While the debate on ‘pig flats’ continues to rage in the Netherlands, a number of Wageningen UR science groups are working on much bigger agro parks in China and India. These enormous agricultural complexes are designed to provide fresh and sustainably produced food for the inhabitants of large urban areas.
The Chinese agro park is a demonstration project intended to show the whole world that intensive agriculture can be environment friendly. ‘The industrial image of agro parks that has arisen in the Netherlands is not correct. The name ‘pig flat’ is a cariacature,’ says Kees Slingerland, general director of the Environmental Sciences Group and leader of the Agroparks project. The showcase for sustainable agricultural development should be ready in two year’s time.
Meanwhile, India has already asked Wageningen UR to set up comparable mega agriculture parks, and Slingerland expects other countries to follow. ‘The world is urbanising rapidly and people living in cities need fresh food and vitamins every day. It’s a tall order.’ Local farmers have difficulty producing sufficient food for the growing urban masses, but the major problem is getting high quality fresh products to market quickly enough. Agro parks near big cities will produce, process and transport enough food, and the focus on sustainability will prevent environmental problems.
It is not that countries like China and India have no expertise themselves, Slingerland emphasises. ‘They are actually really good at setting up this kind of mega projects. But the transition to sustainable agriculture is new for them. It’s about linking different aspects, and that’s where we are helping.’
Although the Wageningen scientists are finding channels for their most brilliant ideas abroad, Greenport Shangahi should not to be regarded as an experiment. ‘We’re not suddenly going to start doing things there that are not allowed in the Netherlands and it’s important that critical public debate continues.’