The story

This article was written by Milena Engel and Lily Maxwell-Lwin and is based on the following article. 

As countries across Europe move forward with policies to decarbonise the agricultural sector in line with new requirements set by the EU Green Deal, farmers are facing new challenges. A clear example of this is the recent farming crisis in the Netherlands: when a new coalition government unveiled plans this summer to reduce the agricultural sector’s nitrogen emissions by up to 70% by 2030, a group of farmers took to the streets – tractors and pitchforks at the ready. 

Why? Despite its small size, the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of food in the world and its intensive livestock farming system produces an unusual amount of ammonia and nitrous oxide (major environmental polluters). If this regulation becomes a new law, it will have a huge effect on farmers, with an estimated 11,200 farms having to close.  Since agriculture is accountable for nearly half of the Dutch nitrogen emissions, the Dutch food-system is facing an “unavoidable transition.” 

But despite apparently opposing interests, policymakers and farmers find themselves in a similar position: neither really know how to create a just agricultural transition – because it simply hasn’t been done before.   

To address this shared problem, Commonland’s partner in The Netherlands, Wij.land, a learning network of farmers who are already transitioning to regenerative farming methods, met face-to-face with policymakers to discuss how they can work together to transform the Dutch food system in an egalitarian way in September 2022.  

In the last few months, farmers have been protesting the new government policies, claiming that the new regulations are top-down and have left them feeling uncertain about the future of their farms and families.  They also argue that the new policies go against earlier policies, which encouraged the expansion of their businesses in the first place.     

The event – “Welcome to Wij. land” – yielded insights that could inform future policies and ensure they’re fairer for everyone: 

  1. A just transition needs to be bottom-up, rather than top-down.  
  2. We need farmers,  agri-business, policymakers, banks, and governments alike to make this change happen.
  3. There are plenty of farmers who want to switch to nature-inclusive business models (74% according to this article), but they cannot do it alone. What farmers need are clear frameworks that give them space to create a regenerative farming system that is diverse, financially viable, long-term, and beneficial for people and nature.  
  4. Farmers need learning networks, where they can easily acquire new knowledge, connections, and skills. 

A combination of music, poetry and small discussion groups encouraged open listening and free expression of challenges and future hopes. The two groups developed greater empathy with one another, with one young farmer noting, “I thought it was easy, but it also sounds like a hassle to work at the ministry.”  

Farmers’ plight at being excluded from the decision-making when it comes to global food systems transformation highlights that a “just transition” is only possible if everyone is involved in policymaking processes. Together at Wij.land, those working directly with nature (farmers) and those trying to protect it from afar (policymakers) came together to ask – how can we transition to more regenerative agricultural practices without leaving anyone behind?  

Wij.lands’ multistakeholder approach, connecting policymakers with farmers, is a crucial first step in creating long-term goals for agriculture and landscape restoration. We hope it could serve as inspiration for other actors across Europe! 

 Read more about this event in the article “Boer en beleidsmaker vinden elkaar in dialoog“.

What does a just agricultural transition look like to you? Let us know in the comments!

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