Podcast: Earth under pressure

Every week, Harm Edens of BNR radio interviews internal and external experts on why a bank is aiming to build a better world. In this week’s podcast, Gilles Boumeester, Rabobank’s Global Head of Food and Agribusiness Research.

Rabobank’s ‘Banking for Food’ podcasts are available in Dutch via various podcast apps for iPhone and Android, SoundCloud and Stitcher. This week’s podcast lasts 28 minutes.

Urbanization, increasing global populations, climate change and dwindling water supplies are putting extreme pressure on the earth’s natural resources. It is high time to make agriculture future-proof, Gilles Boumeester explains. Especially considering that by 2050, we need to produce 60% more food to feed a global population of 9.8 billion, according to United Nations (UN) projections. The way forward is clear: “We must produce our food in a more sustainable and efficient way,” Boumeester says. But change is difficult and there is no single solution.

More sustainability, from farm…

Awareness first

The first step in the right direction, for Boumeester, is to raise the sense of urgency. “How can we really make people aware of the need to take steps? Because not taking action now will impact all of our lives. As a bank, we are using our specialist knowledge to help us and our clients understand what is happening in the world. It’s a complex situation with many facets involving one of our primary needs, as well as wider issues such as poverty, the environment and the development of a growing middle class.

“Not taking action now will impact all of our lives”

- Gilles Boumeester, Global Head of Food and Agribusiness Research at Rabobank

Better methods

“In addition to technology, I think experience and training can make a big difference. Many standard practices in Western Europe have not yet been adopted in other countries, so as a company, we can use our network to help improve methods elsewhere, ensuring a better management of resources and more efficient use of water. For example, by making use of drip irrigation instead of flooding, every drop ends up exactly where it’s needed. It can be as simple as pricking holes in a hose, so the water is dispersed instead of all coming out in the same place.

“Similarly, in a country like Brazil, moving away from monoculture towards mixed farming improves production, increases the environmental quality and boosts the financial success of the farmer.

Financing sustainability

“With our background as a farming cooperative and as a key international player in our segment, we can share our knowledge across different regions, connect clients and create financing possibilities. We are interested in fostering financial inclusion.

“For many smaller farms, especially in Africa, one of the biggest problems is that they can’t get financing. Together with the UN, we are working to find ways to support farmers in their transition to more modern agricultural methods. This requires investment – and this is something that the bank can help with. It’s about giving farmers an incentive to do what is in the best interests of us all.

“We can use our network to help improve methods elsewhere”

- Gilles Boumeester, Global Head of Food and Agribusiness Research at Rabobank

WWF partnership

“We work with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). An important joint project was to try and improve the salmon industry in Chile. The salmon farms were located in the same areas as a lot of wild sea life such as dolphins and whales. It was a matter of seeing how things could be done differently, especially with regard to antibiotic use. We were able to get large salmon farms and the WWF to talk about solutions together. That’s the strength of these collaborations. In the end, you need to find a way to move forward together.”

“We are also working with many Dutch parties on various problem areas such as soil compaction. The question is how to make machines lighter, or to install equipment so it always uses the same path, instead of flattening new areas of soil every time. This is very important for the quality of the soil. These are the kinds of developments that we can stimulate.

…to fork

Food waste

“But improvements are not only in the hands of farmers. Consumers also play an important role in the amount of food they buy but don’t eat. This food is at the end of the chain, so all of the energy and water has already gone into producing it. That is why in the Netherlands, we plan to focus on food waste in the coming year. We will need help from supermarkets, which don’t always offer the right packaging for single households.

“We have to concentrate on every part of the chain. We don’t want to address just one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, we want to work on all 17!”

Listen to the podcast now (in Dutch only).