Sustainable Agribusiness in Metropolitan Areas

Smart solutions for metropolitan agriculture

Around the world more and more people are moving to cities. The UN predicts that by 2050 about 6.5 billion people will live in urban areas. All these people will need sufficient, healthy food. Farmers in the areas around and between large cities will have to produce food for these people. At the same time, increasing demands are being placed on this metropolitan agriculture. Sustainable production methods must be used: methods accepted by the local population and appropriate for densely populated areas.

To meet the demand for more and healthy food production in a restricted environment, we need to develop smart business models and new value chains that include producers and consumers. In order to develop these, we need new coalitions and collaborations between agricultural entrepreneurs, governments, consumers and other parties that create new opportunities for the agricultural business sector, locally in other countries and also in the Netherlands.

Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences created the professorship of Sustainable Agribusiness in Metropolitan Areas in 2012 to link education, research and business practices related to these chains. Rik Eweg was appointed professor in October 2013 and brought his research and management experience in the public sector to the group. Eweg: ‘We develop the competencies and knowledge needed for sustainable agribusiness in metropolitan areas.' 

Living labs 

Starting out small, the group gradually developed over the past years and has established ‘Living Labs’ in which intensive collaboration now takes place. These Living Labs are networks of universities of applied sciences and professional education, businesses and governments, where entrepreneurs, students and researchers learn with and from each other about sustainable metropolitan agriculture. The Living Lab in the metropolitan region around the city of Pune in India focuses on dairy farming. In Romania the Lab looks at fruit, vegetables and dairy farming, and in the provinces of Gelderland and Friesland  in the Netherlands the focus is on Circular Agro-Food Business and Nature inclusive farming. Rik Eweg: ‘Our role is to facilitate collaboration between different parties, also in other cultures. This requires mutual respect and taking into account the interests of others.’  

The Living Labs have set up large and small projects in which many Van Hall Larenstein students, entrepreneurs and researchers gain experience. Education, research and practice go hand in hand. ‘Entrepreneurs benefit from the knowledge and input of students and researchers, while those on the business side provide relevant issues and subjects for those involved in education and research.’ 


The Family Dairy Tech project focused on the question: 'How can Dutch companies specialised on dairy housing systems adapt their products and offer these on the Indian market to contribute to sustainable and profitable local dairy farming?'

Read more about The Family Dairy Tech project.

About the professor 

Professor Rik Eweg is lecturer, researcher and director in one. This combination of administrative and investigative work allows him to have an integral view of the developments of sustainable agribusiness in metropolitan regions. As a project director of the TransForum innovation programme, he managed practical projects, and he was involved in the development of new methods for learning in innovation processes. 

As a director, he was responsible for major projects in the field of spatial development and economy. He combines extensive knowledge on innovation processes with a substantive view of metropolitan agriculture. He is strong at analysing and managing complex problems and processes. 

Rik studied civil engineering at a school for higher technical education in Hengelo besides studying urban planning at Wageningen UR, and his PhD focused on the use of geographical information systems in future scenarios for area development. He has worked at the university as an international project leader in addition to having worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the research school for production ecology. In the ensuing period, he was a councillor in the municipality of Wageningen for eight years. From 2006 onwards, he has worked as a project director in the innovation programme TransForum Agro and Green.

Professor Rik Eweg

Associate professorship Environmental Impact of Circular Agro-Food Chains 

In 2018, the associate professorship Environmental Impact of Circular Agro-Food Chains was created as part of the Professorship of Sustainable Agribusiness in Metropolitan Areas to analyse the environmental impact of circular agro chains and food chains. Jerke de Vries was appointed as associate professor. When designing sustainable business models and value chains, impact measurements and indicators for circularity and sustainability are important.

More info? Check the webpage of Environmental Impact of Circular Agro-Food Chains


Our work is to inspire new forms of learning for students, by inviting them to participate in solving problems and working with lecturer-researchers, entrepreneurs, governments and civil society organisations. In our vision, learning is not a one-way transfer of knowledge, but a joint activity of all partners involved, in which each participant has a valuable contribution to make and can also develop him or herself.

Our activities are intended to contribute to making food production in and for metropolitan areas more sustainable. We see family farmers and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the frontrunners in innovation and renewal. In our view, the big challenge for these family farmers and SMEs is to develop new forms of business and entrepreneurship within an urbanising environment, a globalising world market and under conditions of climate change. We take both producers and consumers as a starting point.


As a group we work according to the principles of action research: together with stakeholders we analyse the problem, and develop and evaluate solutions. We develop prototypes and implement innovations based on their usefulness and the wishes of partners in the field. We work together with partners in Romania, Serbia, India, Brazil, Ethiopia and Kenya.

In the coming years we intend to focus on the following themes:

  1. Sustainable business models and circular value chains for food products (dairy, fruit, vegetables);
  2. Metropolitan Dynamics: food for Mega-Cities and Refugee Cities for different market segments;
  3. Creating Impact: Innovation Platforms such as the Value Chain Field School for impact and innovation for research and education in Living Labs. Impact monitoring by translating SDG-indicators into operational indicators to obtain societal ‘licenses’ for business models (certification, green investing, policy, marketing).

Applied research group

Within the organisation of the university, there is a cooperation with other applied research groups including Sustainable Dairy Farming, Food, Health and Safety and Urban Agriculture as an Urban Design Task. 

The applied research group engages in permanent cooperation with the following training programmes: 

  • Business Administration and Agribusiness (BAB, Bachelor of Business Administration) 
  • International Development Management (IDM, Bachelor of Sciences) 
  • Animal Husbandry and Livestock Farming (D&V Bachelor of Sciences) 
  • Agricultural Production Chain Management (APCM, Professional Master) 

Various people are active within the applied research group. They jointly work on the challenges set by the applied research group. Research group members: 

  • Marco Verschuur, coordinator of the Master’s in Agricultural Production Chain Management 
  • Ben Rankenberg, lecturer in Dairy Farm Management and Entrepreneurship 
  • Pauline Drost, lecturer in Agribusiness 
  • Ard Schoemaker, lecturer in International Development Management - Specialisation Market Access 
  • Sebastiaan Masselink, researcher New Business Models 
  • Josianne Cloutier, lecturer in Sustainable Horticulture/Post-Harvest and coordinator of the 2+2 programme VHL-Baramati Agricultural College 

And with: 

  • Jerke de Vries, Associate Professor Environmental Impact of Agro-Food Chains 
  • Robert Baars, Associate Professor Dairy Value Chains

Want to know more?

More information about the applied research group can be found in the booklet Sustainable Agribusiness in Metropolitan Areas (pdf). 

You can also contact the professor, e-mail your question to, call +31 (0)6 41 14 95 08 or find Rik Eweg on social media: Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter 

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