As the Russian boycott of European goods continues, farmers and consumers across the European Union search for ways to limit their losses. In The Netherlands, the call for financial support from the government goes hand in hand with the search for new destinations for the produced goods.
ABOUT TEN PERCENT of the Dutch agricultural export is destined for Russia and many farmers produce specifically for the Russian market. The consequences of the boycott has hit them the hardest. Two questions occupy the farmers’ minds since the Russian boycott started: what to do with their products, and how will their companies survive?
New recipes, home -grown ingredients
In support of the farmers affected by the boycott, and with the anger over the recent plane crash fresh in their minds, many Dutch consumers offered their help by posting special recipes based on the products boycotted by Russia. The farmers themselves joined forces in a campaign to push consumers to eat more tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. They, too, provide recipes: the ‘boycott baguette’ for example, with green pesto, mozzarella, zucchini, red bell pepper, eggplant and a few leaves of basil.
But as one farmer argued, ‘people might eat more tomatoes for a few days, but will not do so for weeks in a row.’ Furthermore, selling the surplus of tomatoes, pears and other fruits and vegetables boycotted by Russia will cause for a significant devaluation of the products. In order to protect farmers, EU countries established what is called an intervention price. This price serves as a bottom to the market price; if the market price is lower than the intervention price, intervention agencies are obliged to buy the products for that price.
In order to prevent the market prices from dropping to the intervention price, the EU now urges farmers to take their products off the market, by compensating their losses. The surpluses are most likely sent to so-called ‘food banks’: a social service that provides people living off a low income with food-parcels.
On the long term, socio-economic researchers argue that it is time to review the Dutch export of agricultural products. In an analysis in Dutch financial newspaper Financieel Dagblad, researchers Arjen Daane and Krijn Poppe argue that “it should be examined whether in some cases, the export of Dutch knowledge, technology and starting materials (a tactic already adopted by the dairy industry) is more attractive than providing finished goods for the export market.” Furthermore, the call for political intervention proofs to them that the greenhouse sector of the Dutch agricultural market is no longer able to cope with major setbacks.
Such a review of the Dutch greenhouse sector is, of course, no short-term solution for the current surplus. The call for new export markets is relevant, but time-consuming. Dutch pear farmers, who have worked for six years to broaden their horizon, could not have asked for a better timing: they expect to enter the Chinese market before the end of the harvest season.
As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine intensifies, the end of the two-way boycott between the EU and Russia is nowhere in sight. As farmers struggle to get rid of their products, it seems that the surplus creates an unexpected benefit for low-income households: in order to limit the waste of goods removed from the market, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and other products will fill their food packages. But for all other parties involved, the boycott, as much as the Ukraine-Russian conflict as a whole, should end rather sooner than later.
Written by Lisanne Oldekamp
Picture Credit: Pomax