Volkert Engelsman (Eosta):

"Business as usual is no longer an option"

There are currently no lack of visitors at Eosta, the market leader in the European organic fruit and vegetable sector. "The turnover is exploding and organic fruit and vegetables are in high demand. We have seen this often in times of crisis, the demand for bio is growing exponentially. In one way or another, people think more about the impact of food and pesticides on their health," says director and founder Volkert Engelsman.

However, the director seems to think that secondary sales are currently going well. "The most important thing now is to use the momentum to put the proactive health side of nutrition on the map. We have always thought that the externalising of social costs related to health or the environment, will affect future generations. That is now obsolete, because it is now also affecting ours."

Not the last
"Researchers at Stanford University for example, establish a direct link between pandemics and intensive agriculture and livestock farming. The intensity of Covid-19 has surprised us all, but articles in Nature and The Lancet already warns that this won't be the last," Volkert continues. "Reference is made to the sharp decrease in biodiversity as a result of intensive agriculture, fertilisers and pesticides, which makes ecosystems more vulnerable and no longer have the self-regulating capacity to keep these types of virus outbreaks in check."

Volkert warns against the risk that the economy will be restarted with the usual means after the crisis, with only a focus on jobs, regardless of green or social under the motto; there is no time for climate, nitrogen or other sustainability measures. “It would be penny wise, pound foolish for jobs to serve a business that is part of the problem, a business that is weakening ecosystems and health. In doing so, we increase the vulnerability of our economy, we risk new disruptive pandemic and we continue to mop with the tap open. If we really want to get the economy going, we would do well to embrace nature-inclusive agriculture right about now. Not only to focus on productivity per meter, but also on health and ecosystem services which contribute to greater resilience of ecosystems and thus the economy."

Three think tanks
When asked, who he hopes to achieve this with; Volkert replies: "We are currently in three think tanks, which meet regularly. The first was initiated by 'green' banks, composed in a multidisciplinary manner. The second think tank mainly consists of financial institutions that are concerned about the old revenue model that appears to be vulnerable if you do not include health and environmental damage in your financial risk analyses. De Nederlandsche Bank is also involved in this. The third think tank is; The Food Transition Coalition and Agriculture, which also involves various ministries, including The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Economic Affairs."

"We've been turning agriculture the wrong way for too long just by looking at productivity. Covid-19 is a wake-up call to also focus on biodiversity and health. We can pump things up with fertilisers and pesticides, but then we are actually sawing the chair legs off, of our own long-term profitability. It is logical that banks and institutional investors are now accelerating the implementation of sustainability criteria in their financing conditions," continues Volkert.

"Of course our customers are also busy with this; some more than others. As with all other leadership issues, the first phase concerns crisis management, 'flatten the curve' measures to prevent peak failure or overload of for example; IC's. In the second phase, the first diagnoses come through. It is now clear that - contrary to what Trump claims - this could easily take two years. We are facing a period of periodic lockdowns and releases. With one constant: a meter and a half away and no more traveling. This will have a mega effect on the economy, hotels and restaurants and tourism, whereby despite future aid and support measures the future of certain industries will be seriously at stake. Apart from the 8% recession that the IMF predicts, we cannot avoid being selective in which business we want to support and which we no longer want to support."

"The third phase is about reflection and on policy. People notice the clean air, the silence, one of our Indian suppliers sees the Himalayas again. That makes people think about what kind of society we actually want. Do we need all that stuff, do we have to go to Barcelona necessarily for 39 euros. Neurologist, Bas Bloem recently pointed out the direct relationship between Parkinson's and pesticides together with EFSA. We realise how our health is related to the health of nature. And that a fragile ecosystem leads to a fragile economic system. We thought that in our technological brilliance we have solutions for everything, but now we stand with a mouth full of teeth.
At the same time, we shouldn't be too surprised either. The climate crisis, nitrogen crisis, health crisis have been pushing us for a while about the need for system change.”

"You also have front runners, early adopters and laggards with these types of themes," Volkert refers to Rogers' model. "The fresh produce sector is traditionally a somewhat more following sector. In that sense, Eosta is quite an odd man out. Let's show leadership and not be tempted to just put out fires. If we don't embrace Carola's circular agriculture now, then when?! "  


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