Give sustainable farmers prospects for the future

Farmers should have prospects for the future within the boundaries of sustainability. To operate their businesses, farmers must have at least the following: clarity about the criteria that their farm must meet, the freedom to determine how they will meet those criteria, and a well-managed system of monitoring and enforcement. Meeting these three conditions will require new government policy. This is the conclusion reached by the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) in its advisory report Farmers with a future, presented today to the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

The agriculture sector is facing major sustainability challenges. Meeting those challenges requires far-reaching measures that will seriously impact farmers’ business operations and trigger unrest among them. Since the start of the nitrogen crisis in particular, much of the focus has been on farmers who give up their businesses, voluntarily or otherwise. The Council, however, considers that policymakers should pay more attention to the farmers who will keep going. It therefore decided to talk to farmers about what sort of government policy can help them operate their businesses within the boundaries of sustainability.

Clarity about the criteria

First and foremost, farmers need clarity, both in the short term and, as far as possible, in the longer term, about the criteria they will have to meet. They need to have these criteria clarified for them at the level of their individual farms so that they can make timely and appropriate investments or adapt their revenue models.

In some regions, the tasks they face are shared ones, for example to raise the groundwater level or to restore biodiversity. Such tasks should be adapted into criteria for individual farms in regional collective policymaking processes in which the farmers themselves are involved. The national government must play an active role in such processes, with the province offering support.

Freedom within the framework of criteria

Government sets standards either in the form of general rules or by laying down specific provisions in environment and planning permits. These rules and provisions should give farmers as much freedom as possible to decide how they will comply. Farmers can then decide for themselves how best to integrate this into their individual business operations.

A well-managed system of monitoring and enforcement

Monitoring and enforcement of general rules and permits is and will remain a government responsibility. To limit the number of inspections and the associated administrative burden for farmers as much as possible, the Council proposes introducing a sustainability performance certification system. This will require establishing a body that awards certification to farmers who meet the standards. The process of certification will align all the criteria that a farmer is expected to meet. In addition, certification can be linked to systems that reward farmers for effort going above and beyond the prescribed standard. The need for government monitoring will also decrease as compliance with the certification criteria improves.

Final note

In addition to the above, another crucial factor is the presence of a market for sustainably produced food. Government must take the necessary steps forward, including in the international arena, to persuade parties in the food value chain to move in the right direction. Lenders, supermarket retail groups, marketing cooperatives and also consumers must do more to share the responsibility for the transition to sustainability.

Note for editors / not for publication

To request interviews, please contact the Council’s Communication Officer Miep Eisner at or +31 (0)6 1536 9339.

For information about the subject of the advisory report itself, please contact Nicole van Buren at or +31 (0)6 1017 2005.