In 2007, Dutch consumers spent 13.3 percent more on organic produce than the year before. To satisfy the increasing demand, the number of certified organic farms and market gardening companies is continuing to grow, with 2.5 percent of Dutch agricultural land given over to organic farming at present. Simone van den Ham, author of Desire and Reality, has researched the issue.
Organic shopping”In 2007, 2.5 percent of Dutch farming land was organic. That’s not much when you consider that the, albeit optimistic, target is 10 percent by 2010. That 10 percent should give us a reasonably buoyant sector.” The Netherlands started to use artificial fertilizers around 1900 in order to increase production, rather early compared to neighbouring countries. This followed a crisis in the agrarian sector. Pesticides were introduced after the Second World War. People were determined never again to go hungry and were intent on bumping up production still further.
First organic food
The first organic food was produced in 1925 by amateur farmers interested in the ideas behind anthroposophy. They were joined by environmentalists in the 1970s. Changes in the government’s agricultural policies in the 1990s stimulated ordinary farmers’ interest in organic farming, as Ms van den Ham explains:
“Meat and grain mountains, just producing more wasn’t working. They had to find a more sustainable way of working and organic farming became a priority. Then all sorts of rules were introduced and farmers got subsidies to change to organic. Since then, the number of organic farmers has risen.”
Denmark leads the way
Denmark heads Europe’s league of organic producers with a market share of 5.1 percent, while the Netherlands is in the middle. The price of organically produced food is often said to be a problem but Ms van den Ham sees it slightly differently:
“There’s a difference between heavy and light users. Most heavy users are highly qualified. They read quality papers, are members of environmental organisations, eat little or no meat and vote for left-wing parties. Light users buy organic for the taste or for health reasons. They are difficult to pigeon-hole.”
No one had heard of climate change when the first pioneers began farming organically. It now appears that organic farming can help combat greenhouse gas emissions. In the light of this, it is not so surprising that the sector is forecasting a growth of 10 percent in the near future.