A movement rooted in a protest against plans to cut livestock numbers is rapidly picking up support in the Netherlands
The old Dutch word noaberschap denotes a countryside kinship under which farmers would help each other out in the event of disaster.
Now the concept of neighbourly kinship is being revived in the Netherlands by a political party called the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) – meaning Farmer-Citizen Movement – which is gaining ever more attention in the “tiny country that feeds the world”.
Farm animals are responsible for a significant amount of pollution, but few countries have dared to tackle the problem. The strong backlash against the Netherlands’ plans to radically reduce its livestock numbers – and the rise of the BBB party – has done little to negate politicians’ fears.

In next year’s provincial elections, which will also decide representation in the Dutch senate, or Eerste Kamer, the BBB is fielding more than 300 candidates in all 12 provinces. In recent polls, the party ranks fourth of the 17 leading parties in the Netherlands.
But the rapid rise of a pro-farming party, in a country where desperate attempts are under way to cut pollution from livestock farming, illustrates a political development that could be replicated elsewhere, observers say. Namely, a movement that says it speaks up for ordinary people, far from the centre of power, whose appeal goes beyond the farming sector.
In the splintered Dutch political arena, where trust in politicians is at an all-time low, the centre-right BBB has been making a lot of noise as “the voice of and for the countryside”.
Three years ago, the party campaigned primarily for embattled Dutch farmers against plans to shut down hundreds of factory farms to reduce emissions that are harming EU-protected nature reserves. While reform of the forthcoming “nitrogen law” is still its primary goal, BBB’s leader and sole MP Caroline van der Plas has positioned herself as a voice for the needy.
Noabershap is our core value,” Van der Plas said at the party’s annual general meeting in Nijkerk, Gelderland last weekend. “Two years ago, on 17 October 2020, we stood here in the same place with 26 people on the candidate list. Now there are more than 10,000 members. We want to be a stable, established party – and I think we are one already.”
She believes the BBB could gain eight seats in the 75-seat Dutch senate, and the largest vote share in Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland, Brabant “and maybe Zeeland” in March’s provincial elections, which will determine whether the party can torpedo the “nitrogen law” in the senate. The Dutch government plans to cut nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030.
“So many things are going wrong,” she tells the Guardian. “In the outlying areas, you often hear that in The Hague there is no eye for the human dimension and the small things that are so important in the countryside.”
Henk Vermeer, joint founder and secretary of the BBB, says the party’s can-do spirit and lack of cynicism have struck a chord. “As always, with the provincial elections, it’s a sort of referendum on what people think of the national government. A lot of people are not happy with the established parties. We have a chance of a lot of extra votes.
“Market research shows that a quarter of our seats come from people who didn’t vote before. It is because we, and Caroline, say it as it is, in clear language that is focused on solutions. People understand that we feel their pain,” he says.
The party peaked in the polls in June, when protests by angry farmers against looming shutdowns were reported around the world.
Sander Nieuwkerk, a senior researcher at Ipsos who has analysed BBB’s following, says the party had also drawn support from anti-establishment and established centre-right parties. “At the beginning of this year, they were polling steadily at around seven [seats]. But from the moment that the nitrogen crisis became really big, the party really began to grow,” he says.
“We also saw that people who felt dissatisfied in general with politics were attracted by the BBB. The farmer protests were indeed sometimes joined by the anti-establishment movement, and you see this in the polls.”
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Asher van der Schelde, at I&O Research, says the party is seen as having a real chance of governing in a future coalition, unlike far-right parties such as Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), which others would not join.
“Voters who come from right-wing parties such as PVV and Forum [for Democracy] see BBB as a no-nonsense party that is also realistic and could at some point be part of the government, whereas PVV and Forum are excluded from that,” he says.
But pollsters are hesitant to predict the outcome of next year’s election, saying much depends on whether nitrogen is top of the news agenda.

Earlier this week, farmers in Overijssel were in the news again protesting about a fine given by the province to one farm business for exceeding nitrogen limits, when farmers say there are no other options yet available.
Tom van der Meer, professor of political science and co-director of the Dutch Parliamentary Election Survey at the University of Amsterdam, says big fluctuations in the polls, and new parties, were not uncommon in the system of proportional representation.
“There are many examples of (opposition) parties that quickly rose in the polls, only to peter out before the next election,” he tells the Guardian.
Ingrid de Sain, a dairy farmer from Schellinkhout who heads the BBB list in North Holland, doesn’t know if she can pass her farm on to her eldest daughter in light of the government’s plans to radically reduce the number of livestock.

“I’m standing to give the north of North Holland a voice that will be heard,” she says. “This is everything for us.”
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