Food Council commits to sustainable food for Amsterdam

At the Flows of Food Conference Rabobank Amsterdam signed the ‘Food Connects’ manifesto, expressing its commitment to a partnership to establish a sustainable food system in the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA).

Urbanisation is a global phenomenon. In 2050 the world’s population will have grown to well over 9 billion people, of which 66% will live in metropolitan regions. The Food Council MRA – which includes Rabobank Amsterdam, AERES university of applied sciences, the Provinces of North Holland and Flevoland, and the Amsterdam Economic Board – sees food as a force linking the region in terms of economy, ecology, agriculture and society. The MRA food network aims to raise awareness that many social issues are connected to what we eat. It aspires to a future where all citizens have access to healthy, affordable, tasty and varied food. “Consumers are increasingly recognising how valuable it is to enjoy seasonal and local produce. We must fully exploit the potential of the agricultural area of Greenport NHN a short distance away and the metropolitan region with its 2.8 million consumers,” says Jaap Bond, deputy Agriculture North Holland. “That will provide healthier and tastier food for the city, less environmental impact because of the short distance and more marketing opportunities for our farmers.”

“On average, a meal in Amsterdam has travelled 33,000 km before ending up on our plate.”

- Alphons Kurstjens, chairman of the board of Rabobank Amsterdam

Connecting urban and rural areas

Connecting the city with its surroundings is vital for creating a new, sustainable food system. Urbanisation means that the majority of consumers now live in cities and towns. Food no longer only comes from the countryside as production increasingly moves to urban areas, where vegetables and herbs are grown in former factories, in wall racks, green roofs or disused railway tunnels Scientific studies show that in the near future most cities could be able to feed almost half their population themselves.
Food Council MRA is contributing to that transition by working on new connections, promoting existing networks and nurturing them with knowledge and insights from the city and the region. Rabobank Amsterdam’s chairman, Alphons Kurstjens, believes the bank has an important part to play. “The demand for a more robust, regional system is something we in Amsterdam have been looking into for some time, and it fits in well with our Kickstart Food. On average, a meal in Amsterdam has travelled 33,000 km before ending up on our plate. As Rabobank, we would like to reduce that distance. We are already seeing a rising demand for organic food because consumers want to know where their food comes from and they prefer to source it locally. A significant part of our client base is made up of restaurants, supermarkets and food companies and we also have a lot of food-producing clients in and around Amsterdam. That allows us to quickly spot possible connections and we can actually put clients in touch with each other. I’m also on the Economic Board, where we cooperate with the Province, fellow banks and the municipality of Amsterdam. We are also making progress there.”

International Food Councils

In setting up a food council, MRA is following the example of l cities such as Detroit, London and Milan, who in turn were modelled on the first Food Policy Council in Toronto. For a decade, Wayne Roberts was its director and he now inspires others around the world with his motto ‘Food is the lever’. According to Roberts, nearly all of the issues facing metropolitan areas are related directly or indirectly to food, whether it concerns health, infrastructure, employment, tourism, urban development or social inequality. The Food Councils in Toronto and other major cities have already shown that if citizens, companies, local authorities and other institutions work together in an organised setting, specific projects can actually get off the ground, paving the way to achieving a sustainable food system.