In #5QuestionsTo we ask questions to admirable persons in the seed industry. This time we’re asking 5 questions to Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. What are her responsibilities? What would the Netherlands look like without the plant breeding sector? Read the interview below.

1. You are the Minister of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality. Known to many, but also unknown to some: what entails your position and what responsibilities do you have?
As Minister of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality, I am responsible for the quality of the food on our plates, and how this food is produced. Concerning production, that is the agricultural component in my portfolio. This is broad, from the earning capacity of farmers and horticulturalists, to how we take good care of our soil and how we handle crop protection products. And the international aspect, where does our produced food travel to? In what way can we contribute to the fight against hunger in the world? From the Nature perspective, I am responsible for preserving our biodiversity and the beautiful nature that we have in the Netherlands.

2. In your opinion: what is the role of plant breeding in circular agriculture, and what should be the most important characteristics of new varieties in your eyes?
There is no blueprint for circular agriculture, but the aim is to minimize waste, minimize harmful emissions, and use natural resources and end products with as few losses as possible. Plant breeding is necessary to develop new crops, or to adapt existing crops that best fit in circular agriculture. This requires new agricultural systems (for example, strip cropping) and the development of new crops and improvement of the existing varieties. New varieties must be resilient against climate change and the associated weather extremes, with less use of pesticides. Resistance to pests and diseases and the adaptation of crops to a changing climate are important.

3. The European court has decided to allow modern breeding techniques such as CRISPR Cas only under strict GMO regulation. This will inhibit the breeding of new varieties in Europe, and a difference will arise with countries such as America and China, where this technique is not subject to GMO regulation. How do you see the future of modern breeding techniques in Europe, and how necessary are these techniques in your eyes for achieving policy goals in NL?
We need innovation to make agriculture and horticulture less dependent on chemicals. Improving plant varieties is a very powerful tool for this. Therefore, the Netherlands is in favor of using modern breeding techniques, as long as the species limits are not exceeded. The goal is to be able to grow resilient varieties and crops that are climate resistant. If you look at the EU’s ambitions in the “Farm to Fork” strategy and in the “Biodiversity strategy” -which I share- it is clear to me that we need modern breeding techniques for the purposes mentioned herein.

4. What must be done to keep ‘green’ studies attractive?
First of all, the study should be fun! Show the interesting future perspectives. And remember that you can have a global impact with these study options. It’s so cool to contribute to the most significant issues of our time: food security, climate, and a liveable planet. There are enormous opportunities. The contributions and the critical eye of a new generation are of great importance in this.

5. What would the Netherlands look like without the plant breeding sector?
The breeding sector is not only crucial for the Netherlands, but for the whole world. Safe and affordable food should be available to everyone. Take Simon Groot, the founder of East-West Seed and the first Dutch person to receive the World Food Prize for his efforts to provide small farmers in Asia and Africa with better vegetable seeds. His motives and passion ensure that millions of people worldwide have access to income and food. You can have such an impact from the Netherlands. Besides, the breeding sector contributes to the development of a more sustainable future. And it also plays worldwide, essential role in the world in the field of innovation. The Netherlands without a breeding sector is therefore unthinkable to me.

Want to read more #5QuestionsTo? See our previous interviews here.