Speech by King Willem-Alexander at the opening of the economic session on sustainability and agriculture at LABattoir during the state visit to Greece

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a great pleasure to start the third day of our state visit with a theme that’s getting a lot of attention in both our countries: good water management and energy efficiency in agriculture.

The Greek people are proud of their agricultural products – and rightly so. The quality is outstanding and the taste delicious. One thing Greek and Dutch farmers certainly have in common is a passion for their products. And they all want the same thing: a good future for their farms. But that is by no means a given.

The Dutch polders and the Greek hills are of course incredibly different. But we both face the same underlying problem: the agricultural sector is reaching its limits. That is, if we continue down the same path.

We are all familiar with the reasons why. The main one being climate change.

According to the University of Thessaly, in the last decade Greece has lost over ten per cent of its usable arable land due to drought and other effects of climate change.

Here in Greece, many tens of thousands of farmers are struggling to cope with this reality. My heart goes out to all those farmers who are fighting to keep their farms going. Farms that have often been in the family for generations.

And this problem is certainly not unique to Greece. The Dutch sector, too, faces enormous challenges.

What makes this event so special is that you will be exploring solutions together. Fortunately, there’s a great deal of existing knowledge you can tap into. Knowledge that can help you preserve nature and avoid spilling a drop of valuable water.

A good example, which will be discussed in more detail this morning, is ‘Water for Tomorrow’, developed by Athenian Brewery, a member of the Heineken Group. Some 800 local barley producers are involved in this initiative.

This initiative is a vital response to the shortage of water and it shows how a change in thinking can open up new prospects for agriculture. Not: drilling more and deeper wells. Not: every farmer for themselves. But: working together and taking account of the entire ecosystem.

Greece has made a clear choice to embrace sustainability and transition to a green economy. To all Greek people in the audience I’d like to say: I’m proud that you’ve chosen the Netherlands as your partner on this journey into the future.

There’s a lot that we in the Netherlands can learn from Greece. For example when it comes to preserving the character of the landscape and staying in tune with nature. 

At the same time, my country also has a lot to offer you. Dutch agriculture is renowned for being highly efficient, achieving maximum yields with the lowest possible inputs of water and energy. The sector is innovative, too. From using drones and satellite data in order to optimise yields, to developing new varieties that are better suited to the changing climate.

So let’s keep thinking in terms of possibilities. I wish you all every success with your important work. And in particular, I hope you will forge fruitful, new contacts.

You are all helpers of the Greek goddess Demeter, giver of food and grain, and protector of agriculture. Could there be a finer tradition to be part of?

It therefore gives me great pleasure to declare this conference open.

Thank you.