Biodiversity is under threat, and that spells danger for the health of our food system. That is why Rabobank recently partnered with other stakeholders in launching the Delta Plan to restore biodiversity in the Netherlands.
Listen to this story as a podcast (in Dutch), or read on for the English interview.
Dairy farmer Alex Datema first became involved in nature conservation on his farm fifteen years ago. “It wasn’t exactly revolutionary. I was asked to mow around birds’ nests on my pastures, something I already did anyway. I even got paid for it. But the job became easier and easier as the number of nests dwindled. That got me thinking.”
A few years on, Alex became active in BoerenNatuur, an organization supporting nature conservation by farmers in the Netherlands. It was there that he had his first encounters with ecologists and biologists. “That was pretty confronting! When it comes to conservation, farmers get framed as the bad guys. But we’re actually quite open to nature-inclusive farming, and we’re working on it. The problem is – as the saying goes – it’s hard to think green when your bank account is in the red. We do have to make a living. It’s time to stop pointing fingers and start working together.”
“Farmers are open to nature-inclusive farming – we’re working on it- Alex Datema, BoerenNatuur
BoerenNatuur, where Datema is now chair, was among the key initiators of the Delta Plan Biodiversity, launched in November 2018 with the goal of restoring variety to the species and organisms in the Netherlands' soil and landscapes. The plan envisions a nation where nature and economic development coexist. The broad coalition includes the Netherlands Ecological Research Network, farmers’ interest groups, nature conservation charities like the World Wildlife Fund, multinational Unilever – and Rabobank.
Jeen Nijboer, Project Manager Food & Agri at Rabobank and a farmer’s son, is closely involved in the initiative. “All of the participants see how biodiversity is in decline, and we’re committed to bending the curve. The aim of the Delta Plan is to improve cooperation between farmers, public authorities, the retail sector, banks and other parties so that we can achieve a better balance between nature, agriculture and urban development.”
Sustainability: a business case
Nijboer focuses on viable business models for tomorrow’s farmers. “Rabobank has a large customer base in the farming sector, and we want to mitigate the risks they face. The reputational risk that farmers currently run because of unsustainable practices can eventually morph into sales risk, with consumers turning away from their products, and even continuity risk.”
“Besides, society expects Rabobank to operate in a sustainable fashion,” Nijboer continues. “And an increasing number of our funding partners – insurers, pension funds – have committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They want us, and the farmers we finance, to meet their sustainability criteria. And we’re fully on board with that.”
The biodiversity baseline
The first steps are already being taken under the Delta Plan Biodiversity. Datema: “We’re busy establishing the baseline biodiversity situation. And in the meantime, we’re taking measures based on what we already know. For example, the new nature-inclusive method that farmers are adopting for field margin management is going to be copied by road and water authorities for banks and verges. That means a huge increase in habitat for all kinds of flora and fauna.”
“We’re cooperating with the Soil Coalition, another initiative that Rabobank is supporting,” Nijboer adds. “Their soil research for arable farms is relevant for dairy farmers, too. All the more so given broader push in the Netherlands towards circular farming, where mixed farming will become the norm. New legislation is in the making to remove barriers for innovation.”
“Don’t underestimate this country’s capacity to innovate”- Jeen Nijboer, Rabobank
Bringing back biodiversity doesn’t necessarily mean less agricultural output, less livestock, or less income for farmers, Nijboer feels. “Don’t underestimate this country’s capacity to innovate. We’ve found lots of ways to produce more; now we’re finding ways to produce differently.”
“We farmers are building a relationship with nature, instead of struggling to keep it off our land,” says Datema. “We’re living in dynamic times, and I’m really excited to see the sustainable transition take shape.”