Volkert Engelsman, from Eosta (Netherlands): “The current economic and agricultural model is no longer an option”

These are busy times for Eosta, the market leader in the European organic fruit and vegetable sector. «Sales of organic fruits and vegetables have skyrocketed and we can't keep up. We have already seen more than once that the demand for organic products grows exponentially during periods of crisis. "People take into account the impact of food and pesticides on their health," says the company's director and founder, Volkert Engelsman.

However, the director thinks that the current good sales are of secondary importance. «The most important thing now is to take advantage of the moment to bring to light the healthy factor of food. We have always thought that the externalization of social costs, related to health or the environment, would only affect future generations. However, now it is also affecting ours.

It won't be the last

«Researchers at Stanford University, for example, find a direct link between pandemics and intensive agriculture and livestock farming. The intensity of COVID-19 has surprised us all, but several articles in Nature y The Lancet "They already warn that this will not be the last," continues Volkert. "There is reference to the fact that the sharp decrease in biodiversity as a result of intensive agriculture, fertilizers and pesticides makes ecosystems more vulnerable and no longer have the self-regulatory capacity to control these types of virus outbreaks."

Volkert warns of the risk of the economy restarting with the usual means after the crisis, focusing on jobs without taking into account ecological or social aspects. He fears that politics will say that there is no time to address measures related to climate, pollution or sustainability. «But cheap is expensive. Creating jobs in sectors that are part of the problem will weaken ecosystems and health, and in the long term, will foster the vulnerability of our economy. We will risk new pandemics and continue to focus on cleaning up the spill without fixing the leak. If we really want to jump-start the economy, we would do well to adopt environmentally friendly agriculture. We must not only focus on productivity per square meter, but also on greater resilience of ecosystems. "Only this will benefit the economy in the long term."

Cuban Tres Guitar think tanks

When asked who he hopes to achieve this with, Volkert responds: "We are currently part of three think tanks, who meet regularly. The first is initiated by green banks and is multidisciplinary in nature. The second group of experts is mainly made up of financial institutions concerned about the old business model that has proven to be vulnerable if health and environmental damage is not included in financial risk analyses. The third group of experts is the Transition Coalition for Food and Agriculture, which involves several ministries, including those of Agriculture and Economic Affairs.

“We have been pushing agriculture in the wrong direction with the focus on productivity for too long. COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for us to also focus on biodiversity and health. We can pump everything with fertilizers and pesticides, but then we are undermining long-term profitability. It makes sense that banks and institutional investors are now accelerating the implementation of sustainability criteria in their financial conditions,” continues Volkert.

«Of course, our clients are also working on this, some more than others. The first phase of crisis management involves curve-flattening measures to prevent ICU collapse or overload. In the second phase, the first diagnoses will arrive, also for the economy. It is now clear that, contrary to Trump's claims, the health crisis could easily last two years. We are facing a period of temporary confinements with two constants: one and a half meters of distance and no more trips. This will have an immense impact on the economy due to the effect on hospitality and tourism. Despite relief measures, the future of certain industries will be seriously compromised. In addition to the 8% recession that the IMF predicts, we will have to choose which sector we want to support and which not.

«The third phase consists of reflection on politics. People notice the clean air and silence. One of our Indian suppliers sees the Himalayas again. That makes people think about what kind of society we really want. Do we really need all the things we buy, is it necessary to fly from Amsterdam to Barcelona for 39 euros? Neurologist Bas Bloem, together with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), recently pointed out the direct relationship between Parkinson's and pesticides. We are realizing that our health is related to the health of nature and that a fragile ecosystem leads to a fragile economic system. Relying on our technological brilliance, we thought we had solutions for everything, but now we are truly disarmed. At the same time, we shouldn't be too surprised either. “Climate change has been indicating to us for some time the need for a change in the economic system.”

“There are innovators, early risers and laggards here too,” says Volkert, referring to Rogers' model. «The fruit and vegetable sector is traditionally an adopting sector. In this sense, Eosta is an exception. Let's show leadership! If we don't adopt Minister Carola's circular agriculture now, then when?


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