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Organic food and farming – Header image (photo)

Sustainable food, organic farming and nature development

Impact measures

The organically managed land on the farms which Triodos Bank and Triodos Investment Management financed in 2016 could produce the equivalent of 32 million meals in 2016, or enough food to provide a sustainable diet for approximately 29,000 people (2015: 30,700).

Together they financed approximately 33,000 hectares of organic farmland across Europe. This means one football-pitch sized piece of farmland for every 12 customers, each one producing enough for 580 meals per year.

We also financed 28,000 hectares of nature and conservation land, representing around 400m2 of nature and conservation land per customer.

Over 184,000 smallholder farmers (2015: 100,000) in 19 countries worldwide were paid directly and fairly upon delivery of their harvest in 2016, as a result of the trade finance that Triodos Sustainable Trade Fund provides to farmers’ cooperatives. In 2016 the clients of the fund had 98,000 hectares of farmland under sustainable cultivation (2015: 99,000). An additional 37,000 hectares was in conversion (2015: 34,000) – an important number to capture since it takes time before conventional farmland is ready to be certified organic.

Organic food and farming – Impact measures (graphic)

Our vision and activities

Percentage of our loans and investments to the organic sector and nature development

Organic food and farming – 4.9% of our loans to the organic sector (pie chart)
  • 3.7% to organic farming
  • 1.5% to organic food businesses
  • 0.9% to nature development

Organic food loans and investments by subsector

Organic food lending by subsector (pie chart)

Organic farming loans and investments by subsector

Organic farming lending by subsector (pie chart)
% derived from data at the time of publication

Our vision on organic farming and nature development

Our relationship with the soil and the earth requires a systemic perspective.

We can no longer afford to keep a world view that thinks of agricultural land as the starting point for a limitless process of extraction. Rather, agriculture needs to be seen within the context of a natural system. This system includes nutrients, water, biodiversity, animal welfare and social conditions.

The impact of farming

We need farmers who can adopt methods that conserve and recycle natural resources. We want to help create a vibrant and diverse agricultural sector with a larger number of smaller farms, more closely connected to local communities and local consumers.

Respecting animal welfare is a fundamental aspect of how we interact with the world around us and a core principle of organic farming.

Organic farming has subscribed itself to safeguarding and respecting nature. As such, having higher animal welfare standards than in conventional farming is one of its major goals.

Respecting animal rights comes out of the belief that people have a responsibility as the dominant species on this planet. There is also scientific evidence that higher animal welfare standards in organic farming also mean healthier produce for humans (e.g. less antibiotics used). High animal welfare standards mean healthier animals, and positive benefits for people who can enjoy food which doesn’t rely on the use of artificial hormones or antibiotics.

Our priorities

We focus on supporting farmers who demonstrate the benefits of sustainable and organic agricultural principles.

We also want to stimulate the creation of more sustainably farmed land by financing the conversion of land from conventional to organic approaches. We also want to support the healthy development of the wider food sector through financing food producers, distributors, retailers and caterers who demonstrate their commitment to sustainable food and who meet the growing demand for organic food.

Our activities

Organic farming doesn’t use artificial fertilisers and pesticides, recognises the importance of biodiversity and integrates the highest standards of animal welfare.

All of Triodos Bank’s agricultural loans are to farms that are either certified organic, in conversion to organic production or demonstrate a clear alignment with those principles and practices. In addition we lend to retail, wholesale, distribution and catering business who supply organic food, drinks and other products. Through the funds managed by Triodos Investment Management, we also support organic and fair-trade food producers in emerging markets, including the Triodos Organic Growth Fund a long-term private equity ever green fund.

In 2016 Triodos Bank also collaborated with partners, including Eosta, an international distributor of organic and fair fruit and vegetables to develop an approach to accounting for the ‘true cost’ of food and farming companies. The results of this work will be published in 2017.

 

Organic agricultural land (hectares) and share of total agricultural land in Europe 2011

Organic agricultural land (hectares) and share of total agricultural land in Europe 2011 (map)

Source: FiBL

Triodos Bank finances 36,500 hectares of organic farm land across Europe.

Case studies

2016

The Vegetarian Butcher
 

What was the challenge for this project?

To unshackle animals from the food chain was the motivation for organic arable farmer, Jaap Korteweg, to start the Vegetarian Butcher almost ten years ago. He realised that we keep lots of animals for one purpose only: to eat them. Animals are often seen as meat-production machines. In addition, intensive animal farming regularly leads to crises, such as avian flu or swine fever epidemics prompting massive slaughter programmes.

These problems can be avoided because, according to Jaap Korteweg, we don’t need animals to produce meat. The Vegetarian Butcher produces vegetable meat. Better still, he makes products like sausages, meatballs and croquettes from vegetable ingredients – but with the taste and structure of meat.

How is the project’s approach innovative?

The Vegetarian Butcher is a classic example of an innovative business, both in its recipes for the products and the way in which they are marketed. The business produces the meat substitutes on the basis of lupine and soy. It uses lupine and soy beans to make fibres with a firm ‘bite’. These form the core ingredient of the products, which has the taste of meat.

The company won third place in the battle for the Gouden Gehaktbal [golden meatball] held by a national Dutch newspaper among 43 participants who used real meat. The Vegetarian Butcher is a rapidly-growing business. Their products are widely available and can be found on the shelves of both organic food outlets and regular supermarkets in The Netherlands.

What impact does Triodos Bank have on this project?

Triodos Bank has financed the construction and fitting-out of the Vegetarian Butcher Factory in Breda since the beginning of 2017. Up to now, the company had its vegetable meat produced by external parties. But because of its rapid growth, it is important that production remains in the company’s own hands. That’s the reason for the new plant, which opened its doors in 2017. Apart from the loan from Triodos Bank, the company also organised a successful crowdfunding campaign, which raising 2.5 million euros for the factory’s construction.

What impact does the project have on the sector?

Jaap Korteweg is a successful entrepreneur whose influence as a vegetarian butcher is inspiration to the wider agricultural and food sector.

Korteweg started as an organic farmer in a family business that has been handed from father to son for generations. But he had a dream: to produce vegetable meat. The growth of his business shows other organic farmers that you can realise your dream with hard work and inspiration. This inspiration is key in an often conservative and protective sector.

What impact does the project have on society?

The ecological pressure caused by meat production is much larger than that of arable farming. Cattle, swine and poultry, for instance, create a huge manure surplus, which pollutes soil and ground water. Poultry farming also emits a lot of fine particles, which cause air pollution that are harmful to the public health. The production of vegetable meat from a social perspective therefore has enormous added value. It simply avoids major problems.

How does the project share the vision of Triodos Bank?

Triodos Bank finances entrepreneurs who work with their heart and their head. Jaap Korteweg is an excellent example of just that. His drive is a social ideal: producing healthy meat in an environmentally, and animal-friendly, way. He successfully gives shape to that ideal. This combination of idealism and pragmatism aligns perfectly with the mission and vision of Triodos Bank.

Färm
 

Färm is a cooperative of organic stores with a product offering which is as committed to sustainability as possible; supplied by organic Fairtrade, local and small family-owned companies, among others. But Färm is much more than just an organic store. It is a cooperative from producer to consumer that shortens the distance between the customer and the producer ensuring that both work together so that the food in our society cements relationships and so that everyone can feed themselves in the most sustainable and delicious way possible.

What challenge was the inspiration for your project?

Our vision is to make food a link between people once again. We want to use food to convey meaning in society, which in recent decades has lost its way slightly, because the agrifood industry has become a financial industry more than a real foundation for human society.

Basically, a store is a place where we can create this link. It’s a place where the products are a means of communication between the consumer, who also rediscovers meaning in their action, and the producer behind the product, who uses all their expertise and passion to transform it into a product that will be consumed with pleasure.

When we started in 2009, we were very aware that organic consumers were people who were extremely mindful and thoughtful about the entire universe, about any impact, environmental or human. They too were an inspiration to start our business.

What was your innovation that addresses this problem?

We have commercial buying procedures with producers as well as cooperatives. So we intended to develop these relationships to make Färm a tool to help build resilient industries by creating effective cooperative partnerships with producers. Agribio is one example. It is a cooperative of grain producers in Wallonia, who are also millers; they make their own flour on the farm. In 2016, we joined forces with them to create a 50/50 cooperative between them and us to set up a new bakery cooperative. This cooperative makes all the bread that we distribute in our Färm stores but also for any other stores that want to take advantage of this offer of 100% natural and organic bread, without any added products other than flour, water and salt.

The next step will be to establish other new production sectors in a way that has much more impact, for meat, for dairy products, grain products and market gardening products.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?

Working with Triodos Bank has enabled us to increase our number of sales outlets since it finances us with enthusiastic support for each of our requests. We have established a relationship of trust between our two organisations. And associating Färm with Triodos Bank also shows we are consistent in putting sustainability at the centre of everything we do. I therefore consider it to be a real partnership that we strengthen together.

What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?

It is really interesting that suppliers and producers increasingly want to build resilient and sustainable industries with us when they grow through our network. We agree much better contracts with them and are primarily concerned with developing specifications that are committed environmentally and socially, further increasing the social impact of organic and sustainable food.

A producer no longer wants to be just a tool for the mass production and industrialisation of food, they really want to become craftsmen again in terms of both the products themselves and the land. To be able to give these producers an opportunity to develop their business, their passion and their values because of the Färm cooperative and stores is extremely exciting.

What impact has your business had on the community?

There are two types of impact when a Färm store is opened. Firstly, the local customer base is very happy because we set up sales outlets on a human scale where the relationship with the shopkeeper is important, our staff are in the store and know our customers and their habits. So there is a much more family-like relationship reinstated with the shopkeeper.

In terms of employees, I generally think that people are also looking for meaning in their work today, regardless of the job. And that's really challenging. It's not always easy to connect to a reality and with meaning in a job that may not always seem easy on a daily basis, working the land, working in a store, or working in an office. Our ambition is that every day, each action at work is an act of passion connected to something stronger, larger and more cohesive between various stakeholders, whether colleagues or producers with who eventually become partners.

Through the Färm cooperative, our aim is to re-establish the link in society thanks simply to food which is the basis of our entire system.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

An interesting element and common ground between Triodos Bank and Färm, is the choice of products. Just as Triodos carefully selects its investment products and loans - the entities to which it provides loans, so does Färm select its products and producers. We do not work with just anyone and do not stock just any product. That is an example of genuine common ground between our two organisations.

To ensure that the products we sell in Färm stores are the most thoughtful and committed on the market, we have set up a Brand Committee, in which all employees are now invited to participate, to select the products and brands to be included in the Färm catalogue. The products comply with a very strategic set of criteria, defined in our product charter that translates our values into reality. These are criteria such as Fairtrade, organic, local products, direct products, company size, whether a product comes from a family-owned company or not, etc. All of these criteria are reflected in each of the brands that are listed in Färm stores by all employees in a participative and equal way.

2015

Aarstiderne
 

Organic food and farming – Case study (photo)

Thomas Harttung, co-founder Aarstiderne

What challenge was the inspiration for your project?

On average, if you look at organic agriculture as an industry, we are over-promising and under-delivering. Søren [joint co-founder of Aarstiderne] and I wanted to go against the grain of organic thinking to become a successful business. We wanted to change how consumers view and consume food.

What was your innovation that addresses this problem?

From a strategic perspective, the story for the last 10 years has been about mainstreaming organic to make it relevant to the marketplace. Our [Søren and I] innovation was to deliver meal boxes, expanding from fruit and vegetable to meat and fish, and getting people excited about organic through meal experiences. And we are also increasingly developing new models of agriculture.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?

In 1999, the World Organic Conference had a workshop – where I was on the panel – about green private equity meeting green ideas and developing a language of trust between green entrepreneurs and the banks. Triodos Bank was also on the panel and from there, we established a great relationship where Triodos became an investor in our business and our financing became more sustainable. Triodos understood that this movement is about doing something that makes sense for the long term.

What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?

If you look at what I’ll be doing over the next 2-3 years, emphasis will be on developing the next version or template for organic agriculture. With the present scale of organic agriculture and the interest from the public, there is actually an opportunity for Aarstiderne to revisit the more fundamental principles and create an organic agriculture system that is more in tune with the true aspirations and expectations of our customers.

What impact has your business had on the community?

Aarstiderne has grown to a business which serves 54,000 customers mostly in Demark, but also in Sweden. It has expanded the fruit and vegetable box distribution to include meal boxes with measured ingredients, such as: meat/fish, vegetarian, diet, etc. as well as recipes. We are the market leader because we consistently deliver an improvement in people’s quality of life and their sustainability at the same time. We’re enabling people to realise the life they really want to live. Young urban professionals struggle enormously because they love their jobs and careers, but this is affecting their ability to take care of themselves and their children. They want solutions to get them through Monday to Friday and we deliver on that consistently. The good news is that our customers will always have more ambitions and we will always find ways to deliver more meaningful solutions that cater to a greater sense of happiness, sustainability and convenience.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

If you ask me, our values are very much in line with Triodos. Triodos can contribute by being a long-term investor with us and also invest in other like-minded businesses that can contribute to a better common future and increased innovation. By supporting and investing in companies that are on the same journey, we can increase the likelihood of this becoming a very broad movement.

Kwatrijn
 

Organic food and farming – Case study (photo)

Frank van Dommelen, senior relationship manager

What challenge was the inspiration for this project?

To combine sustainability and animal welfare, with modern, profitable operational management, in the agricultural sector requires constant innovation. This is also the case for entrepreneur and farmer Sjaak Sprangers, who runs his dairy farm in addition to and partly in a Dutch nature reserve between Tilburg and ’s-Hertogenbosch.

With an ageing dairy shed, new accommodation for Sjaak’s cows was essential. The challenge was ambitious: to build a new cow shed that integrated with the natural environment, promoted the wellbeing of the livestock, limited ammonia emissions, promoted and protected the soil conditions in the nature reserve – and that simultaneously offers a perspective on modern entrepreneurship.

What was your innovation that addresses this problem?

The construction of a cow shed in this natural environment, with so many wishes and demands, requires very broad support and a lot of knowledge. Sjaak Sprangers therefore started a dialogue with environmental groups, the local nature group, the municipality of Kaatsheuvel, the southern agricultural and horticultural organisation, the association of dune, Agricultural University of Wageningen and different agrarian and technical contractors.

For the financial component, he approached a number of grant facilities in Brussels. The ministry of Economic Affairs also made a contribution. Contractors and technical developers also offered financial backing.

Combining the knowledge, innovation, inspiration, determination, commitment and passion of these groups has resulted in the development of a new type of cow shed, the quatrain cowshed or ‘Kwatrijnstal’.

Some distinctive features:

Environment

The quatrain cow shed is an innovative dairy shed adapted to its landscape. It offers a high degree of animal welfare, low ammonia emissions and broad public support. It has a unique floor, which disposes urine and solid manure separately. This strongly reduces ammonia emissions and improves biodiversity.

Natural environment

Because of the transparent design and the unique roof construction, the cow shed integrates well with the environment and passers-by can see what’s happening inside. Compared to a closed cow shed, the quatrain appears to be much smaller, not least because the environment is visible throughout the cowshed.

The roof construction, which comprises different levels, gives the cow shed a friendlier appearance, which is in harmony with the scale of the landscape and the region’s traditional architecture.

Animal welfare

Cows have 50% more room for movement than a traditional dairy shed in the quatrain cow shed. There are ‘islands’ for lying down on straw beds which offer insulation and absorb moisture. Straw also adds extra value to solid manure. A special machine automatically distributes the straw across the islands.

Milking is done in a mobile milking system that operates on solar energy. The cow shed is designed so that there are no ‘dead corners’ in which the animals can crowd. The areas where the animals can lie down are very spacious and the feeding gate is open. This avoids the animals injuring themselves or each other. Naturally, the cows have unlimited access to the nature reserve outside all year round.

Organically aware

The animals are fed organic products with all roughage from the nature reserve itself. Organic manure is also returned to nature again.

The size of the cow shed means that illness or animal injury seldom occur and medication, such as antibiotics, aren’t required. Partly as a result of this, the Jersey cows produce healthy milk of such high quality that it can be processed into organic ice-cream, cheese and other dairy products by a small-scale dairy processor.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?

Sjaak Sprangers already had an organic farming business and used to bank with one of the large banks. Additional finance was required because the project demanded an innovative approach and required public support, and he believed that a bank was also needed that actually fitted with the overall approach.

With Triodos Bank, he was able to raise ‘green’ money to build the cow shed. Moreover, Triodos Bank was well known in this sector and they could offer constructive input during the planning development. Other stakeholders also felt that Triodos Bank’s involvement was positive.

What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?

There was a lot of focus on this project within environmental and nature groups and in the different agricultural organisations, including a working and advisory group that offers support and advises entrepreneurs to set up new agricultural projects in or near nature reserves.

The ‘Kwatrijn’ has become an initiative that could be adopted by more farmers, and the developers’ intention is to market this concept. Various professional excursions are being organised for fellow farmers.

What impact has your business had on the community?

In the run-up to and during the construction of the shed, numerous people from the immediate vicinity were able to follow these developments. This contributed towards broad public support.
The new quatrain cow shed of Sjaak and Suzanne Sprangers was opened with great fanfare by state secretary Sharon Dijksma in 2015, which also gave the project national exposure. The shed and the approach show that there are excellent opportunities tocombine nature and agriculture.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

The owner is a very passionate organic dairy farmer who can tell lots of stories about his animals and their natural environment. The well-being of his animals is high on the agenda for Sjaak Sprangers; to him, it’s inseparable from an agricultural system that allows as many natural elements as possible to return and does not rely on fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and medicines. This fits perfectly with the mission of Triodos Bank.

Methodology

The Ecological Footprint method, developed by the Global Footprint Network and reported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has been used to estimate the total number of people that could be fed from organic land farmed as a result of Triodos Bank finance. This is a theoretical approach that shows the link between the diets that people eat and the farmland that provides their food.

The Ecological Footprint (EF) is a measure of the global hectares (gHa) associated with any resource consuming economic activity. The Global Footprint Network has estimated the EF for many countries. They estimate that for the whole of the EU an average of 0.93gHa of cropland and 0.23gHa of grazing land are required to feed each person for one year from the farmed land, in Europe and beyond. They provide EF estimates for each of the five countries where Triodos Bank finances organic farming. This data has been used to estimate the number of people that could be fed three meals each day from the whole organically farmed area of the farms financed by Triodos Bank in Europe.

In our calculations we only measure the projects with a direct relationship to our finance or investment.
We only include farms that are still in organic farming at year-end. Care farms are included when their main activity and income is organic farming, with only an element of care. Because we are often the principle source of finance for a project we include 100% of the hectares when we co-finance a project. If it is not possible to pull 100% of the data required, we use conservative estimates.

The ‘Impact per customer’ calculations used throughout the annual report are based on a total of 652,000 customers at the end of 2016. A football pitch is assumed to cover approximately 0.6 hectares.