Interview - Farid Tabarki is a trend-watcher and identifier. As a founding director of Studio Zeitgeist, he investigates the European zeitgeist and advises international organisations. Farid has presented TV programmes, is a popular keynote speaker and, according to the Volkskrant newspaper, is one of the two hundred most influential Dutch people. We asked him what social developments will affect horticulture in the coming years.
‘The biggest challenges facing the world are managing the climate crisis and feeding the growing population. The climate crisis is forcing us to move towards the energy transition and to pay much more attention to sustainability. Population growth requires even more efficient methods of producing healthy food. Horticulture has a lot of experience in both areas and is a source of inspiration for the world. Thirdly, there is a logistical challenge: how do we ensure that food is distributed without affecting the climate? This is a global challenge because there is still considerable migration to cities, especially in economically emerging countries.’
‘Let’s start with the climate crisis. I expect that between now and twenty years in the future, we will generate more than enough green electricity in many countries. A country like Denmark already has a surplus of wind energy at times, which they sell. There are many opportunities in this area, and this also applies specifically to horticultural companies. I recently visited a Dutch grower who was making good money selling his residual heat, in addition to his tomato sales. Greenhouses are increasingly playing a role in the energy supply through exchanging heat. In the Netherlands, we have the problem of excessive nitrogen emissions. The difficult thing is that we are trying to tackle this problem with national standards, while we produce to a large extent abroad. For the grower, this means that it may make sense to start growing abroad, or to enter into cross-border partnerships, but using our cleaner technologies so that we don’t just shift the problem elsewhere.’
THE DEMAND FOR FOOD
‘The other great challenge is feeding the world. More food is needed and, at the same time, a better-off group of people is emerging who are demanding more of their food. They want to know if it is healthy, where it comes from, and whether it was produced under humane conditions. The Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn was so transparent that consumers discovered that certain oranges came from a Brazilian producer where working conditions were poor. They were quickly changed. Consumers also get an insight into food quality. This poses threats, but also presents opportunities for those who have their affairs in order. Another trend is the emergence of a group that has less than its fair share of prosperity. In addition to the traditionally vulnerable groups, this increasingly refers to the middle class, a group in which diabetes and obesity are on the increase. They don’t have the luxury of paying more for food that meets higher standards. So how do we provide them with healthy food? Governments and insurers want to steer customers in the direction of healthy nutrition. Growers can contribute to this with innovative, cheaper production methods, for example by reducing energy and water demand. Because vegetables are healthy, growers can make a difference here.’
‘The transport of food places a burden on the environment. Here too, there is a big risk that measures to combat the climate crisis will increase costs. This fact, and the critical consumer’s wish for “local for local”, calls for production that is closer to the customer. And the customer will more often be a restaurant or food stall, because the global trend is towards having others cook for us. This will increase the demand for more varied ingredients.’
THE NEXT STEP
‘Greenhouse horticulture is a high-quality industry and has many rules. It is not enough just to comply with the rules in order to take the next step. Every entrepreneur must put out feelers and ask him or herself what the consumer wants now, and will want tomorrow. In addition, every entrepreneur must realise that you cannot innovate on your own. They must bring in science, social networks, and citizen and consumer participation.’