The Netherlands, a tiny country that is only a bit bigger than Nigeria’s Zamfara state, has shown that there is always a way whenever there is a will.
The Dutch State has emerged second-largest agricultural exporter by value, despite limited land, owing to its top-notch infrastructure, logistics, cutting-edge technologies, and innovative practices.
And while both the Netherlands and Zamfara share a focus on agriculture, and face similar challenges related to climate change and resource management, Nigeria as a whole cannot be compared as of yet to the kingdom of the Netherlands.
The Dutch country took certain steps to get to where it is today. Its transitioning to become a major global exporter holds lessons for Nigeria.
“We’re big exporters in the Netherlands because we also have an amazing infrastructure and logistics in place. It’s top-notch,” Leonie van der Stijl, deputy consul general and head of the economic department, Kingdom of the Netherlands, said.
She added, “The port of Rotterdam is the biggest in Europe, so it’s also a hub to the hinterlands. We’re almost a port of Germany, even though Germany is not on the water. Our rivers flow through the Netherlands, all the way to Germany.
“There’s hardly any wilderness left in the Netherlands. We’ve chopped everything. When you fly over, you’ll see only squares of agricultural practices. Every metre in our country has been made for farming.”
Driven by food security concerns, the Netherlands set an ambitious goal 20 years ago to feed its 17 million people, double food production while halving resource use. It has made significant progress in that time, showcasing the potential of innovation and efficiency in agriculture.
“Unlike Nigeria where almost everything is season-bound such that you have just one harvest of certain crops every year, we have the greenhouse technologies down to tea, so we grow everything year-round.
“We have also done all of the research and all of the data for decades on how to keep the soil healthy, how to get the most yield from the best seeds (and that’s, I think, one of the things that Nigeria has found a tough thing to do),” said Stijl.
Over the past 30 years, the Dutch tomato industry has become the world leader in yield, producing more tomatoes per square mile than anywhere else (as it grows its tomatoes on only 6.9 square miles of land). The Netherlands enjoys high yields in other staple crops as well.
Nigeria, on the other hand, has the third largest area harvested for tomatoes, but the lowest yield among the top 25 producers.
Nigeria is not a match to the Netherlands in terms of yield as data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations show that Africa’s most populous nation has failed to make appreciable efforts in increasing its farm yields, still recording the lowest yields per hectare among its African peers.
After the crops are harvested, products in staggering numbers are still lost from farmer to market because of the long logistics chain.
Stijl also spoke on the high level of insecurity that plague both the farmers and the major markets.
“It’s tough for big markets in Nigeria. For Mile 12 here in Lagos, for example, to receive all the products by trucks on a marketplace that has to deal with insecurity alone. But where the trucks come from in the North often, it’s also tough there to be a farmer.”
“So, the insecurity, the infrastructure, all of that comes into play when you want to make the agriculture that Nigeria practices an entrepreneurial business practice to feed itself and the rest of the world.”
Jaap van Beesten, country manager, Nigeria & commercial controller, DSM Nutritional Products Nigeria Ltd, while sharing on the success of the Netherlands with BusinessDay, said that one of the reasons they have thrived is that all players and stakeholders in the value chain make it a point of duty to discuss and collaborate.
“Stakeholders always come together to talk. They’ll argue, but they always come up with solutions on what is best for the country,” he said, adding, “On top of that, we have a lot of family companies, handing down the practice from generation to generation. So there’s a lot of generational wealth.”
According to him, the difficulty in Nigeria is, “if you go to school, where is the job?, but in the Netherlands, there is a lot of education that is tailor-made to fit with the companies. So the businesses basically, have worked together with the universities.”
Beesten also emphasised the issue of security when he shared the difficulty they encounter when they have to check on their rice millers in Kebbi State, and how having to move the rice safely to Kano may be costlier, a cost that is eventually transferred to the already-suffering consumer. “Safety makes business easy,” he said.
Oluwaseun Ojambati, senior agricultural policy advisor, Kingdom of the Netherlands, said that Nigeria should collaborate with the Netherlands, because Nigeria has a comparative advantage owing to unused arable lands, and can leverage the Netherlands to help in terms of capacity building, innovation, and technology.