Together with the partners in the Great Saeftinghe nature park which straddles the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, Port of Antwerp has issued a Request for Proposals aimed at farmers on the Left bank of the Scheldt, as part of a drive to promote nature-inclusive agriculture. With this RfP, Port of Antwerp will contribute towards the quality of the natural environment and help to build the economic future of agriculture. An Agriculture Innovation Fund has been set up to stimulate innovative solutions.
Nature-inclusive agriculture as an innovative solution
The agricultural land hemmed in between the Scheldt, the port and the Flemish Zealand hinterland is by no means devoid of significance. It is a typical polder landscape, i.e. land which has been reclaimed from the sea. Over the centuries it was often the scene of fierce fighting as it afforded access to the city of Antwerp. It became surrounded by dikes, criss-crossed by roads and finally swallowed up by the expanding harbour. Nowadays what remains is a unique nature area outside the dikes with a diverse patchwork of polders and creeks. Nowhere else in the world is such a combination of nature, agriculture and docklands so vibrantly present as in this bend of the Scheldt.
The Great Saeftinghe Border Park has been established within this tripartite landscape. This nature park stretches across the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, in and around the "Sunken Land of Saeftinghe" nature area, bordering on the port of Antwerp. With an area of 4500 hectares it is one of the largest nature reserves in Western Europe. However, innovative solutions are necessary in order to achieve optimum synergy between agriculture, port and nature. Port of Antwerp plays an active role here.
Since 2017 Port of Antwerp has collaborated with Flemish and Dutch farmers to develop harrier-friendly crops which are a win-win both for the economic objectives of the farmers and for the ecological objectives of the port. Nature-inclusive agriculture makes optimum use of the natural environment, incorporating it into the business model. This form of agriculture has a positive effect on biodiversity and actively contributes to the quality of the natural environment, making it possible to restore the habitat of protected species such as the Western marsh harrier. As a partner in the Great Saeftinghe border park, Port of Antwerp has been taking initiatives since 2017 aimed at developing nature areas and supporting innovation in agriculture, by making consultancy services available free of charge. This new Request for Proposals is specifically aimed at promoting initiatives by local farmers that are tailor-made for them.
Financial support from the Agriculture Innovation Fund
In order to further promote sustainable agriculture and encourage farmers on the Left bank of the Scheldt to adopt a comprehensive nature-inclusive approach, the Border Park and Port of Antwerp have now set up an Agriculture Innovation Fund as the next step. This fund will support farmers who are willing to adapt their agricultural practices so that while still generating an economic return they also create added value for wider land-use objectives, both for landscaping and for nature protection.
Interested farmers with land on the Left bank of the Scheldt have until 14 August to submit project proposals. Assuming that their proposals meet the criteria, at least 20 farmers will receive financial support for 80% of the cost of drawing up a suitable business plan, up to a maximum of 5,000 euros per farmer or per project. But that's not all: subject to approval by outside experts, the proposals stand to obtain further support of up to 25,000 euros per farmer for the necessary investment and for additional help and advice with the actual implementation "on the ground." The main criteria are that the proposals should create a win-win both for the farmer and for the natural environment.
Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren explains: "As a port we aim to play a pioneering role in the field of innovation. With our contribution to this fund we want to support an innovative and sustainable model of agriculture. This not only opens up an avenue for the economic development of the farmers, but also boosts the synergy between port, agriculture and nature in this area."
Port alderman Annick De Ridder: "The Great Saeftinghe border park is a unique area. As a community builder we aim to support the development of this area in which the port plays an important role. We believe in sustainable collaboration with the farmers, in which nature and economic interests both have a role to play.