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'We want to use academic knowledge to make the horticulture sector more sustainable'

The Dutch horticultural sector faces the challenge of becoming fully circular by 2030. Professor of Environmental Biology Peter van Bodegom is going to commit himself for four years to guiding this transition and nudging it into the right direction. Together with Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability (LDE CfS), he will use academic knowledge to address sustainability issues in the horticultural sector.

How can you ensure that the horticultural sector makes the transition to a circular economy, and thus produces sustainably? That is the key question that Van Bodegom will be looking into in the learning task 'Circular International Horticultural Systems'. With the Agrifood hub of the LDE CfS, he has been actively working on sustainability issues in the horticultural sector for several years. 

Over the past few years, the Agrifood hub has built up a network of academic partners, businesses and (semi-)government agencies that are working on these issues and are also committed to putting this knowledge into practice.  'We want to be the primary point of contact for questions within the sector about circular horticulture and, above all, we want to connect people.' 

The biggest challenges within the horticulture sector

The assignment is an initiative of the municipality of Westland and is intended to accelerate the transition to the sustainable production of horticulture. Van Bodegom will fill this position one day a week for four years.

In doing so, he wants to use the expertise of the three universities as efficiently as possible. For example, the technological knowledge of TU Delft can be used for smart sensors. 'We are developing a knowledge agenda with parties in the region such as Greenport West-Holland and the World Horti Center and we want to implement it together with the sector. This will involve questions such as: what does a sustainable horticultural sector look like? And what knowledge do we need to realize that transition?'

Transfer knowledge globally or focus on own products

The biggest challenge is finding an answer to the question which transition is best for the sector. 'There is a growing demand for alternatives to energy consumption. The current gas prices have accelerated that demand. A transition in terms of water consumption and the current impact on biodiversity through the use of crop protection products are also current topics.'

Also important in this transition is the new position of the Netherlands as an international player. 'How do we position the Netherlands on the international market as a circular horticulture sector? For example, are we only going to make products that fit within ideas of circular horticulture? Or are we going to position ourselves primarily as a knowledge region and deploy our knowledge systems globally to ensure more sustainable horticulture elsewhere? That is an important consideration.' 

Water circulation and solar panels

There is no single answer to the question of how a horticultural sector becomes circular. 'That can be done in different ways. For example, you can completely seal off a horticultural greenhouse from the environment. That way you prevent pollutants from going outside. You can circulate the water, generate energy with solar panels and use energy-efficient LED lighting. Another possibility is an open system where biodiversity from outside the greenhouse helps by using insects to control pests in the greenhouse. You could also seek connection with the region by using the city's rainwater, for example.'

Whether a closed or open system is the most feasible remains to be seen. 'It's especially important to keep having conversations. What I really want is for the sector as a whole to have an idea of where it wants to go and to put its shoulders to it. It would be really nice if we could work out and implement the knowledge agenda together during this four-year period.'


The first big steps

On March 24, Van Bodegom will give a public lecture at the World Horti Center. He will explain how he will contribute to relevant issues in horticulture through his teaching assignment.

You can register via this website.
This lecture is in Dutch.

The Knowledge & Innovation Hubs from LDE CfS

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability is a collaboration between the three universities to jointly apply academic knowledge to sustainability issues. These knowledge and innovation hubs focus on three areas within the province of South Holland: cities, horticulture and industry. Each hub is an open research program that connects master's students, researchers, municipalities and businesses. Master's students from the three universities can participate in the hubs and write their master's thesis within these programs that are in direct connection with external stakeholders such as companies and municipalities.

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