The Dutch agrofood sector needs to change its mindset if it is to capitalize on one of the biggest opportunities of the 21st century: feeding the growing cities of emerging economies. This was one of the main conclusions of an expert roundtable organized as part of the Innovation Network Feeding Cities. Held on February 15 at the F&BKP offices, the roundtable brought together four leading experts from policy, practice and research for an open discussion on opportunities for the Dutch Agrofood sector and strategies on how to stimulate investments and partnerships to engage with these opportunities in emerging economies.
Providing sufficient and healthy food for the rapidly urbanizing world population is a global challenge. With the world population set to grow to 10 billion by 2050, this challenge is increasingly moving to the growing cities – that bring with them unique challenges and enormous opportunities alike. Identifying trends and how these connect to solutions of Dutch companies and knowledge institutions is a crucial stepping stone for the sector to continue to build its global brand.
Just imagine, a city like Dhaka with nearly nineteen million inhabitants, a potential market larger than the entire population of the Netherlands that grows at a significant pace every year. It is estimated that by 2050 the world will number over 100 of such cities, of ten million and up. At such scales innovative logistical solutions are crucial to keep populations fed and healthy, and food systems effective and sustainable.
CHANGE OF MINDSET IS NEEDED TO SUCCEED
The Dutch sector is well placed to provide solutions for these challenges, yet needs to change its mindset of exporting what works in the Netherlands. Traditionally it has been focused on intensive, sustainable food production. However for these growing cities it is not just about production, it is about how you get your product from the field onto the plate. One of the key trends identified during the group discussion is that of radically different and ever changing food systems and consumption patterns in these cities.
For example, in Bangladesh getting your product to the consumer means ensuring that lower income strata are able to buy products on their doorsteps every day. In Kenya it means making available products to micro-entrepreneurs online via mobile payment systems such as M-Pesa. This signifies another important trend, the reliance of these cities on highly diffuse and informal systems of distribution. In many of these cities, after all, supermarkets only occupy a marginal space in the local market.
COMPANIES SHOULD LINK UP WITH WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE GROUND
Linking up with what is happening in these cities and to the different and changing consumer preferences that go along with that is thus key. What would you prefer? A chicken still warm after just being slaughtered in front of you, or a cold, pre-sliced chicken breast that was frozen – perhaps multiple times – before ending up on the supermarket shelves. Such choices about healthy and safe food can be culturally informed, but attempts by cities to improve health conditions – for instance by banning wet markets – can actually decrease access to healthy food for lower income consumers.
So if we are talking about improving value chains or food systems what companies need to think about is how these solutions match with the complex demands of specific cities. Going on a trade mission to market these products without a vision on how they will be embedded in a local system is doomed to failure. Identifying demands and market entry points is thus crucial and the discussion highlighted several. One key piece of advice was to look to local municipal corporations to help them address demands that are focused around concerns for public health.
INNOVATION AND ADAPTATION: A COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE
Luckily the Dutch agrofood sector has ample experience with adapting to changing demands and consumer preferences, which should be seen as one of its biggest comparative advantages. Just imagine how much has changed in the past thirty years. A fair share of Dutch consumers today want to know where a product originated, how animals were treated, if a product was produced sustainably – while society demanded a shift to more ecologically friendly production methods. Yet the sector thrived, on a global scale.
The Innovation Network Feeding Cities (INFC) will continue to organize activities to capture these lessons and help build an environment that allows the Dutch sector to contribute to solving these global issues. To learn more about the INFC, read the meeting reports of the January 2018 meetingand the meeting that launched the network in April 2017.
Photo credit: Pixabay, Creative Commons Attribution.