Dutchman wins prestigious prize for work with seeds and small farmers

This year's World Food Prize, the most important global prize in the field of farming and food, has been awarded to Dutchman Simon Groot for his work in helping millions of smallholder farmers to use good seeds. This work, the organising committee says, 'enabled them to to earn greater incomes through enhanced vegetable production, benefitting hundreds of millions of consumers with greater access to nutritious vegetables for healthy diets'. 'Simon Groot has dedicated his life to improving the livelihoods of millions around the world,' Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, said at the award announcement on Monday. Groot, now 84, and his partner in the Philippines, started East-West Seed in 1982. Today, the team has developed vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields which are now used across Asia and beyond. The company serves 19 million smallholder farmers in more than 60 tropical countries. Announcing the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate, from the Netherlands, Mr. Simon N. Groot. #FoodPrize19 pic.twitter.com/LzKIefa3Nw — The World Food Prize (@WorldFoodPrize) June 10, 2019 In an interview with the Volkskrant, Groot said he thinks it regrettable that seed production is in the hands of a few big companies such as Bayer/Monsanto and Syngenta. The big companies, he said, are limiting supplies because there is little money to be made from minor breeds. 'Big companies look at the importance of shareholders,' he said. 'Traditional seed companies put the interests of farmers first. We are friends to farmers.' The prize was founded in 1986 by Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Groot is the first Dutch national to take the prize.  More >

What the papers say about pension reform

This weekend, the members of the two major trade unions, the FNV and the CNV, voted in favour of reforms to the Dutch pension system, after nine years of negotiation. What do the papers have to say about this ostensible breakthrough? Most are cautiously optimistic that the current agreement could be the basis of a future proof pension system, while they also agree that there is still a lot of work to do before the parties at the table can reach an iron-clad agreement. Martine Wolzak in the Financieele Dagblad noted that the relief shown by politicians showed how fragile the pension agreement still is. They remind us, she wrote, that there are still a number of issues that have to be discussed and resolved by a steering group, and several of the groups involved have demanded unanimity from all the parties in the group before they greenlight the changes. ‘In short, there is a major risk that the negotiations will simply move from social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees and the government’s social and economic policy advisory body SER negotiating table to that of the steering group,’ she said. Realism The NRC wrote in an editorial that FNV voters deserved praise for their realism. ‘Of course some of them would prefer to see the retirement age return to 65, a more generous policy for early retirees and guarantees for higher pay-outs, but the reality is a lot more complex than those dreams,’ the paper said. The paper also noted that the negotiations are not quite over yet. It responded to FNV trade union head Han Busker’s promise to make the pension system more fair, by saying that ‘the rest can hold him to that, and keep reminding him that “more fair” doesn’t just mean guaranteeing current rights and responsibilities for years to come.’ The Volkskrant featured an analysis by Robert Giebels, who noted the low voter turnout of 37% for the FNV and 15% of the CNV members. ‘All in all, 320,000 yes voters decided the pensions for millions of Dutch people now and in the future,’ he said. Complex The writer noted that while the heavy majority vote (over 75% for FNV members and 80% for CNV members) leaves little room for doubt, it is difficult to say exactly what a voter means by ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when it comes such a complex agreement. The member vote from the trade unions is just the first hurdle for a pension system that is fit for purpose in the the current labour market and demographic trends, Giebels said Trouw praised the union members for looking beyond the self-interest of the elderly. ‘The negotiating parties have every right to be proud of this surprisingly strong affirmative vote. There is a broad support base among trade union members for a more sustainable pension agreement,' the paper said in an editorial. Consensus The paper said it was good that politicians had was broadly acknowledged that the raising of the pension age was approached too rigidly, something the trade unions have fought long and hard over. ‘The Dutch consensus model has shown itself at its best. Public interest has prevailed over self interest,’ the paper said. The Telegraaf said the cabinet had done an excellent job with the agreement, singling out minister Wouter Koolmees for praise while commenting he had been lucky with a number of financial windfalls that will enable the government to freeze the retirement age. The paper added that the agreement is largely a package of sub-agreements that will form the outline of the new system, with the upcoming negotiations hopefully filling in the blanks. ‘Those won’t be easy, but the start of the renovation is promising,' the Telegraaf said.  More >

ABN Amro CEO won't serve second term

ABN Amro chief executive Kees van Dijhuizen is stepping down in April next year after two years in the job. Van Dijkhuizen replaced former finance minister Gerrit Zalm in 2017 after serving four years as chief financial officer, following a career in the civil service and then the private sector. 'I’m fully committed to further accelerating the bank’s strategy... together with our employees and clients in the months ahead, after which I will be able to pass on the torch in full confidence,' Van Dijkhuizen, 63, said in a statement. The bank, which is still partly in Dutch state hands, is now beginning the process of finding a successor 'in a timely and orderly manner', the statement said. A year ago, the Financieele Dagblad reported that senior managers at ABN Amro had taken the 'unprecedented step' of warning  Dutch banking sector watchdogs DNB (the central bank) and AF, about a crisis of confidence at the top. The concerns of the managers centred around former supervisory board chairman Olga Zoutendijk, who has since resigned, but they also claimed Dijkhuizen was 'practically invisible’.  More >

Trade union members back pension reforms

Members of the two biggest Dutch trade union groups FNV and CNV have thrown their weight behind plans to reform the pension system, agreed between unions, employers and ministers earlier this month. The union approval clears the way for ministers to decide how to implement the changes, which are aimed at ensuring pensions can remain affordable into the future. The negotiations started some nine years ago. Almost 75% of the NV and 79% of CNV members backed the plans, which will also slightly slow down the speed at which the state pension is rising and make early retirement more possible. The state pension (AOW) age will now be frozen at 66 years four months for the next two years and will then rise in stages to 67 by 2024. After that, the state retirement age will be linked to life expectancy. People will also be able to retire up to three years early. This measure is particularly aimed at people in physically demanding jobs. Prime minister Mark Rutte said the union votes are ‘good news’ for the Netherlands and the measures go a long way to meeting everyone’s wishes. He said that he hoped that draft legislation revising the state pension age would be put through as soon as possible. What does the new pension agreement really mean? However, freelancers’ lobby groups are furious that the plan includes forcing everyone who is self employed to take out insurance to cover loss of earnings if they become unable to work. Nearly 16,000 have so far signed a petition calling for a rethink. Social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees has said the plan for the transition to a new pensions system should be completed by the end of 2020 and that the cabinet aims to complete the legal framework for system reform by the start of 2022.  More >