Science - February 28, 2011

Mega-barns only even bigger

Text:
Joris Tielens

Agroparks are needed to feed the ever-growing world population. 'They are more sustainable than the conventional systems.'

Plan for a Wageningen agropark in Shanghai
The Dutch are not keen on the concept of mega-barns but concentrating livestock farming in so-called 'metropolitan food clusters' is the best solution to the growing demand for proteins and vegetables in an urbanizing world.
That at any rate is the opinion of Alterra researcher Peter Smeets. Smeets designs so-called agroparks, which form the core of such food clusters. He works with people at Alterra, Food & Biobased Research, LEI and PPO to produce plans for public authorities and businesses in the Netherlands, China, India and numerous other countries. He has described this concept in his dissertation thesis, which was recently published in English.

Don't you just mean multi-storey pig flats when you talk about agroparks?
"No, definitely not. An agropark is not just for keeping animals, it is a place that combines different kinds of agricultural production and processing. A closed system is used wherever possible for flows of materials. Production is more sustainable than in conventional systems when it comes to animal welfare, the environment, working conditions and veterinary risks.'

That picture does not seem consistent with the dubious image of large-scale livestock farming.
'The problem with mega-barns in the Netherlands is their locations. Livestock farms are constantly increasing in scale but are still spread across the land. Other forms of industry are concentrated in industrial estates or ports. That step has never been taken in the spatial planning of agriculture except in the case of greenhouse horticulture. That move still needs to be made by building agroparks close to ports or inner harbours like Wageningen.'

Are there examples that are already in operation?
'Yes indeed; in the Netherlands you have AgriportA7 and Biopark Terneuzen, for example. In India they have started building GreenPort Nellore and in China our plans are gradually being implemented in Changzhou and Shanghai.

Expedition agroparks: research by design into sustainable development and agriculture in the network society. Peter J.A.M. Smeets, 2011, 320 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-90-8686-163-7, price €59.00

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