“Triple Helix” Dutch Ambassador speech to the AgriBusiness Forum 2018

Session 3 | New Technologies, Agri-Distribution Logistics in Greece and beyond

Key note by Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, 2 November 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Caspar Veldkamp, Ambassador at the Netherlands Embassy in Greece.

The title of the key note speech is:
Triple Helix’ back bone of agribusiness development in the Netherlands: Cooperation is the key to an innovative, productive and sustainable agriculture.

As part of my key note speech, I would like to start with an interesting 4 minutes movie about a “Dutch radice farmer” demonstrating innovation through digitization and digitization in the agri-food value chain. In fact, you will see that the farmer loses the contest against the machine.




Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an important initiative to gather here in Serres, a century-old fertile soil on the cross-roads in the Balkan region, in order to debate how to innovate the agri-food chain for increasing trade and investments, for feeding the world.

In this keynote I would like to share the key insights of the success of the Dutch agricultural sector: cooperation between the government, the private sector and research institutes as a crucial element for innovative, productive and sustainable agriculture. Since there are many agri-experts here today, you know that we call this in the Netherlands the “Triple Helix”.

My core message is that economic clustering of different but closely-related activities encourages innovation. More specifically, clustering strengthens our attitude regarding innovation. For this year’s Masterclass the Embassy of the Netherlands for the first time clustered in education with the American Farm School and Rutgers University, which share our desire to help as many young people as possible with employment opportunities within Greece’s agricultural and food sectors, unlocking growth potential.

All Masterclass partners involved their expertise. This type of cooperation can never start early enough. Clustering in education in the Greek agri-food sector makes sense to us, to prepare ourselves for partnering together at an international level.

In the coming minutes, I will share (A) key facts and figures, then (B) insight in 5 drivers for our success followed by (C) the Dutch vision on the future of agriculture.

Please allow me to start with some key facts and figures to give a view on the Dutch agri-food sector.


Key facts and figures

The Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products, after the US. In 2017 we exported just over 100 billion euros worth of agri-food products and agri-technology goods.

We possess world-class expertise in breeding and seeds, greenhouses and slaughterhouses, as well as the trade, marketing and logistics of agricultural products.

The sector is also supported by a thriving ecosystem of suppliers in machinery, construction, irrigation, consultancy and IT.

The agri-food sector represents almost 10 percent of the Dutch economy and employment. The sector provides work and income, directly and indirectly.

The sector has a strong international focus, and accounts for almost 20 percent of Holland’s total export value. About 50 percent of the Dutch trade surplus derives  from trade in agricultural products.

This is a position we have built up over the course of many decades. For a compact country, the Netherlands continues to make innovative and big achievements, the numbers are impressive. How do we do that?

The key element of the answer to this question is excellent co-operation across the entire agri-food value chain, as well as the quality of our infrastructure, our logistical capabilities and the positions of the Port of Rotterdam and Schiphol International Airport near Amsterdam.

If we look at the how and why of our success, we can distinguish five drivers. These are the open economy, the education and research system, economic clustering, co-operation and solutions to global challenges. Let me explain.


Insight in the five drivers

The first driver is the open economy of the Netherlands. For centuries, Dutch agriculture processing industry enjoyed free trade and open borders. This exposed companies to fierce competition, which forced them to cut costs and innovate their production processes and marketing and sales. Our location in the northwest of Europe gives us easy access to rich markets nearby.

The second driver is our system of research and education. Dutch public investment in the agricultural research system picked up more than a century ago.

The third driver is economic clustering. What actually is economic clustering?

Renowned economist Michael Porter has shown how clustering of different but closely-related activities encourages businesses to better innovate, to better compete, but at the same time to share knowledge and co-operate.  He used the Dutch cut flower production as an example of his theory.

The Westland area, close to the port of Rotterdam, is world-famous for greenhouse horticulture. There are also clusters of dairy farming, seed businesses and processing of cacao.

Now clustering is nothing in itself. You all know that innovation is created by meeting the demands of all those consumers out there. In the Netherlands clustering helps this process: clustering strengthens our attitude for better innovation. Innovation through digitization and digitization in the entire agri-food value chain.

Which brings me to the fourth driver, which is co-operation between the government, private sector and knowledge institutes. In the Netherlands, all three stakeholders work closely on government policies in areas such as climate and water management. And on strategic innovation roadmaps for robotics, big data and any other topic you can think of. They also pool their financial resources and share revenues. Because of its success, this approach is often referred to as the “Triple Helix: government, businesses and R&D-institutes.

The fifth and final driver is the purpose we serve. Our world faces a number of great challenges, notably population growth, climate change, environmental pollution and global hunger and poverty.

To give a proper answer to these threats agriculture has to become more and more sustainable. The ultimate purpose is that the Dutch agricultural sector will be part of an international and sophisticated circular economy.

Having shared the five drivers, now is the right moment to tell you about the vision on the future of Dutch agriculture.


Vision on the future of Dutch agriculture

The Dutch Minister of Agriculture, ms Carola Schouten, recently [September 2018] published her vision on the future of Dutch agriculture. In this vision she sets a target for 2030. “We need to focus”, she says, “on constantly reducing the use of raw materials through a more efficient use within supply chains”. The ultimate purpose is that the Dutch agricultural sector will be part of an international and sophisticated circular economy. This means that all produced waste is re-used.

Less food is wasted – during harvest, storage and transport, but also by consumers. And scarce raw materials remain available. We need to look for innovation that helps us to lower usage of fertilizers and chemicals, better crop protection and lower energy and water consumption. Also the improvement of working conditions for the employees is part of a sustainable production method.

So my country is heading for a circular agricultural sector, for circular farming. This is perfectly feasible at the level of the individual farmer and we have good examples of this. But for connecting at international level we still have to think about how we can become circular in the agricultural systems. One thing is clear: it requires co-operation at the international level.

Therefore, I wish for Greece, which has so much unlocked potential in the agri-food value chain, to adopt in high speed the way of thinking of the “Triple Helix”: cooperation between knowledge institutes, the private sector and the government. Only then, you can make the sector innovative, productive and sustainable. The government has a clear role in encouraging this, because markets do not always work, for example when it comes to research and innovation. But for Greece, private companies from big to small can innovate so much more.

The efforts of the “Triple Helix” bring success for private companies and moreover, the Dutch agri-food sector provides answers to the broader challenges facing our societies – now and in the future. Let me give you a crisp example.

The slide is representing innovative agriculture: an experimental farm on the island of Texel to test the salt tolerance for agricultural crops.

Worldwide, about 1.5 billion hectares of land is salt-affected and this number increases with 3 hectare every minute. Also, the amount of brackish water is equal to the amount of fresh water. Until now, this salinization of land and these saline resources of the world have been seen as a threat for agriculture. However, the Salt Farm on the island of Texel, which you can see on the slide behind me, is demonstrating the possibilities to use these resources by means of selecting salt tolerant crops, making use of existing varieties, not developing new ones.

This is just an example. In the Netherlands, we continue to invest in innovation in food technology, health, animal welfare and sustainability. Innovation is a priority and a key to productive and sustainable agriculture. Innovation is not only R&D, not only science and technology.

So what is innovation? It is an attitude: looking for new opportunities in a globalizing world. Looking for new generations and styles of entrepreneurship, for example through start and scaled-ups, which in Greece we support through our Orange Grove initiative and in particular with our leading role in the agri-food Masterclass that took place prior to this Agribusiness Forum.

My core message is that economic clustering of different but closely-related activities encourages innovation. More specifically, clustering strengthens our attitude regarding innovation. Clustering in education in the Greek agri-food sector makes sense to us, to prepare ourselves for partnering together at an international level when heading to a circular agricultural sector and for feeding the world.



Therefore, at this point I thank our partners, the American Farm School and Rutgers University and the organizers (Regional Unit of Serres, Chamber of Commerce Serres and Geo Routes) for realizing the Masterclass, the Challenge and the agri-food conference in good cooperation.

I hope this agribusiness forum continues to provide a platform for a constructive dialogue on how to innovate, how to cluster, how to cooperate between the government, local authorities, the private sector and science in Greece and beyond.

Cooperation is the key to an innovative, productive and sustainable agriculture.

Thank you your attention.


Caspar Veldkamp

Ambassador of the Netherlands to Greece