The ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) has invited WUR to design new food systems that are climate-, environment- and nature-friendly. Not in isolation but together with partners in living labs and experimental gardens.
Minister of LNV Carola Schouten is cautiously looking for ways of turning Dutch farming around in the direction of circular agriculture. That caution is not reflected in the Knowledge and Innovation Agenda, though: ‘The agriculture and food system of today is not sustainable and we must change course.’ The transition to circular agriculture calls for system innovations, writes the ministry, which wants to work towards a food system approach, including lower meat consumption, less food waste and less processed food. The food system must also be climate and nature-friendly, and use resources responsibly. WUR should develop such integrated food systems and contribute the building blocks for them. This is not just a matter of technical know-how, but also of business models and social innovations.
The Knowledge and Innovation Agenda mentions a lot of research projects that can serve as the building blocks for circular agriculture. The ministry wants WUR to develop resilient animal breeds and plant varieties, new protein-rich food sources (insects, algae and seaweeds) and low-emission barns, to promote sustainable soil management and on-farm biodiversity, and to minimize the public health risks caused by livestock farming.
But LNV also wants to see methods of measuring ‘functional agrobiodiversity’ (clean water, improved soils and pollinators), so that policymakers or supermarkets can assess the effectiveness of measures and comply accordingly. They want smart technology for avoiding food waste, such as techniques that break down abattoir waste and crop residues for reuse as livestock feed. And they want WUR to develop new agricultural systems that contribute to the landscape, complete with business models. All these innovations must find their way into the practice in the sector via regional experimental gardens and living labs.
Researchers should work in a multidisciplinary fashion, and no longer think in linear terms – ‘I develop knowledge and you apply it’ – but collaborate with users in knowledge networks.