Toespraak van staatssecretaris Knops bij opening BASF Vegetable Seeds

Toespraak van staatssecretaris Knops (BZK) bij de opening van de nieuwbouw van BASF Vegetable Seeds in Nunhem op 9 november 2018. Alleen het gesproken woord geldt.

Dames en heren, meine Damen und Herren, ladies and gentlemen, It’s an honour to be here with you today, and to say a few words on behalf of the Dutch government. This place is well known to me. I have been an administrator in this region for years. So I am well aware of this company, its leadership and the innovative energy here.

I know about the small family-owned company that was called ‘t Zoadje’ by the locals.  And that grew out to be the famous brand Nunhems, one of the world leaders in vegetable seeds. I know about your 24 crops, two thousand six hundred varieties and 100 unique breeding programs. I know about the company’s long-standing strong social responsibility and involvement in the region. I know about the recent times of uncertainty. And I know about John Willems, Country Head Vegetable seeds, nominated for businessman of the year by De Limburger. To name just a few things.

Today we’re celebrating this new state-of-the-art plant breeding centre for vegetables. An asset to this region. Now as you may know, in my role as state secretary, besides from the relations with our Caribbean Islands, I’m also responsible for cross-border cooperation. So over the past year I’ve visited all the border regions in the Netherlands. Working closely and effectively together with our neighbours, especially with our partners in Nordrhein-Westfalen. To break down boundaries and to seize the opportunities the border region has to offer. 

Now, there are plenty of opportunities in the border regions. But also some challenges. Like a declining population and labour market frictions. Internationally oriented companies in border regions play a key role in tackling these challenges. Because for them, the border has no limits.

They attract talent from both sides of the border and beyond. The best and the brightest. They create and develop national and international networks. And they contribute to the regional economy and community.

This very successful German company in the Netherlands is no different. It provides work for thousands of people in both countries, adds to the liveliness of the region, and fuels the local economy.

Moreover, the company also makes a significant contribution to innovation, which powers society forwards. Of course, innovation by companies is driven primarily by the interests of their customers and by their market share. They “have to be where the customer is”, as BASF puts it. But they also have to take account of the demands of society. For better nutrition, for example. And for lower fertiliser use.

It’s good to see companies like Nunhems and BASF taking their responsibility, and standing shoulder to shoulder with government in tackling the major challenges facing society today.

Challenges like the future of food.

Now, as you know, things are changing rapidly in the food industry. We need to make adjustments to the food system to ensure we have sufficient, sustainable and healthy food for many years to come. It’s crucial to find the right balance between sustainable, healthy and affordable food. In this part of the world, we see an increased awareness of the importance of good, healthy food. But even so, most people only consume half the recommended daily amount of 400 grams of fruit and vegetable. Thereby increasing the risk of lifestyle diseases.

So in order to improve public health and to limit health care costs, we need all hands on deck.

We have to create increasing awareness about healthy nutrition and encouraging responsible behaviour. Not by lecturing people, but by tempting them. Nunhems has shown us how this is done. By introducing Minigustos, the line of snack vegetables. Those delicious little cucumbers are a hit, especially with young people.

On the world level, we witness challenges like growing malnutrition on the one hand, and growing obesity on the other. Food security and the supply of raw materials are under pressure. And on top of all that, national and international governments have set ambitious climate goals, including minimising greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. All these challenges will place heavy demands on the innovative capabilities and entrepreneurship of agro-food businesses. But you’re not on your own.

To build a sustainable food system, we need the full commitment of parties in what we call the ‘triple helix’, ‘golden triangle’ or 4O’s: enterprises, research, education and government. The corner stone of Dutch Agro business. Because of this partnership, the Dutch Agro-food sector is one of the crown jewels of our Dutch economy. With an added value of 52 billion euro per year (7,4% of gross national income), and securing jobs for almost 10% of the Dutch labour force. To maintain and further expand this position, government, research institutions and businesses work closely together on innovation in sustainable agriculture and nutrition.

There are many examples. We’ve set up a national platform dedicated to agriculture and land use, that has proposed practical contributions of the agriculture sector towards the climate goals. Together, we have developed a City Deal on Food, and a healthy weight programme for young people. And right here in Limburg we have Agrofood Limburg, an investment program developed by de province. And Kiempunt Limburg, a platform connecting innovating agro-food professionals. When it comes to building a better future together, the agro-food sector has set an inspiring example. Showing us what can be achieved when we join forces.

Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Jobs once said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” We’re counting on businesses like Nunhems to shape the future with us. Through innovation and experiment. And by taking responsibility together for the challenges of our society. This new plant breeding centre symbolises this partnership.

As I told you, I’ve been following Nunhems for a while. So I’ve noticed things have been complicated recently. Nunhems was a prize that several companies were keen to win. But the period of turmoil and anxiety for staff and clients is now over. The future with BASF looks bright. And I stand here before you as a proud and optimistic man. I hope you all feel the same way.

On behalf of the Dutch government, I’d like to congratulate the leadership, Joachim Schneider, and all 2000 employees on this wonderful new facility. I have high expectations of what you can achieve here for BASF and its customers. As well as for the region and the country.

Thank you.