In the low-lying Gelderse Valley some 85km east of Amsterdam, a Dutch university is changing how humans eat, writes Vidhi Doshi in this article published in The Guardian recently.
There, a bright-eyed press officer with Willy Wonka flair is showing me the miracles of modern food science. One laboratory door swings open to reveal giant, fragrant basil leaves growing under multicoloured lights. In a greenhouse nearby, thousands of tomatoes are suspended mid-air like plump, levitating Buddhas. A few steps away, I shake hands with a world-famous banana scientist, who dreams of introducing Europeans to the many varieties of banana eaten across Asia, Africa and Latin America, and ending the tyranny of the common yellow Cavendish.
For miles in every direction, fields bulge with crops; in some, drones monitor soil fertility, in others, giant luminescent panels light up greenhouses at night. The press officer is accustomed to impressing visitors. “What do you think?” he asks at every turn.
The Netherlands is not a big place. You can drive across the whole country from the north to the south in under four hours. And yet it ranks consistently among the world’s top food exporting nations, in terms of gross value.
The country’s surpluses are mind-boggling; how does the second largest exporter of tomatoes and onions also produce such outsize quantities of dairy and potatoes, and export more eggs than any nation on Earth?
The mystery of how this tiny patch of northern Europe does it draws government delegations, multinational companies and agriculture students from around the world to marvel at the nucleus of the Dutch innovation juggernaut: Wageningen University.
If an innovative solution to feeding the world’s growing population is to be found, it is likely to come from Wageningen, a quiet corner of Europe that is the nexus of global food science, writes Doshi in his article.
Photo: Some students at Wageningen want to prove small-scale farming is viable and more environmentally friendly than industrial mega-farms. Credit: Judith Jockel