The Netherlands and Australia are learning from each other

Wednesday 6 May, 2015

The Consul-General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Sydney, Mr Willem Cosijn, confronted Warrane residents with some surprising facts about his country when he spoke at the College on Wednesday 6 May 2015.

For instance, he pointed out that although the Netherlands is such a tiny country - one of Europe’s smallest (only two-thirds of Tasmania) - it is now the world’s second biggest producer and exporter of vegetables after the United States.

He explained that this amazing feat had been made possible by innovations in the Netherlands in growing techniques and logistical refinements that have made it possible to both expand food production and to transport food quickly over vast distances.

The advances were so great that 19th-Century predictions by Malthus that there would not be enough food for people had been proven completely wrong. As one Dutch Professor of agriculture had pointed out, worldwide more people were now sick from too much food than too little. They were getting plenty of food, but the wrong food.

He said the technology behind one of the main advances in the Netherlands - greenhouses - was now further being introduced into Australia. Some Dutch greenhouse builders and growers found their way to Australia and there are more to offer their knowledge in this field. 

“It is cleaner, more sustainable and cheaper,” he said. “In places where the climate is not right, you put a glasshouse on the ground. We have a terrible climate in the Netherlands, but we now have this big production of vegetables. But even in places were the climate is terrific, greenhouses make it possible to produce more for less money. We call this intensive growing. 

“So we are teaming up with you guys in intensive growing in Australia. The fastest growing population is in northern Asia and it is waiting for you to supply part of their food.“

Logistics would play a big role here and one example of how this could be tackled was the way in which the Dutch were now transporting flowers like the Dutch tulip. 

“We grow them in Netherlands or even further away in Africa and sell them in New York State within 24 hours,” he said. “That’s logistics! We would like to team up with you guys, so we are organizing a trip for Australian port operators to the Netherlands to get acquainted. 

Mr Cosijn said that between 60 and 70 percent of the Dutch population and the biggest part of the national assets lie some meters below sea level.  “So we have a lot of experience in dealing with flooding problems. We learned it the hard way!” He explained that the Dutch government and Dutch companies have teamed up in Queensland with their Australian counterparts in a so called ‘community of practice’. “We exchange views and best practices and learn from each other. To our mutual benefit. ‘We for example are very interested in the way you deal with droughts and disaster management”. 

Noting that the Netherlands is not well known in Australia, Mr Cosijn pointed out that it had many world class companies and institutions. They included the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the International Criminal Court and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Leading Dutch companies included amongst others Shell, Philips, RABO, Heineken, ING and KLM.

“The good news for you people is that, like the Dutch people living in other countries, these companies blend in,” he said. “They are not hiring exclusively Dutchies, they are hiring you. They really want to have Aussie guys in their ranks. That’s good news for you, and it is actually up to the highest levels.”

Mr Cosijn invited students to consider spending a few months of their degrees studying in the Netherlands, which he pointed out had leading agricultural and international law universities. 

He said a new “Holland Scholarship” program, that will be launched later this year, would enable students to study in the Netherlands where courses were now conducted completely in English.

During a question-and-answer session, Mr Cosijn was asked about his country’s expertise in expanding safe cycling facilities in cities.

He said that in Netherlands it was common for whole families to travel by bike and there were a lot of less cars on the road. “The reason is not that the Dutch don’t like cars; on the contrary! But we tend to take the bike for the shorter distances, come rain or sunshine,” Cosijn explained. We completely embedded cycling in our transport. When purchasing a train ticket it was also common for Dutch people to purchase a ticket for a rental bike as well, to use at the other end of their journey. “We make it easy for the travelers to take travel by public transport and per bike”. Last year a team of Australian decision makers went to the Netherlands to study cycling infrastructure and policies. 

Complimenting Warrane on the atmosphere in the College, Mr Cosijn said he had noticed something special - the camaraderie between the College’s residents.

“You will all be in management positions eventually,” he said, “and what you have will set you apart - that you have this quality, that you care for each other and look after each other. Stick with that. You will see when you are a little bit older that you have to endure the competition. It will be different out there.”

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