Norwegian movers and shakers: Ola Hedstein, Norwegian Agricultural Cooperatives

Norwegian Agricultural Cooperatives is a special interest organisation for 17 farmers’ cooperatives. It works to ensure that farmers’ share of value creation from renewable agricultural resources is as large – and sustainable – as possible.

The Explorer spoke to the organisation's CEO, Ola Hedstein.

What are the most important sustainable trends in your sector at the moment?

The transition from fossil to renewable resources is the most important sustainable trend – regardless of sector. Although renewable energy is essential, we also need renewable resources for production of food and other goods. We need a more bio-based economy in which fossil resources are replaced by biological resources from soil, forest and the ocean.

The Norwegian agricultural sector takes an integrated approach to sustainability. Human health is inseparable from plant and animal health. In a world which fears more people dying from antibiotic resistant bacteria than cancer, Norway is garnering attention because we use extremely small amounts of antibiotics, other medicines and pesticides in agriculture. Production based on other considerations than delivering the cheapest possible food – whatever the cost – can therefore open up new markets and enhance competitiveness.

The framework conditions for food production in Norway have been relatively limited, and Norwegian farmers have therefore developed agricultural practices to try to compensate for their disadvantages. The Norwegian agricultural sector – with its distinctive characteristics combined with new technology – can show how food can be produced under more demanding and limited framework conditions, also in other parts of the world.

Which sustainable solution would you like to see in 10 years’ time? 

My dream is that sustainable food production will be profitable. World leaders must take stock of the situation and acknowledge that as long as non-sustainable production is more lucrative, change will take a long time – perhaps too long.

If today’s trade agreements increase the competitiveness of countries and companies with the poorest health, safety and environmental standards – then new trade agreements must be drawn up that have the opposite effect. This is just as feasible as introducing the polluters pay principle.

What are your ambitions for The Explorer? How can it be used to boost Norwegian exports? 

Food production has never been cheap in Norway, so we have always had to optimise production with other things than cheap labour – most notably knowledge and technology. Our future competitiveness lies in the fact that Norwegian agriculture is based on the same values as the Sustainable Development Goals.

I hope The Explorer will be a place where the world can be introduced to Norway’s unique animal genetics and breeding techniques and new technological solutions for efficient food production with minimal use of medicines and pesticides. There is a steady stream of startups with new technological solutions for more sustainable food production in the Norwegian agricultural sector. I hope many of these will soon find a home in The Explorer.

Photo of Ola Hedstein: John Trygve Tollefsen