulation, Farming, Fertilizers, Meals, Meals Business, meals safety, Industrial Agriculture, Regulation, Regulation Enforcement, Meat, Mitigation, Nature-based local weather options, Nitrogen Cycle, Nitrous Oxide, Natural Farming, Politics, Air pollution, Protests


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *