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Foodvalley NL urges food system cooperation to "transition to regenerative agriculture"

11 Aug 2023 --- Foodvalley NL is stepping up initiatives in regenerative agriculture through value chain cooperation. The independent organization aims to accelerate the transition of the food system to ensure tasty, affordable, healthy and sustainable food for all. 

Regenerative agriculture combines food production with ecosystem restoration, soil fertility improvement, water management and biodiversity. Moreover, regenerative agriculture can positively contribute to farmers’ social and economic position.  

In this first of our two-part interview with Jolijn Zwart-van Kessel, Foodvalley NL’s innovation lead in Circular Agrifood, Nutrition Insight discusses the potential of regenerative agriculture and the organization’s upcoming initiatives in this field. 

“Foodvalley refers to regenerative agriculture as regenerative sourcing because we view it as an approach that involves the whole supply chain. The entire food system must cooperate to facilitate a transition to regenerative agriculture, not only farmers or producers.”

Transitioning to a more regenerative food system is a critical challenge that requires building coalitions between different actors in a value chain, putting farmers at the center, urges Zwart-Van Kessel. 

“It is doable, but it requires a mindset change. We know that our food system needs to be improved. Food companies have a responsibility to help transition the system, focusing on the products and integrating ecosystem services that regenerative practices deliver within these products.” 

Circular agri-food 
Foodvalley NL’s circular agri-food innovation field comprises regenerative sourcing and upcycling, focusing on sustainable agriculture, food loss reduction and circular economy principles in the production and consumption of food, explains Zwart-Van Kessel.

“If we use virgin raw materials to produce food, feed and other raw materials, it must be done in the most regenerative way possible; to regenerate natural resources instead of only using them.” 

“Once these raw materials are in the food system, we aim to use them as efficiently as possible, following Moerman’s Ladder, a model that indicates how to use materials to their highest possible value to avoid loss.”

“Raw materials that cannot be used should be valorized as high as possible, posits the model, starting with human food, followed by animal feed and cascading down to industrial materials, fertilizer and burning waste materials for energy, the lowest valorization.” 

Government backing 
Foodvalley NL is also a partner in the Re-Ge-NL program, which recently received a €129 million (US$142 million) investment from the Dutch government’s National Growth Fund. The program is designed to bring about the transition to a regenerative, profitable and socially supported agricultural sector. 

The Re-Ge-NL program aims to solve bottlenecks in the transition to regenerative agriculture in close cooperation with the sector. It was developed by Next Food Collective, Wageningen University & Research, University Utrecht and University of Groningen in collaboration with 54 partners. 

Zwart-Van Kessel explains that in this program, Foodvalley NL will form a community for regenerative sourcing, bringing all partners in the supply chain together to exchange lessons learned and inspire innovations to facilitate farmers’ transition. 

“Focusing on empowering farmers, the program facilitates the transition to regenerative agriculture sustainably and inclusively. The program’s aim is that 1,000 Dutch farmers transition to regenerative agriculture by 2030, which requires the cooperation of the entire ecosystem and farmers’ supply chain partners.” 

In addition, the program wants at least 10,000 farmers and advisers to gain knowledge about regenerative farming practices, ultimately ensuring that agriculture positively impacts nature and climate as the new normal. 

Foodvalley NL will address product and supply chain innovations, develop new business models and support ecosystem services.

Foodvalley NL takes a similar system approach in its Healthier Food – Innovate for Good Community, which recently received an €800,000 (US$901,000) project grant from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. 

Landscape approach 
Building on its community for regenerative sourcing, Foodvalley NL also aims to launch a Food Innovation Hub Europe collaborative initiative later this year, adds Zwart-Van Kessel. 

This initiative has been developed with EIT Food, under the support of the Food Collective. It aims to remove barriers to adopting regenerative practices by demonstrating new cross-value chain solutions. 

“In this initiative, the partners strive to build a Regenerative Innovation Portfolio – a portfolio of multiple European landscapes. The landscape design aims to match supply and demand, building a coalition that sources from these landscapes and thus increases regenerative practices.” 

The Food Innovation Hub Europe initiative aims to innovate with new solutions for ecosystem services tailored to a specific landscape, for example, in soil, water or particular biodiversity or climate aspects.

With core coalition partners, Foodvalley NL is selecting European landscapes to launch the initiative in the fall of 2023. Zwart-Van Kessel foresees a dynamic system of multiple geographies throughout the Netherlands and Europe that interconnect and exchange knowledge to foster innovations and collaboration across the value chain. 

“It’s important to increase the use of regenerative practices to more producers and ensure these are tailored to specific landscape types and biotopes across Europe. What may work on sandy or clay soils could differ in mountainous areas.” 

“At the same time, different countries may hold similar biotopes or landscape types, allowing for the sharing of best practices for a specific landscape internationally.”

Transitioning to regenerative practices 
Industry experts have called for more regenerative farming practices to build soil health and resilient farming communities. 

According to Zwart-Van Kessel, frontrunner farmers recognize the potential for regenerative agriculture and have started implementing practices. Though other farmers note a societal interest in moving toward regenerative practices, they also stress the importance of a supportive value chain. Foodvalley NL’s initiatives help de-risk the switch to new methods. 

“There needs to be a market for their products to ensure that they are compensated for the risk and investments they take on.” “For this reason, we focus not on the farmers but on food businesses. Suppose we ensure farmers can find a market for their products and get a return on their investments and the ecosystems they deliver in the landscape. In that case, we believe they will be open to other ways of farming, for example, by joining our initiative,” she continues.  

“We also see that multiple companies have the ambition to source regeneratively, but they often have different goals or methods they require farmers to meet, meaning that farmers need to adjust their production methods to cater to different buyers.” 

According to Zwart-Van Kessel, throughout the value chain, companies must align on a goal and collaborative method for regenerative agriculture and how to transition to a more regenerative system.  

International companies are moving toward regenerative agriculture. For example, Nestlé invested in practices of US wheat farms to produce healthier, more sustainable ingredients for their pizzas. 

ADM recently announced its plans to expand its regenerative agriculture program, re:generations, aiming to cover 2 million acres in North America by the end of this year and 4 million acres by 2025.

By Jolanda van Hal 

Source: Food Ingredients First