Addressing sustainability issues offers opportunities

29 March 2017 – In the autumn of 2016 Wouter-Jan Schouten joined TiFN as the new Theme Director Sustainable Food Systems. After a long career in management consulting, Wouter-Jan decided in 2013 to dedicate his career to driving sustainability in food systems: “Addressing sustainability issues offers interesting business opportunities.”

Wouter-Jan Schouten has a clear vision on sustainability in agri-food systems: “We face four issues in the food systems of today that need te be addressed. Half of the world population suffers from malnourishment, 75% of all farmers globally is poor, the food systems exceeds most planetary boundaries and the amount of food waste is much too high. Addressing these facts is a challenge, but offers also interesting opportunities for farmers, businesses and the society.”

Essential for success is a holistic approach, says Wouter-Jan: “We need to change our core approach to sustainability from fragmented, reductionist efforts to combating negative impacts, towards long-term holistic programmes. Therefore we need to establish coalitions that focus on transforming specific combinations of interrelated agri-landscapes, value chains and consumer markets. It is crucial that these coalitions appreciate the importance of collaborative learning as a first step to identify and capture the opportunities for growth and value creation.”

The holistic approach applies to conducting research as well: “All factors are connected. To develop meaningful knowledge, we need to conduct multidisciplinary research. In our new programmes I would like to bring together experts in ecology, economy, sociology and agrotechnology to come to science-based methods for the transition to sustainable food systems. I also want to involve businesses in a much earlier stage than usually. The transition to sustainability is only possible when science and business have a tight and early connection. To achieve this we need to combine fundamental and applied research within the same programs.”

As the new Theme Director Sustainable Food Systems, Wouter-Jan expects to be able to contribute to the creating of new coalitions that can accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems. He identifies opportunities on three topics: “Regenerative agriculture with healthy business models for Dutch farmers, minimal processing and the optimal use of biomass and prevention of food waste.” Currently, new TiFN programmes are drafted on these topics.

Next to his role at TiFN, Wouter-Jan is also senior advisor at NewForesight Consultancy, a specialized firm that is supporting many sustainability platforms in the global food sector. In this capacity he recently published a discussion paper ‘New Horizons for the transition of our Food Systems: connecting Ecosystems, Value Chains and Consumers