World-wide challenges over scarce resources mean that innovative food systems and solutions are increasingly in demand. We catch up with Marnix Wolters who will be speaking at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference to find out how the goals of HAS University of Applied Sciences is helping to meet this demand
The predicted population increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050 is presenting the food industry with a global challenge of producing enough food to feed the extra numbers from an already receding set of resources.
Water shortages, soil erosion, and extreme weather conditions present obvious problems for agriculture and the wider food supply chain. This is where HAS University of Applied Sciences, located in the municipality of s-Hertogenbosch (also known as Den Bosch) with another site in Venlo, aims to assist the agriculture and environmental industries by training and supplying outstanding graduates.
The university has invested in building links and close relationships with global food companies and producers in order to prepare their students for the realities of working in such industries on graduation. Not only does it look to the future, its courses also focus on the daily needs and requirements of such a diverse, and significant sector.
“We exist to provide professionals for the industry,” says Marnix Wolters, a lecturer in food and international agribusiness at the Den Bosch campus. If we don’t know what the industry wants, [there’s] no use training students.
“[What is important] from my course, is making sure that we can all eat in 2050, and that means taking steps. That’s what we try to prepare our students for. We need to be aware that it’s not just [about] us and our changes, but what’s happening across the world. We need to build relationships, so in future we can still buy what we need, or find alternatives.”
While the university, which education publisher Elsevier named Best University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands this year, has an outstanding reputation for providing students with a practical, and business-relevant, set of studies that ensures a flow of talent into the many career avenues of the food industry, it also has an eye on innovation.
The alternatives that Wolters speaks of include the breeding of insects to supplement, or potentially replace, the standard protein sources of meat and poultry. While edible insects are to be found in many Asian and African markets, the West has still to embrace them as a food source.
Yet, it is taking increasing amounts of water and feed to raise animals, and aside from the moral, ethical and resource issues around the sector, there is the problem of recurring health scares.
In contrast, breeding edible insects can be done with fewer resources in smaller spaces, and in a more controlled environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, crickets need six times less feed than cattle and four times less than sheep to produce the same amount of protein.
However, as Wolters acknowledges, breeding insects is a matter of trial and error, as not all aspects of the systems used have been perfected.
“We breed insects, seeing what we can do. Currently they are being grown on chicken feed, but that’s not very sustainable so now we’re looking what other residual streams [waste] we can use,” he adds.
The university runs a course in breeding insects, which provides information on the existing market, market opportunities and legislation relating to insect production and processing for both feed and food applications.
For anyone who thinks this is a niche market, then think again, there is an Association of Dutch Insect Breeders (Venik), and the university itself is establishing an InsectLab.
This is yet another example of how the university’s emphasis on progressive areas of study can benefit not just Europe, but the global market. The university encourages its students to travel overseas, but this is especially important for the students on Wolter’s course given that it involves international agribusiness.
“The thing that we do, which is unique, is that all of our students have to go abroad for one of their internships, that’s a must,” he confirms.
“I have students who go to Africa – I was speaking to one in Ethiopia today – they go to South America. They gain a great deal from such experiences.”
One of the gains is the opportunity to work on projects with international companies and governments to develop new systems and ways of working and growing. Students recently took up internships through the organisation Living Lab Biobased Brazil.
It is not just overseas that students collaborate on initiatives that ultimately will benefit the whole agriculture and food industry, there are many projects taking place in the Netherlands. These include the BrightBox research and education centre in Venlo.
This high-tech horticultural facility is demonstrating how to grow produce on a minimum of resources, including land, by growing food in a box without the need for daylight. It is the result of cooperation between horticulture development company Botany, Philips Horticulture LED Solutions, the Dutch province of Limburg and the university.
The company Cogas Zuid from Asten-Heusden in North Brabant built the impressive facilities. Once again, it is through the collaboration between the university and commercial companies that such research projects are available. For the industry, and the students at HAS University of Applied Sciences, such work looks like it could indeed ensure there is enough to feed our growing population.
Marnix Wolters will be speaking about Underpinning the Future of the Produce Industry as part of the seminar programme on November 3 at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. Don’t miss out! Register online now. Or contact us here to book a booth.