Sjoukje Heimovaara: ‘I’m not hearing enough brave choices’

The agriculture and nature debate in Omnia reveals significant political division.
De setting van het landbouw- en natuurdebat in Omnia Photo Resource

WUR and De Gelderlander organised a debate specifically for campus residents in Omnia on Tuesday evening. The spokespersons for agriculture of eight political parties were present: NSC, D66, GL/PvdA, BBB, VVD, PvdD, CDA and CU. The debate revealed a deep division, and solutions to deadlocks in issues such as the nitrogen crisis seem beyond reach. Laura Bromet (GL/PdvA): ‘If we cannot even agree on our opinion of reality, how can we ever expect to reach solutions?’

WUR president Sjoukje Heimovaara was interviewed briefly by the Gelderlander debate facilitators before the start of the event. What are her hopes? What does the Netherlands need? ‘Brave leaders with vision’, she answered decisively. Vision may have been a dirty word under the leadership of outgoing prime minister Rutte, but without it, we have not progressed at all, she stated. ‘And that worries me when I think about the country. The state of nature, our agricultural community, our food system as a whole and our environment. If we fail to make choices, we will regress further and further.’

She indicated that the lack of clarity is keeping farmers in a deadlock. ‘They can’t invest because they have no idea what will be permitted and what not in the future. But they can also not disinvest. As citizens, farmers, and Dutch nationals, we must know what certainties the future has in store. We are in dire need of a vision to provide us with direction and, preferably, perspective. Something that allows you to feel that the future may be bright is we take a particular decision.’


A shared vision, or at least the start of one, appeared far away during the debate. Naturally, parties benefit from a sharp profile just a week ahead of the election. But even without the election dynamics, there appears to be a considerable division. The clash between Cor Pierik (BBB) and Laura Bromet (GL/PvdA) over the state of Dutch nature left little to the imagination. Pierik cited a report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency stating that the Living Planet Index, which measures biodiversity, has increased by over 2.2 per cent since 1990. So, it isn’t all that bad, he stated. Bromet sighed: ‘Having to listen to stories such as these is the hardest part of being a spokesperson. If our opinions on reality differ, how can we ever expect to reach solutions?’

Winners and losers

In addition to delivering an opening statement, Heimovaara was questioned to wrap up the evening. ‘I am mainly hearing problems being emphasised. And I hear a few pathways towards solutions with some form of consensus, and that makes me happy. But I have heard too few real decisions, brave decisions, so far.’ She concluded by referring to a statement during the debate that the Netherlands faces a true transformation and that there are always losers when a transformation takes place. ‘We must acknowledge that change means we can’t all continue as we were. But there are also winners in a transformation. New winners with new approaches. And there are new approaches to creating an equilibrium between nature and agricultural production. And Wageningen is ready to help achieve that.’

Read more about the debate and the contributions made by the spokespersons in De Gelderlander.

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