Niko Wojtynia

Towards a regenerative food system in the Netherlands: between transition and transformation

Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University,

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Marko Hekkert, dr. Jerry van Dijk (UU) and prof. dr. Peter Groot Koerkamp and dr. Marjolein Derks (WUR)


Niko Wojtynia researches the Sustainability Transition of the Dutch food and agricultural system. His PhD project will investigate the potential for Dutch agriculture to become ecologically regenerative, or “net positive”, while fulfilling societal expectations. This includes analyzing the innovation system for sustainable agricultural practices, exploring visions for a sustainable sector in 2050, and developing scenarios and transition pathways. 

Niko has an educational background in Environmental Sciences and Policy (MSc, Central European University) and Political Science and Development Studies (BA, University College Utrecht). After his studies, he worked for four years at a consultancy firm and as a freelance researcher. 

Summary PhD Project

Food systems are in increasingly critical condition, deteriorating ecosystems while not fully satisfying human nutritional needs or providing good socioeconomic outcomes for farmers. This general assessment applies to the Netherlands, where agriculture has negative impacts on biodiversity, water and air quality and soils; contributes considerably to greenhouse gas emissions as well as public health challenges; and does not provide decent livelihoods for many farmers.

It is clear to scientists, civil society, policy makers and increasingly the general public that this system needs to change. One nascent alternative approach to conventional, unsustainable agriculture is “regenerative farming”, defined approximately as a farming system which restores and nurtures natural capital and ecosystem services without negative externalities. The aim of this dissertation is to explore how the Dutch food system can be steered towards a regenerative system by 2050, relying on the sustainability transitions and socioecological systems governance literatures for analytical and methodological guidance.

One recurring theme of this dissertation is the apparent duality of transition and transformation in large-scale complex (food-) systems change. While the transitions approach is aimed more at bringing about different outcomes in and through established systems and regimes, transformations are conceived of as deeper, more fundamental (and radical) system redesigns or even replacements. Some questions that will be addressed in light of this are whether and how both processes can coexist; what their relative merits are in changing system structures and functions; and how both ecosystems on the one hand and democratic societies on the other can act as agents in these change processes.


Gorter, Joost and Niko Wojtynia, 2017. Measure What Matters: Outcome based standards as a tool to drive performance and accountability in sustainability standards. Report prepared for the ISEAL Alliance, London (private report)

Schouten, Wouter-Jan et al., 2017. New Horizons for the Transitioning of our Food System: Connecting Ecosystems, Value Chains and Consumers. Discussion paper by NewForesight and Commonland with contributions from the Boston Consulting Group, Utrecht

Gorter, Joost and Niko Wojtynia, 2015. Unraveling the Role of the Private Sector: Where industries can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Chapter 1: Agricultural Commodity Traders. Report by the Index Initiative, Amsterdam