Natuurlijk Kapitaal Nederland | natuur & economie verbinden

Sustainable use of natural capital for clean water in Brabant

emissiereducerende technieken op de spuit - foto: CLM, CulemborgThe water supply company Brabant Water and farmers have shown that the use of crop protection products can be reduced withóut loss of harvest yield. One of the measures for this is improving soil quality or rather strengthening the natural capital. This creates both economic and society benefits for farmers and the public sector partners. To safeguard the measures new public-private partnerships are needed focusing on multiple (or shared) forms of value creation.

Research issue

Brabant Water, farmers, government and civic organisations have worked together on the Schoon Water (clean water) project for roughly 15 years to reduce the level groundwater pollution with crop protection products. The use of products has been greatly reduced without harvest yield losses. Measures include the introduction of technical innovations such as different spraying techniques, as well as improving soil quality, thereby making the crop more resistant. Sustainable use of natural capital, thus. Despite the success of the measures it is believed that the farmers will not continue with them when the project comes to an end.


PBL and the local area parties together identified a number of opportunities for safeguarding the measures in farming practice on a lasting basis. The project comprised two workshops, interviews with the relevant parties and a desk study.


The study identified four opportunities for the parties to work together on clean water:

  1. Spending part of the cost saved on crop protection products and water treatment on an insurance policy against loss of income due to harvest yield losses.
  2. The development of a sustainable economic network for those taking part in the Schoon Water project. This offers, for example, the possibility of collective sustainable purchasing or earning more from the market through a sustainable chain.
  3. The siting of sustainable crops around nature areas. This could benefit nature, farming and water quality. To achieve this, coordination of the spatial planning of the provincial, municipal and water board authorities is necessary, together with input from the farming community partners.
  4. Cooperation between organic farming and nature management organisations. This could bring mutual economic benefits. Nature management organisations would have reduced management costs and farmers lower tenancy costs and could possibly earn more from their products.

The researchers and local area parties believe that the opportunities can only be capitalized on if there are changes in the social context too. This relates to new forms of cooperation, for example, new understanding and new legislation. The innovation must be aimed at creating multiple or ‘shared value’ with benefits for the farming community as well as the public sector partners. This requires making a connection between the long-term benefits for farmers and the public sector parties on the one hand and the short term economic outlook for the farming community on the other. The researchers made two particular recommendations for social innovation:

  1. Turn the Schoon Water project into a public-private partnership. This will create an opportunity for long term agreements.
  2. Make the long term financial benefits of the cooperation – both public and private – transparent and negotiate about the financial room that this will create.

Study conducted by

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)

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