Food for thought: Dutch perspectives for the development of the horticulture sector in Colombia

In a virtual event organised by the Agriculture Department of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Colombia (LAN Bogota), the Netherlands Enterprise Agency – RVO and N&S del Trópico, with the support of the Dutch-Colombian Chamber of Commerce – Holland House Colombia, the documents entitled “Taste the Future – report: The potential of food horticulture in Colombia” and “Taste the Future – strategy document: Food horticulture in Colombia, positioning Dutch know-how and technology” were explained and commented by the panellists. Additionally, future strategies for the development of Colombian horticulture with support of the Dutch technology and know-how, were presented.

With nearly 200 attendees, the webinar “Food for thought: Dutch perspectives for the development of the horticulture sector in Colombia” was held last 3rd of September. The event began with an introduction by LAN Bogota’s Agricultural Advisor, Mr. Andrés Santana, who highlighted previous initiatives supported and financed by the Dutch Government aimed at developing the horticultural sector in Colombia: the report ‘Green opportunities with an Orange touch’ in Colombia published in 2014; the construction of the Hortisimulator at the premises of University Jorge Tadeo Lozano; and the ‘Feeding the Cities’ conference during the State visit of Prime Minister Rutte in 2018.

Market vegetables

The Agricultural Advisor elaborated on the current challenges that the growth of the country's urban population, the increase in the demand for healthy food, and the difficulties in production and distribution processes that cause food loss and waste, impose to the Latin-American country.

The research, carried out in 2019 by N&S del Trópico, resulted in the publication of the “Taste the Future – report: The potential of food horticulture in Colombia” presented during the webinar by the General Manager of N&S del Trópico Mr. Arno van der Maden. This document, besides updating the sector information available for Dutch stakeholders, presents the main challenges and opportunities for Colombian horticulture. The research included bibliographical review, interviews with more than 40 entrepreneurs or producers, and visits to production areas and market places.

Beeld: ©LAN Bogota / LAN Bogota

The report revealed that around 34% of food for human consumption is wasted in Colombia, of which 62% are fruits and vegetables. Regarding the country's horticultural production, the document states it is concentrated in four departments (Boyacá, Antioquia, Cundinamarca and Norte de Santander), and horticulture represents only 5% of the national agricultural production, which is mainly for domestic consumption. Besides, producers can be classified in three large groups: food farmers, food producers and professional growers, differentiated by their access to markets, technological level, the crops and the certifications they have. The last two groups currently use greenhouses for cropping, therefore protected cultivation is not new in the country. Colombia counts with 5,500 hectares of greenhouses, of which 85% is dedicated to floriculture and the remaining 15% is used to grow vegetables and fresh herbs.

Beeld: ©LAN Bogota / LAN Bogota

The real-time interactive polls, conducted during the webinar, led to a discussion of results by N&S del Trópico in which the audience opinions around market trends, consumption requirements and preferences, sustainable production, and challenges in logistics and commercialisation, were analysed. Indeed, the surveyed participants expressed their interest in the need of improving the provision of specialised trainings and capacity building, as shown by the 79% of the surveyed attendees who consider that there is not enough training offer to expand the (basic) knowledge of vegetable producers. Besides, 65% of the people who answered the poll consider that the best way to develop the sector is to provide technical assistance and training to producers.

Aiming at closing the existing gap between the Colombian needs and the solutions that the Dutch horticulture sector can offer to the aforementioned challenges, the document “Taste the Future – strategy document: Food horticulture in Colombia, positioning Dutch know-how and technology” was written by RVO. The recommendations aimed at realising the potential of the Colombian horticulture sector for both the domestic and foreign markets, presented during the event by Mrs. Robine van Dooren advisor of RVO, include the organisation of a series of roundtables per region or crop to better identify the needs of local producers; provide technical assistance related to, among others, more efficient supply chains, contract/program based production, improved packaging and (cold chain) agro-logistics; building value chains – pilot project(s); and raise knowledge and awareness of Colombian growers.

The reaction from the Colombian audience showed high interest on the proposed recommendations, as evidenced in the reply of 89% of the surveyed participants who consider that the proposed roundtables can contribute to mutual understanding between the sectors of the two countries; as well as the positive answer from 60% of the respondent attendees who think that the European country has technology that is easy to adapt to other contexts, with moderate prices. Therefore, this webinar for presenting the two documents, can be considered a successful first step for implementing the recommendations and linking the Dutch and Colombian horticulture sectors.

Beeld: ©LAN Bogota / LAN Bogota

In consequence, as a second step for the implementation of the strategy, LAN Bogota will organise a similar webinar for a Dutch audience to present both the report and the strategy. Afterwards, in collaboration with Dutch and Colombian partners, LAN Bogota will organise the proposed roundtables which may facilitate the identification and selection of potential investors for the execution of pilot or demonstration projects. Likewise, field days for Colombian producers will be organised aiming at providing information about basic greenhouse technology and existing technological options to develop high-end supply chains, while ensuring inclusive growth for vegetable producers. For these initiatives, collaboration with stakeholders such as the Colombian National Learning Service – SENA, the national and regional governments and the Corporación Colombia Internacional – CCI, is envisioned.

You can watch the webinar in the following link (only available in Spanish):