News - September 22, 2016

‘Agriculture must make room for nature’

Roelof Kleis

A complete overhaul is needed in how space is allocated in the Netherlands. Nature should get more room and agriculture less room as that is the only way to conserve many of our wild plants and animals.

These are the conclusions drawn by emeritus professor Frank Berendse in his most recent book Wilde Apen (‘wild apes’), which was presented on 17 September. It's really a pamphlet, as Berendse admits. A cry for help in putting an end to the further decline in nature and the countryside in the Netherlands.

In his book, Berendse sets out his vision of the future for rural areas. At present, more than half the land in the Netherlands is taken up by agriculture. In the future this should be no more than a third, according to Berendse’s ideal scenario. The area allocated to recreation, water and, in particular, nature should expand.

Parliament should take action! Develop a proper vision for the future of rural areas
Frank Berendse

Berendse uses economic arguments to support his vision. In the past two decades, agriculture’s share of GDP (gross domestic product) has fallen to 1.5 percent. That will only decrease further still if the economy develops as expected. According to Berendse, it is no longer possible to maintain that agriculture should still take up more than half the available land in the Netherlands.

‘At the same time, livestock and arable farming are having a disastrous effect on our countryside,’ writes Berendse. ‘Whereas emissions of hazardous substances by industry were reduced to virtually zero years ago, Dutch arable farming is still allowed to spread the most toxic substances in the countryside. Something is not right here! Parliament should take action! Develop a proper vision for the future of rural areas.’


Berendse does not want to hound farmers out of their jobs. ‘In fact, I want farmers to occupy a respectable position again in our society and earn a decent income.’ But only by farming in places where that is possible and sustainable. Berendse says many species will not survive unless nature is given more room. The extra space advocated by the professor would ensure a sustainable future for 70 percent of the current species, according to his calculations.

Berendse has also thought about the financial underpinning. He advocates a simple, Europe-wide tax on the use of pesticides, fertilizer, antibiotics and the imported animal feed that a farm purchases per hectare. ‘Food prices may increase slightly as a result but as a society we have to be prepared to pay that price.’

Wilde Apen, KNNV Publishing, ISBN 978 90 5011 595 7