Whereas in the Netherlands, agriculture struggles with issues such as climate adaptation and nitrogen problems, in Mexico, the sector is mainly concerned with increasing production. But Erik Plaisier, outgoing agriculture council for Mexico and Cuba from the Dutch embassy in Mexico City, expects sustainability to play an increasing role there too. That offers opportunities for Dutch companies. You can read about this at Agroberichten of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
Plaisier (47) has been captivated by Latin America for 30 years. "From my previous work at RVO, where I dealt with development cooperation in Latin America and export promotion, I had already been exposed to agricultural issues a lot. So when I was able to go to Mexico as an agriculture council, it perfectly matched my experience and interest." He, therefore, feels like a privileged person. "I look back on the past years in Mexico and Cuba with satisfaction and gratitude, and I am also proud of what we have achieved."
Mexico is a land of relationships
"Mexico is very different from the Netherlands. Not only in terms of language and culture but also in terms of economic inequality, security, or accessibility of information. No wonder Dutch companies that operate here or want to become active here like to knock on the door of our Dutch embassy. We have been involved in numerous activities in recent years, such as trade missions and trade fairs. Mexico is a country of relationships, you can't just close a deal. That is also part of the charm of this country."
Plaisier has now seen a lot of Mexico. "It is a very versatile country with great diversity in culture and nature. Mexico City, where I am based, is one of the largest cities in the world. It is vibrant, full of culture and traditions, and there is always something new to discover. It is also a green city with beautiful tropical vegetation. Mexicans are warm, passionate, cheerful, and hospitable people who do their best to put you at ease and make you feel at home. You make friends here very easily."
Visiting Texel with Cuban guests for a study tour on saline agriculture
The Netherlands is a partner with a lot of knowledge and expertise
What is the best thing Plaisier has achieved, and what did he encounter? "We have positioned the Netherlands as a proactive and reliable partner in agriculture. A partner with a lot of knowledge and expertise who not only wants to trade but also thinks along with Mexico and looks together for solutions that contribute to a sustainable future. To cite an example, together with Wageningen University & Research, we looked into how to tackle the sargassum problem. Sargassum is a seaweed that washes up in large quantities on the coast of Mexico, among others. An ecological and economic disaster, as it is harmful to marine life and drives tourists away."
"We are also looking at how to combat food waste at Mexico City's huge fresh food market, the largest in the world. And we are working with the Mexican food banks to find solutions to the loss of food in the fields crops that are rotting there and could still serve as food for the poorer population instead. Furthermore, we recently shared sustainability and animal welfare lessons and experiences with circular farming from the Netherlands at a large pig farming conference, and we are working to raise awareness here about the environmental impact of avocado farming."
"I do think it's a shame that sometimes it stops at research. By nature, I am a doer and want to achieve results. But we often lack the financial resources to actually tackle problems after research. For a transition towards sustainability, you have to invest in new business model projects and guide people, which unfortunately is not always possible with our limited resources."
Impression of the (Dutch) participants and speakers at the national congress on pig farming that took place in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, in May 2023
Great experiences and good friendships
His successor wishes Plaisier as many great experiences and good friendships as he gained here. "Enjoy this country, discover Mexico, and make good use of the excellent reputation the Netherlands has here and the network we have built," he said.
"Among other things, horticulture is very important here. For example, there is an annual national conference for covered horticulture in August, which many Dutch companies visit, a great opportunity for networking. Later this year, in November, another major horticultural fair will take place in Guanajuato, another great opportunity. Dutch companies supply technology for greenhouses and everything in them, such as water management and climate control. Mexico is also a major buyer of vegetable seeds, in which the Netherlands is very big."
Searching for sustainable solutions with Cuba and Mexico
"The agricultural sector in Mexico is growing very fast, says Plaisier. "Unlike agriculture in Europe. In Europe, we have reached the limit of possibilities in terms of the environment and are struggling with the consequences, such as the nitrogen problem and climate change. There is contraction rather than growth. In Mexico, things are completely different. Mexico wants to increase production as much as possible, but there are still people going hungry and the country wants to become one of the world's leading food exporters. In doing so, Mexico is mainly looking at the United States, which already imports a lot of the country's fruits and vegetables."
"Sustainability may not be so high on the agenda in Mexico now, but that is going to change. Here too, themes such as climate change, water scarcity, sustainability, and animal welfare are going to play an increasing role. This is where opportunities lie for Dutch companies, which are ahead of Mexico in this respect. Their knowledge and technology are increasingly in demand."
Plaisier: "Cuba is complex. The economic and political system is stalled. Because of the Covid pandemic, tourism has collapsed. There has been a record exodus among the population. It is very difficult to achieve anything there. Together with the Cuban government and FAO, we are trying to help Cuban farmers tackle salinization. In general, you can say that in both Mexico and Cuba, we not only want to promote trade but also jointly seek sustainable solutions."
Group photo agriculture and water mission in September 2021
Assisting Dutch companies
Plaisier will now go to Peru. "No longer as Agriculture Council, but as Regional Business Developer for Latin America. In that role, I will assist Dutch companies in developing and cashing in on opportunities. This is not so much about the agricultural sector. It's more about green hydrogen, sustainable cities, ports, and maritime technology. So that will be a new challenge. But I will stay in Latin America, which has really been my area for 30 years."
CNA panel moderation in November 2022