After a decade of playing a subordinate role in Dutch development cooperation, agriculture and food security are back on the agenda. In 2011, Dutch international development cooperation selected food security as one of four priority themes, building upon existing Dutch expertise and knowledge. Enhancing economic growth is key in current development cooperation policy. It creates economic opportunities both globally and in the Netherlands. But it is also about finding alternative sources for funding, as growth enables developing countries to have ownership of their problems in the future.
Emergence of agribusiness
The Netherlands has an extensive agribusiness sector, professionalized and industrialized, which, according to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011, can contribute to the development of global food production and global markets. The policy targets four areas: extending sustainable food production, improved access to qualitative food, more efficient markets, and an improved business climate for the private sector to contribute to food security. This shift in policy is challenging. A decade ago no more than 4% of Dutch development aid was assigned to agriculture. But after the World Bank published its World Development Report ‘Agriculture for Development’ in 2008, and food prices and the number of malnourished people peaked in the same year, there was revived interest in agriculture as one of the key strategies for international cooperation.
To direct the policy on food and nutrition security, the government has formulated a food security policy that builds on knowledge. A Food and Business Knowledge Forum is responsible for documenting, producing, sharing and applying knowledge relevant to achieving food and nutrition security and private sector development. The Forum determines key questions for the discussion of future policy based on consultation with the other key actors. A large number of small, medium and large companies, academic institutions, and non-governmental and governmental organizations from the Netherlands are participating actively in the Forum.
The report ‘Less Pretension, More Ambition’, published by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), set this trend towards a more focused policy, pooling the knowledge and expertise of private sector companies and knowledge institutions. The report revived an emphasis on economic growth as one of the goals of development, asserting that without growth there is nothing to distribute in developing countries. The previous cabinet transformed this into policy on economic diplomacy, arguing that it would create opportunities for both global and Dutch economic development.
Dutch knowledge and expertise
In November 2011, another policy document (known as the ‘Kennisbrief’ ) outlined the government’s new knowledge and research policy. Seeing knowledge as the basis of an effective policy transformation, the government has created platforms with civil society organizations, knowledge institutions and the private sector. Knowledge is a fundamental asset for improving policy designs and implementation which, according to the new policy, is lacking in its current form. Several flaws undermine current policy: it lacks a holistic overview of all related knowledge, there is no central question for new research, research programmes lack focus and coherence, and the relationships between ministries, knowledge institutions, companies and civil society organizations are insufficiently exploited. Thus, sharing knowledge can bridge the fragmented focus and innovate development cooperation. Responding to the Kennisbrief, The Broker made an inventory of expert opinion on its website (in Dutch), synergizing valuable knowledge on reshaping policy.
Since then, the policy has been further expanded with new inputs and focus. For example, nutrition has been formulated as inherently interwoven with food security in governmental policies, although civil society lobbyists are arguing for them to be treated separately. Furthermore, although policy aims at multi-stakeholder collaboration with the private sector, earlier consultations have shown that the private sector is the hardest sector to engage. Also other ‘new’ dilemmas on biofuels and land grabbing should be debated more seriously. The synergy of experts’ opinions on these and other aspects of food security and the analysis in The Broker will help further understanding of successful food security policy.