Toespraak van staatssecretaris Van Dam bij seminar over Agro/Logistiek en Water/Infrastructuur, Argentinië

Toespraak van staatssecretaris Van Dam (EZ) bij de start van de seminars over Agro/Logistiek en Water/Infrastructuur op 5 september 2016 in Buenos Aires (Argentinië). De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is my first time in Argentina and it is a joy to discover the beauty of this country. The geography is exceptionally diverse, ranging from Arctic to subtropical areas. Culturally, Argentina is an incredible melting pot with strong European influences. And Buenos Aires feels particularly vibrant and full of possibilities. 

Though far apart, our countries share important similarities and connections. We share a passion for football, with Cruyff, Van Basten, Maradona and Messi among the best players in the world. We both love hockey, and I want to congratulate Argentina’s men on winning gold at the Olympics. And our Queen Maximá, whose intelligence and warmth are widely respected, was born and raised in Argentina.

Today I want to focus on our joint interests and challenges in the areas of food and water. The Netherlands is a global agri-food leader with expertise in areas like potatoes, vegetables, flowers and seeds, as well as food processing, technology and logistics. Argentina, for its part, is a major global producer of meat, soy beans, wine, peanuts, sunflower seeds and fruits.

Both our agri-food industries are key sources of employment and exports. But beyond economic growth and social welfare, there are other issues at stake. Global population growth and climate change are dual challenges that require a novel approach to the production and transport of food. The time has come for Climate Smart Agriculture.

This means we need innovations like precision farming, which increases yield, or smart logistics that reduce waste or create a more optimal cold chain. We need research into better horticultural seeds, new varieties of potatoes, improved genetics for animals, and smarter use of nutrients. And we need to develop more efficient potato-harvesters, milking robots and automatic packaging lines.

The Netherlands has valuable expertise in these areas and I have come to Argentina with a trade mission to share this with you. In turn, we are here to learn from Argentina, for example the success of its no-tillage system and organic production methods. I am confident that during today’s seminars and the subsequent matchmaking you will find Dutch and Argentinian expertise to be complementary.

And the past has proven that our countries work well together. For the past 4 years, for example, Dutch companies in the potato chain and research organizations have shared their technology with Argentinian counterparts. They looked at optimizing seed potatoes to local circumstances, improving transport, optimizing storage and processing and other issues. This is helping Argentina meet growing demand for potatoes and potato products in the Mercosur area.                                                   

Now, we cannot talk about food without also discussing water. Good irrigation and drainage technologies, for example, can optimize yields and lower production costs. At the same time, drought or excessive rain can threaten crops. Argentina has seen this year’s peanut and soy harvest seriously damaged by excessive rain and high water tables.

Argentina regularly suffers from floods. This uproots social life and causes tremendous damage to housing and other infrastructure. But it also impacts the country’s agricultural potential, by damaging plants, reducing crop quality, and preventing harvests. A lot of Argentina’s famous fertile agricultural land remains undeveloped because of regular floods. I hope Argentina’s recently published National Water Plan and other plans can change all of this.

I also hope that the Netherlands can support Argentina’s fight against water. Our history, our economy, our very national character has largely been defined by our intimate relationship with water. The land we famously reclaimed from the sea became fertile agricultural soil and home to 17 million people, 60% of them living in flood prone areas. And our rivers, ports and maritime industries are why we became one of the world’s leading exporters and the Gateway to Europe for the world’s goods.

But the water that brings prosperity is also the water that can take it all away. We, too, have experienced the human and economic cost of floods. And like other countries around the world, urbanization means our cities are growing in areas contested by the rivers and the sea.

Over the course of centuries, we have learnt to manage and fight water. But climate change and the prospect of rising water tables means that there is limit to what this can achieve. So in recent decades, we have begun to adopt a different approach, one in which we strive to live harmoniously and sustainably with water.

The Dutch have developed exceptional knowledge and skills to achieve this. Not just delta technology that protects us against the floods that Argentina regularly experiences. Or technologies that allow us to reuse water, extract valuable nutrients from waste water or even produce energy from waste water. But also public-private approaches to the nation-wide management of water that involves all stakeholders.

This has led to quintessentially Dutch approaches to water resource management, river basin development, coastal zone management and port development. These align the interests of all stakeholders, balance short-term with long-term needs and are based on the latest scientific insights.

It would be an honour if the Dutch water specialists could contribute to Argentina’s struggle with water. Earlier this year, for example, a team of Dutch water experts visited Argentina and advised national and provincial authorities on solving problems related to the Río Salado river and the Dique Paso de las Piedras reservoir.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Food and water are pillars of our economies and the key to a sustainable and prosperous future. To safeguard our countries for generations to come, it is key that we continue to innovate, share knowledge and build smart solutions together. The Netherlands and Argentina are natural partners and I am convinced that today’s seminars and matchmaking will bring us closer together.

I wish you fruitful discussions and excellent meetings.

Thank you.