Royal vision on innovative future of farming

Urbanised countries in which agricultural land is very scarce, such as the Netherlands and Japan, play an important role in the world food supply. ‘How is that possible? The answer is: innovation’, said His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in Tokyo on Friday at the ‘Agribusiness Opportunities in Japan; the Future of Farming’ conference organised by Rabobank.

The conference was held in conjunction with the state visit of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima to Japan and the accompanying trade mission. The royal couple and other dignitaries from Japan and the Netherlands attended the conference.
King Willem-Alexander notes that increasing demands are being placed on farmers and growers in highly developed countries such as Japan and the Netherlands. ‘We ask a lot of them. We want the certainty that there will always be enough food. We want food to be of high quality. We want food that will help us stay healthy. We want to protect the environment. We want to make efficient use of scarce space. And we want our food to be affordable.’

Higher productivity

King Willem-Alexander says this is why innovation is so important. Thanks to innovations that have been made in the past, productivity in the Netherlands is five times higher than the European average. He notes that greenhouse horticulture has brought about a ‘revolution’ that benefits growers, consumers and the environment. ‘In the open field you need 60 litres of water to produce a single kilo of tomatoes. In a greenhouse, four litres is sufficient. Hi-tech greenhouses no longer cost energy. Instead they generate energy.’

Fulfill the potential

Rabobank CEO Wiebe Draijer sums up the objective of this conference: ‘How can innovation, entrepreneurial leadership and cooperation help ensure that the potential is actually fulfilled? This is the key question we as Rabobank want to discuss – from Australia to Africa and from Amsterdam to Tokyo.’
The potential is there. Japan is world leader in the world market for functional foods, before USA and Europe. A functional food is a food given an additional function, often one related to health-promotion or disease prevention, by adding new ingredients. Japan more-or-less invented ‘functional foods’ in the 1980s. The Netherlands is world leader in tomato and cucumber yields. Whereas in the Netherlands on average 48 kg tomatoes are produced per square meter and 66 kg of cucumbers, Japan produces about 6 kg tomatoes and 5 kg of cucumbers. The Netherlands uses only 14% of the Japanese tomato acreage to produce even more tomatoes.

Ideas for new opportunities

The Tokyo conference fits in seamlessly with Rabobank’s Banking for Food vision. As an internationally leading food and agri bank, Rabobank offers both access to financing and to knowledge and networks. ‘We want to inspire new ideas in order to create fruitful agribusiness opportunities to feed the world more sustainably’, says Draijer. At the recent Duisenberg lecture in Washington D.C., he presented Rabobank analysts’ ten ideas for genuinely increasing the availability of food worldwide. In Tokyo Wiebe Draijer handed over the ‘The Future of Farming’ book to the Dutch King and Queen.


Rabobank Executive Board Member Berry Marttin tells the conference that the food and agri sectors in Japan and the Netherlands share many of the same opportunities. He mentions exporting knowledge on increasing productivity in primary agriculture and efficient processing of agricultural products as examples. Both countries can also respond to the growing demand for more high quality food products in Asian countries outside Japan. Marttin also says there are opportunities relating to the development of data-intensive smart farming for typical Japanese and Dutch agricultural sectors such as horticulture, intensive livestock farming and dairy farming.
‘An enduring strong public-private partnership to develop innovations for the agricultural sectors and to maintain public support for a viable agricultural and horticultural sector is critical for being able to tap into these opportunities’, says Marttin.

Japan is a large net importer, the Netherlands is a large exporter

While there are a number of similarities between the food and agri sectors in Japan and the Netherlands, there are also some major differences between the two countries. Marttin: ‘Japan is the largest net importer of food and agri products, while the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products.’ Japan’s population is 7.5 times larger than that of the Netherlands, but has only 2.5 times as much agricultural land. Japan has a highly fragmented agricultural sector, while the Netherlands has relatively large-scale companies, with a considerable rise in production and value over the past fifteen years. Japanese agricultural policy has a strong focus on supporting domestic producers through subsidies and artificially high prices. Dutch entrepreneurs operate primarily within free markets with fluctuating prices. The Dutch policy is aimed at strengthening the competitive position and increasing the productivity and sustainability of agriculture.