Transformation in horticulture is getting a real boost

Program manager Jeroen Straver about BioBoost

The Westland municipality in the province of South Holland is a leading partner in BioBoost. Jeroen Straver has been appointed program manager. He is optimistic about BioBoost's progress to date and the implementation of the project activities.“The transformation within the horticulture industry is getting a real boost." 

What is your role as program manager?
“BioBoost consists of a combination of activities that strengthen the cooperation of stakeholders, facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences and a number of pilot projects for which an amount of 5.8 million Euro has been made available by the EU and the partners: a substantial amount. It is my responsibility to ensure that these activities and pilot projects are carried out. I keep an eye on progress, bring parties together and monitor the budget. The project formally started in June 2016. The initial phase was dominated by concluding contracts, issuing a request for tenders with regard to communication and organising a kick-off meeting. Since January, we have really been able to focus on the content of the project and the cooperation between partners."

Why is the Westland municipality lead partner?
“Westland has the largest cluster of horticulture in the Netherlands. Bio-based horticulture and a circular economy are very important for this region. Prices are under pressure and not every entrepreneur has the option of scaling up. That is why new revenue models will be necessary in the future. The Westland horticulture industry will need to start working in a more sustainable manner as well. Bio-based horticulture offers new opportunities, which often go in a completely different direction. As a public authority, we would like to support the Westland entrepreneurs during this transformation. They must take the initiative themselves - after all they are entrepreneurs - but we also have an interest in ensuring that the Westland region remains economically strong. That is why we facilitate them. Taking on the organisation and responsibility for this project is one example of that.”

What pilot projects are currently under way?
“Some projects aim at making better use of the residual matter that is created during the growing of crops. For example, certain fibers can be used in construction materials. These projects learn us to look at residual flows in a very different way. Residual products are no longer seen as waste, but as raw materials. Other projects examine new applications of matter in certain products. For example, the use of diascorea to combat obesity or the development of natural pesticides from soft fruit waste."

What is needed to make BioBoost a success?
“The cooperation among the Triple Helix parties is important: government, industry and science. Such a shift in thinking within an industry, like the horticulture industry, is a comprehensive process. You have to deal with completely new products and markets. Horticulturists must not start innovating all by themselves. They need to think more in terms of supply chains, processors, traders and retailers. Involving all of those parties is a big step, but it is a prerequisite for success.”

What can you do as a lead partner?
“Among other things, we bring the right parties together. In doing so, we must consider different paces of change, different cultures and the distance between countries. The first contacts are now starting to materialise. I think that's a positive thing. Regions also learn from each other. For example, in our region we have created an entrepreneurs’ platform where entrepreneurs can share ideas about new products and develop them together. I am currently working with Flemish colleagues to set up a similar platform there.”

What have been eye-openers for you personally?
“I was surprised to find out how large the food-processing industry in Flanders is. Major vegetable and fruit-processing companies are located in West-Flanders. Our Belgian partners, ILVO, Vives and Inagro, have excellent contacts with these companies and have a lot of knowledge about food-processing. By entering into a conversation together, surprising new ideas can emerge regarding processing, trading and logistics. And from our British partners, we can learn a lot about insect breeding and natural plant protection products. Some horticultural waste flows are suitable as a food source for breeding insects that, in turn, are a major source of protein for the food industry. I understand that the European demand for insects is currently as large as the entire production of pigs in Belgium. Why not have Westland capture a slice of this market? In this area, Westland still has some catching up to do."

Are you pleased with BioBoost so far?
“Yes, it is good that we do this. It is necessary to look across boundaries to see what is happening elsewhere in Europe. Since our regions are comparable, we learn a lot from our partners. Moreover, BioBoost offers Westland an opportunity to profile itself internationally. The search for new revenue models is not a straight line from A to B, but will ultimately generate new initiatives. I am optimistic about the future result. Because one thing is for sure: the horticulture industry will undergo a radical change."

Jeroen Straver