Sustainable development in local communities through quality food production and local branding

4. The Waddengroup Foundation: quality production and location branding

Like agriculture in the UK, Dutch agriculture epitomises the modernisation-productivist trajectory. The drive for production efficiency and cost reduction have, to a large extent, been achieved through specialisation, intensification of production, scale-enlargement and a philosophical reconstruction of the countryside into a large ‘agriculture factory’ (Roep, 2001). Over time, however, the notion that persistent modernisation and rationalisation would keep Dutch agriculture globally competitive came under severe stress as global markets continue to show an increasing appetite for ever cheaper products. And, those farmers and Dutch regions (like elsewhere) that were unable to remain viable participants in this agriculture race to the bottom, soon found themselves marginalised. Such was the case that preceded the Waddengroup Foundationinitiative.

The seeds of the Waddengroup initiative were planted in 1976 when the van Rijsselberghe family, owners of the Sint Donatus farm on Texel––the largest of the Dutch Wadden Islands––attempted to start the first organic farm in the Netherlands. This pioneering attempt to forge an economically viable, ecologically friendly disconnection with conventional agriculture encountered many obstacles and challenges especially during the early years. However, following encouraging successes in producing and marketing what was branded: ‘Texel Environmentally and Nature Friendly Products’, but an absence of critical mass to make a real impact in the market-place; Marc van Rijsselberghe, in 1994, catalysed a network approach to solving this and other related problems that many of his colleague Wadden Island farmers shared (many of whom had already started to produce to organic standards). These shared problems included:

A sharp reduction in the number of farms and farm employment in the area.

Declining incomes and outward migration.

Significant environmental losses (especially of an uncharacteristic Dutch landscape of leafy hedgerows) due to scale-enlargement farming; hence, loss of spatial diversity and places of specific natural beauty as well as the loss of traditional breeds and architecture.

Standardisation of products for world markets, and ever declining prices were leading to the loss of ‘traditional’ ways of producing, processing and consuming within the Wadden Islands.



The cornerstones of the Waddengroup initiative were:

Combining local experiences and effort to build up a collective capacity in producing primary products (Texel sheep and a variety of cheeses, for instance), in processing, distributing and sales.

Using collective knowledge to support new members and others engaged in related businesses within the Wadden, area.

Implement, by means of a registered trademark and a common logo, a collective presentation for a wide assortment of products from the area on the basis of high quality and place of origin. (To qualify, processed products had to be at least 51% locally sourced.)



The Waddengroup Foundation itself was formally established in 1996 under the sponsorship (and participation) of the Sint Donatus Foundation, the first organic dairy farm on Texel. Also, ‘Stichting Wraldfrucht’ (World Fruit Foundation), was founded in 1992 to stimulate organic farming, processing and the marketing of typical products from the distinctive Northern Frisian area; and ‘Wholesaler Kroon’, played a role as a longstanding buyer of Sint Donatus dairy products, and supplier to a network of organic food shops in the Netherlands and Belgium. What develops, therefore, is a clustering of initiatives within the region which connect together around the Waddengroup.

According to its Articles of Association, the Waddengroup co-operative ‘supports the development of sustainable agriculture with a high value in the Wadden area by extending the production and marketing of regionally specific high quality products’ (Roep, 2001).

Although the area within which the Waddengroup Foundation operates is neither a governmental unit nor has any precise geographical boundary beyond abutting the Wadden Sea, the ultimate objective of the Foundation is for Waddenproducts to be fully produced (primary production and processing) within the area. Waddenproducts include the world famous Texel sheep, organic milk, cheeses, baked products, sauces, wines, ice-cream, cereals craft items and fruits.

Creating synergy within the Wadden Sea community is a prime objective of the Foundation, with all members of the Waddengroup having a direct financial interest in the co-operative. A two-person, unpaid executive team, overseen between meetings by an elected supervisory board, carries out the day-to-day operations. Through a combination of funding from the three founding members, new members and grant funding under the EU Leader Programme; and a number of national economic regeneration schemes such as the Regional Stimulation Scheme for Economic Development in the North of the Netherlands, and the Agriculture Ministry’s Schemes for Regional Innovation, R&D and marketing capabilities are developed and strengthened. The effect has been to stimulate new producers and processes in the area through the assurance of a guaranteed market for their produce at very attractive prices. Through the Foundation, raw material producers are put in close contact with dairy, fruit and cereal processors, creating both logistic and financial symbiosis. In 1998, for instance, the Foundation had 70 members, 45 of which were producers, and 25 being processors.

Although not all products from the region covered by the Waddengroup Foundation are sold through the co-operative; in 1998, some 125 different products were marketed under the Waddenproducten brand producing gross turnover of €3.3 million ( Roep, 2001). Five percent of net sales is dedicated to re-investment, and is placed in a general development and promotion fund. This is used for such purposes as research and development, 2 registering new trademarks and seeking out additional markets overseas. Currently, the principal overseas markets are in Germany and Belgium.

The assurance of high quality products that goes along with small-scale production, organic certification and location-specific marketing, has translated into high value-added products for the area. Unlike several other regions within the EU (including the UK) sharply rising sales of Waddenproducts are not associated with sales through supermarkets. Both at home and abroad, the principal sales channels are speciality shops and general grocers. With this level of heterogeneity within its supply chain, the Waddengroup network can retain greater control over production levels, prices and the spatial distribution of gains.

Although it is difficult to quantify precisely the extra net value-added that the Waddengroup Foundation has contributed to the area, estimates place this at 31% over what could have been gained from conventional agricultural practices. But this excludes the value created in upstream and downstream commercial activities and jobs created within the locality. And to this must be added the preservation, and in many cases, the rebuilding of fast diminishing environmental, social and cultural values. Consequently, after some six years since its formal inauguration, through collective action, the Waddengroup Foundation has delivered both economic success and political influence for the Wadden Sea community without sacrificing social or ecological capital.

The organisational structure of the Waddengroup has facilitated more specifically the micro-economic producer-based synergies between organic, conventional production, and the growing significance of complementary ‘broadening’ activities associated with amenity and welfare functions. Again, perhaps more starkly in this case, we see the development of multi-functional farms as part of their engagement in the network (Fig. 2).

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Fig. 2. 

An organigram of the Waddengroup foundation (after Roep, 2002).

The Waddengroup network is rooted on the experience and skills of ‘pioneers’. Whereas the formal-organisational structure and the new institutional arrangements can be relatively easily reproduced elsewhere, it is not the case with these personally-bounded abilities. Roep (2001) argues that ‘the immense ‘sea of ignorance’ and institutionalised inability are the main obstacles to be overcome’. Also the relationship with policy frameworks is at best ambiguous, especially with regard to the national policy frameworks. As in the UK, some policies explicitly favour such initiatives while, more generally, many still support ‘old style’ modernisation. More hope can be given to regional and local policy initiatives.


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