The Belgian pork industry has been in a crisis since 2007, causing pig farmers, butchers, boners and wholesalers alike to fight for their survival. With a relatively stable retail price and the number of pigs hardly diminished on the market, consumers and outsiders have barely noticed the serious changes in the industry. Still almost the number of pig farmers has dropped by 25% in Flanders since 2006. These changes went largely unnoticed, as many farmers continued to work for the party they sold their business to, usually a fodder company. Similarly small slaughterhouses and wholesalers were consolidated or merged with bigger companies. One example is the alliance in 2011 between slaughter group Covalis and meat trader and processor Viangro. But the big names did not escape the slump either.
It’s not too difficult to see why the industry has been experiencing problems if one considers the fact that the cost of producing pork has exceeded the retail price for many years. The cause is a little more complicated. Originally 50% of all Belgian pork was exported. But things started to change when Germany produced enough pork for local consumption, no longer imported from Belgium and started to export itself. Furthermore, the Belgian pork industry is forced to compete with international market prices. “Our biggest customers are situated in a 300-kilometre radius around Brussels, but within that area a number of major co-ops like the Dutch VION, the German Westfleisch and Danish Crown dictate the price,” explains General Farmers’ Syndicate advisor, Ludo Dobbels. “The co-ops are not profit-driven, so they agree on rock-bottom retail prices.” Instead of keeping up with increasing production costs, the price of pork remains more or less the same. Changes in the price of wheat have caused the prize of fodder, which makes up 70% or farmers’ costs, to increase exponentially in the past five years. Not to mention the fact that pig farmers in this country incur much higher costs than their competitors in neighbouring countries as they adhere to much more stringent hygienic and environmental standards and pay wages that are much higher. In simple terms, a labourer here receives 25 euros per hour compared to the 8 euros he earns at Westfleisch.
Late in 2011 Flemish minister-president and minister of agriculture Kris Peeters (CD&V) launched an action plan to secure economic sustainability for the sector in the medium term. It now seems his efforts were unsuccessful and the only other option would be for retailers to increase the price of pork. “Pork meat will have to increase by 10 to 15 eurocent to remedy the chain,” says Bert Bohnen of De Boerenbond (Farmer's Union). “But the consumer will have to be willing to pay this price.”
Last year 24-year-old civil engineers and computer scientists Bram Vandewalle and Sander Goossens were full-time university students. Today they run their own software company Endare. Their first apps, a comic book app for Blackberry, a , a mindmapping tool and parking aid they rather consider to be hobby projects. Their latest app, Unite, is a little more serious though and intended to turn meetings into a shorter, more efficient and pleasant experience. The application, which is currently only available on iPad, cuts the paperwork out of meetings and makes it possible for users to consult the agenda and all relevant documents, make notes on the document, draw sketches and compare drawings with other users.
The accessible app is compatible with other cloud applications such as Dropbox, Google docs and Outlook, and is based on a complex system which works in realtime, guarantees confidentiality and automatically backs up data. Moreover Unite is always linked to Endare’s servers via 3G or wifi.
After testing previous versions of Unite in different business environments, Bram and Sander conducted interviews with users to obtain feedback to further streamline their application. “We noticed that users met too often and worked inefficiently,” says Sander. “Thanks to the feedback we probably changed Unite a hundred times, but we stuck to our basic line of approach.”
In September 2011 the two entrepreneurs realized that tablets were an undisputed fact of the future and decided to develop a tool to facilitate paperless meetings. They spent three days a week at the Startup Garage, a collaborative hub run by iMinds, the research institute which stimulates ICT innovation commissioned by the Flemish government and in partnership with research institutes. iMinds brought Sander and Bram into contact with potential trial users and provided financial support in the shape of convertible loans which will eventually become Endare shares.
The two have meanwhile set up their own office and are now waiting to see how Unite is received when it is launched on Thursday. Once they’ve downloaded the app, users enjoy the first month free before they can subscribe on a monthly basis. The Unite business plan stipulates that by September this year they should have bagged 200 licences at a cost of 15 to 25 euros each, irrespective of the number of users per business. “If our tool allows you to save five minutes per meeting, the amount is immediately returned to you,” says Sander. As is typical of a start-up business, the two handle just about everything themselves except for the design of their app and the accounting. They support the helpdesk and promote themselves at trade fairs If one considers their age, they look rather mature and level-headed, but they have not lost their enthusiasm.
Salamander, the series televised on Flemish broadcaster’s Channel Eén on Sunday evening, will start a second career on BBC Four on Saturday evening. It will mark the first ever screening of a Flemish series on the English TV channel. Established in 2002, BBC Four has ‘made’ numerous international successes. When it first screened the Danish public broadcaster’s series The Killing and Borgen in original version and subtitled, it started a worldwide hype. Salamander’s Saturday screening is quite significant as it fits into the time slot of The Killing and Borgen. BBC Four programme director Sue Deeks, famed for ‘discovering’ The Killing, is excited about Salamander, describing the series as a tense and highly gripping political thriller which fits in perfectly with their Saturday evening programme offering. A North American remake of the series is currently being shot in Canada.
Salamander’s first episode opens with a huge robbery at a private bank which sees top-secret documents stolen from 66 safe-deposit boxes belonging to top Belgian individuals. When police officer Gerardi (played by Filip Peeters) becomes suspicious that the content of these documents is a closely guarded secret and starts snooping around, he has to start running for his life.
The series was produced by Skyline Entertainment, the production house which also released the series Aspe and De Rodenburgs for VTM and films like 'Groenten uit Balen' and 'De hel van Tanger'. “We continued to believe that quality and public success could be reconciled,” says Skyline owner Jan Theys.
Congratulatory messages have been streaming in and even media minister Ingrid Lieten (SP.A) lauded the success in a press release, saying: “I’ve always felt that we should nurture the creative TV talent in Flanders. That’s why we established the Media Fund to give the talent an extra boost.” The brain behind the series and scenarios is former journalist Ward Hulselmans, who wrote the script for quite a few other popular Flemish series.
In the middle of June 22 Flemish aviation and aerospace companies leave off for the annual air show at the Le Bourget airport in Paris. It will be the biggest Flemish delegation ever to have attended the airshow. With 60 Belgian companies attending, the Belgian pavilion will rank among the ten biggest exhibitors at the Bourget-Paris Air Show, which accommodates 2 100 exhibitors and attracts an estimated 350 000 visitors.
The Flemish aviation industry has great expectations in Paris, says Guy Putman, managing director of the sector federation FLAG (Flemish Aerospace Group). “Every modern aircraft boasts pieces of Flemish technology. Our aviation companies specialize in hi-tech niche products. For example, every super jumbo A380 Airbus carries components of 13 Flemish companies.”
These niche products vary from screens, composite materials and satellite sensors to GPS navigation systems and pilot training simulators, and include a mix of big guns like Asco Industries, Sabca Limburg, Imec and Barco, but also smaller enterprises and Flemish research institutes like Vito.
This is the first time a delegation of the somewhat smaller Flemish aeronautical industry will be represented. According to spokesperson Hans Bracquené, the aeronautical industry is in full swing with its annual turnover growing in excess of 5% every year and translating as 200 million euros, and a total of 13 000 workers employed by the aviation and aeronautics industries.
As the Flemish government mentions this industry as one of the forefront industries in its New Industrial Policy, the government agency Flanders Trade & Investment (FIT) also had its share in the promotion of the Le Bourget air show. According to CEO Claire Tillekaerts, the industry faces huge challenges to recruit sufficient trained technical staff. Guy Putman of FLAG is happy with the support from the Flemish government, saying: “During trade missions we are the little guys compared to our Flemish colleagues in the diamond or dredging industry. But our high ambitions are justified. Growth in the aviation industry is not over. On the contrary: the current 80 000 flights taken with Airbus equipment could double in ten years. We must be prepared for that by continuing to invest in technology aimed at quieter and greener flying.”
One third of the diamonds cut in Antwerp last year were destined for China, which has caught up with the US as the biggest importer of diamonds. With just over 31% of its diamonds exported to China last year, Antwerp increased its exports to the country by almost three quarters during the last five years.
With its upwardly mobile middle class, many people in China are spending money on jewellery; especially diamond engagement rings. With many diamond cutters now working from India and also increasingly from China, Antwerp is no longer the hub for diamond manufacturers. Interestingly, this Belgian city often sends it uncut precious stones to be cut in China before they return to Antwerp, just to be returned to jewellers on the Asian continent. In April China imported 55 768 carats at a cost of 116.6 million dollars (90.5 million euros). The value of 39 290 carats exported to the US was however substantially higher at 240 million dollars (186 million euros). With exports to China at 72 324 carats or 142.5 million dollars (186 million euros), the US represent almost 80 800 carat or 311.65 million dollars (241 million euros). The Antwerp diamond industry plays a key role in uncut diamonds with almost 80% of all diamonds passing through this city on the River Scheldt.
Argus Labs, the small enterprise owned by Filip Maertens, has raised 500 000 euros to further develop its Jini Smartphone application. The app must be for sale on the market this summer. The intelligent Jini app is a personal advisor for smarthpone users, applying various sensors and functions to collect personal data about the mobile phone user, ranging from location, movements, type of music, hours of sleep, sport etc. With the permission of the user the app converts the data into personal advice aimed at “drastically improving the life of the user”. The Argus Labs project, which also plans further developments from the Californian Silicon Valley, enjoys the support of a number of heavyweights in the industry, including strategic chief of Samsumg Electronics Young Sohn and Viacom’s former operations director for Northern Europe, Marco De Ruiter.
Similarly the Ghent developers of the pay system Posios, Jan Hollez and Zhong Yuan Xu, signed a deal in the US to distribute their Restaurant Butler mobile cash register system to the restaurant and hotel and retail industries in collaboration with a platform from Merchant Warehouse, one of the biggest and fastest growing pay platforms in the US. Earlier this year Posios signed a similar deal with Griffin. Posios magically transforms iPhones and iPads into mobile cash register systems used in restaurants and shops. It is integrated with a website, online ordering, promotions and payments. Hollez and Yuan Xu have firmly established themselves in this growth market borne from the need in many countries for a registered system to control moonlighting.
The Flemish government has allocated 500.000 euro for the Bike Valley wind tunnel project to test bicycles and related products. The project is a collaborative platform for bicycle and cycling gear manufacturers Ridley and BioRacer, helmet manufacturer Lazer, the research institute Energy Lab and sporting management company Golazo. Businesses and cycling teams currently test new products in wind tunnels built for cars, which makes the Bike Valley tunnel a world first specifically built for bicycles in the world.
The 47-year-old artist Koen Vanmechelen beat 567 candidates for the most important international award for contemporary media art, the Golden, with his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP). The Austrian organization Ars Electronica initiated their annual award for digital, electronic and interactive art in 1987. This year 4 071 candidates from 73 countries submitted their projects in seven categories. Vanmechelen won his Golden Nica, often referred to as the Oscars of Media Art, in the category ‘hybrid art’. “I’m obviously excited, especially because I won in this category,” said Vanmechelen before departuring for Venice today to prepare for his participation in the biennale. “CCP is about cross-breeding. Not only between materials and disciplines, but also between concepts.” Vanmechelen will present his project in an exhibition when he receives his award in the Austrian city of Linz in September. The 10 000 euros in prize money will be invested in the project. “We are now on our seventeenth generation of chickens”, says the prolific Vanmechelen, who is currently also working on a solo exhibition in Washington and keeping himself busy with projects in Wageningen, Venice, Watou, Amsterdam and the Cuban capital of Havana.
Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters, also tasked with the Economy portfolio, has appropriated 1.3 million euros for three major innovation projects in Limburg as part of the Flemish government’s New Industrial Policy (NIB) to introduce innovation in the industry. The NIB plan is based on 50 projects to ensure the industry’s future in the region. The Flemish government launched their first call for NIB projects in 2011. After repeating the call last year, they identified 21 new projects – with three of them from Limburg – that will receive a total of 8.3 million euros. These projects focus on key projects in need of additional stimulus, including microtechnology, nanotechnology, biotechnology and photonics. The first of the three Limburg projects is the virtual power plant Lummen-Zolder Zuid, a group of electrical and building industry businesses collaborating on a smart grid for intelligent electricity grids at an industrial site in Lummen-Zolder Zuid. Business sites often generate a substantial current of green energy, which may lead to problems if the current must be fully injected into the grid. In Lummen-Zolden Zuid they approached the problem by storing the surplus supply of current in freezer cells of which the temperature drops and creating a buffer in this way. Such a virtual power plant is cheaper than the installation of classic power plants, produce less CO2 and ensure a more efficient energy consumption at industrial sites. Similar virtual power plants can be planned for other industrial sites. The second project is Bike Vally Beringen-Paal and is a joint business venture between players in the cycling sector like Ridley Bikes, Bio-Racer, Energy Lab, Lazersport and Flanders’ Drive as knowledge centre. They plan to invest in a new cycling wind tunnel in Beringen-Paal with a view to accelerating the development and marketing of new products and increasing the region’s competitive edge internationally. The third recipient from Limburg is the electrical grid for a future Flanders. Grid controller Elia and energy suppliers are compelled to balance supply and demand every fifteen minutes. This normally happens only with quick reacting and expensive gas-stoked power plants and result in excessive CO2 emissions. The project ‘Power plant of the Future: approaching industrial consumers’ is set to provide an alternative. The project will see five federations in the refrigeration, food and paper industries and the company Restore 25 individually approach major electricity consumers to optimize the balance of supply and demand on the Elia grid. They will do this through temporary power cuts, thus creating a virtual power plant of the future.
The recently built Kluizendock in the port of Ghent will be the location for a 180 000 square metre logistic distribution centre, the WDPort of Ghent Logistic Park. According to Joost Uwens of WDP, the biggest lessor of storage space in the Benelux, the dock “is ideally positioned with its rail, road and water links”. What makes it even more attractive for businesses is the fact that the site does not fall under ‘port labour’ which means businesses can choose to employ alternative, cheaper labour. At this stage WDP is still actively seeking tenants, but if everything goes according to plan the dock will eventually boast a distribution platform with normal storage space, a railway warehouse “with drive-through facilities for trains”, cross-docks for freight orders via the internet, open-air storage and containers.
“We will be the biggest distribution platform in Flanders,” says Uwens. “We hope to welcome our first customer by the middle of next year. And within the next five years we plan to complete the entire project, which will be based on customer needs and will cost between 70 and 90 million euros. The project could create 300 to 600 jobs in the Ghent region in the long term.” Daan Schalck, CEO of the Port Authority: “We plan to expand on handling and storage in the Kluizen Dock. We would also like to offer distribution facilities and create added value.” Minister Hilde Crevits, who joined the presentation, is highly satisfied with the project, saying: “Flanders invested 200 million euros in the Kluizen Dock. It’s great to see the investment has paid off.”
The appointment of geneticist Anne De Paepe (57) as new rector of the University of Ghent and ethicist Freddy Mortier as vice-rector late last night was quite an auspicious moment, as it marks the first time in the history of the university that this top function goes to a woman. “I am not a token woman” said De Paepe. “The management board is filled with wise people. They would never have based their decision on one element. Freddy Mortier and I explained our vision to them and it seems that I convinced them.” It is hoped that the appointment of De Paepe, who currently serves as vice-dean of the faculty of medicine, will result in an increase in funding for research. The board’s choice of De Paepe is further quite significant as she positioned herself as Mortier’s sparring partner throughout her election campaign, with her as candidate for the vice-rectorship. “That was the initial arrangement,” she says. “It seemed to be the most logical choice. Like me, the current rector Paul Van Cauwenberghe comes from the faculty of medicine. Two consecutive rectors from the same faculty seemed difficult. But it gradually became obvious that the distribution of the task load could be arranged the other way round.” Ultimately it was the board of directors who made the decision during a private meeting yesterday. What came as a surprise was their decision to appoint De Paepe as rector and Mortier as her deputy. “For me the rectorship and vice-rectorship is a shared responsibility. What’s most important is that we build the university’s image. My appointment as first woman is especially important for my younger female colleagues. It must be a sign for them to keep believing in their chances, which are probably much better than they believe,” says De Paepe.
Even though 2012 was not a record year for inland shipping in Limburg, the public company De Scheepvaart is highly satisfied with their performace. Their annual report indicates that all their efforts in partnership with the Flemish government have paid off. As Europe has included the Albert Canal in its TEN-T programme which explores freight traffic opportunities in Europe. Their choice of the canal confirms its pivotal role in international freight traffic and its ability to raise European funds for investment projects. Despite the fact that freight traffic via the Albert and Kempen canals was 7% down from 2011 last year, container transport nevertheless continued to increase and freight loading and unloading targets were still reached. Additional activities to increase possibilities for the Albert and other canals in the province of Limburg include 36 bridges that will be elevated to accommodate larger ships. So far ten of these are either in the process of being raised or budgeted for. Seventeen bridges are currently at the required height of 9.10 meters.
“The installation of the new bridge in Briegden near Lanaken will eliminate the Albert canal’s last bottleneck in Limburg,” say Paula Palmans and Willy Vandeurzen of De Scheepvaart. “Changes are currently being made to the lock bridges in Ham and Hasselt, and it is further hoped that the upgrading of six lock complexes will increase the Albert Canals capacity for freight traffic. Pump installations will also be adjusted to guarantee normal traffic on the Maas during low water supply. “Water pumps of this size and capacity are unique in the world,” say Palmans and Vandeurzen proudly.
The Flemish government and its majority parties have reached an agreement on a ‘new disability policy’ based on the premise that people with disabilities must be primarily self-reliant and look to their immediate surroundings and society for support, as the government can no longer provide all disabled people with a broad-based budget or adequate care in a specialized institution.
The next government will pay Flemish citizens with recognized disabilities a basic benefit to pay for care and support. It is generally believed that this benefit will suffice for most beneficiaries provided they can also count on care and support from families, friends, colleagues and informal carers. The new policy will also see people with disabilities entitled to normal social services with regard to housing, family support etc.
The key objective of the new policy that is being drafted by welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen, Helga Stevens (N-VA), Bart Van Malderen (SP.A) and Vera Jans (CD&V), is to reduce the waiting lists for specialized care which continue to grow despite extended care facilities. The current government added 5 500 facilities for handicapped people but there are still 22 000 people on waiting lists. The Flemish government has promised to eliminate the backlog and to make budget financing accessible to all by 2020. At this stage the draft note does not stipulate the basic benefit and its cost to the Flemish government but it does specify that the Flemish care insurance will finance the benefit payments. The care industry dreams of an additional care insurance and recently calculated that if every Fleming contributed 25 euros, the care insurance could pay 300 to 400 euros per month to every disabled person on the waiting list. The existing care insurance currently benefits the elderly much more than it benefits the handicapped and all Flemings (except the poor) contribute 25 euros per annum to this insurance.
Twice a year Detlef, the Antwerp company owned by Dior fashion designer Raf Simons, is a hive of activity and discussion when Simons and his general director Bianca Luzi sit down to work on the next season’s fashion offering and budget. Under Luzi’s watchful eye a new business plan is drafted before each season to map out the cost of the show, the collection and travel expenses. Even though she gives him free rein as far as his image and creations are concerned, Simons has to watch his budget and keep a financial lid on the cost of the fashion show and collection. “Each year we draft a matrix. I check to see how much was sold during the previous season and estimate a growth figure,” explains Luzi. “Then we say: so many trousers, so many shirts, so many coats.” She also keeps a close watch on mixing expensive pieces with more affordable ones as “it must keep on selling,” she says.
Luzi believes that even a creative enterprise such as fashion cannot do without a commercial and financial plan, saying: “You cannot live on an image. And it’s a hard world. Competition has grown exponentially and good organisation is essential. So too is communication and transparency between the creative and commercial teams.”
This has not always been the case with Simons, who first gained international acclaim as designer for Jil Sander and then joined French fashion house Dior as creative director of their women’s collection. Early in 2011 he received full control over his own men’s label again after a period during which he had worked under a licence contract with the Italian-Japanese group Futurepresent that took care of production and trade.
Luzi feels it’s important to share her expertise with the Bridging the Gap project initiated by the Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI), which offers intensive mentoring to a small group of designers for a period of one year to arm them with the necessary real-world and businesses skills. According to Agnes Wené of FFI these are qualities that are not often found among young creative talents. Designers may be enterprising but they often lack real business acumen. With financing becoming increasingly hard to come by, support from a business point of view has become indispensible. When Christian Wijnants won the prestigious international Woolmark prize earlier this year, he immediately said that the 80 000 euros of prize money “could secure his next collection and allow him to appoint additional staff”. But this did not stop him from also designing for other labels to spread the financial risk.
The same goes for Tim Van Steenbergen, who turned his business, Mitzlavv, into a creative lab that not only turns out clothing collections but also designs glasses, lamps, theatre costumes and secondary activities that provide a cash flow to keep him afloat when he does not earn an income from his clothing line.
The FFI’s business coaching for young designers is not limited to the Bridging The Gap project; the organization also advises on the drafting of business plans, launching promotions and sourcing international sales networks. Wené believes more could be done. The Antwerp Academy is one of the only fashion schools that do not offer business training. On the one hand this has served as an advantage as it enabled designers to freely express their creativity, but on the other hand it failed to expose them to the business aspects of a company. Additional optional management training for alumni could provide the answer to this problem.
Inroads have meanwhile been made in this respect, with Sofie Claes as one example of a student being coached by MBA students as part of the Artists in Residence programme offered by the Antwerp Management School. The Flemish government is meanwhile brainstorming on additional ways to support the fashion industry. According to Wené, the efforts should primarily focus on helping young designers to bridge their first unprofitable years in business.
Neither the Flemish nor the Belgian economy expects to see any growth this year. Conditions are however expected to improve and there will be a limited growth next year, with Flanders geared for more growth than the rest of the country. These are the findings of the Social and Economic Council of Flanders (SERV), whick represents the social partners (trade unions and employers) and provides the Flemish government with advice. Despite their predictions of a 1.2% growth of the Flemish GDP and 0.7% in the rest of the country, SERV remains pessimistic in its view that the crisis is much more profound than a temporary slump as a result of the eurocrisis. “It’s a serious slowdown of growth with long-term effects.” They do however indicate that even though these figures do not promise any real-term growth, a further decline in the economy is not expected for 2014 either, with forecasters generally in agreement that the foundation for positive growth will be laid in autumn this year.
A report commissioned by the Flemish Public Governance Advisory Board (Vlabest) and conducted by the University of Ghent indicates that the Flemish government spent a record 1 746 euros per capita in Antwerp in 2011while Affligem, the municipality at the bottom of the list, received a mere 172 euros per capita. The objective of the screening was to establish the exact flow of funds from the Flemish government to its various municipalities so that the financing of local authorities could be properly reformed. The University of Ghent established 68 funds representing 4.6 billion euros that the Flemish government spent on its municipalities in 2011, which constituted 18% of the total Flemish expenditure bill, with the bulk of the funding spent by the Municipal, Urban and Provincial Fund and wage subsidies for education.
It’s no secret that Antwerp and Ghent receive the lion’s share, but it is nevertheless surprising to see how disproportionate this distribution actually is. Other major cities barely make it to the Flemish average of 608.75 euros per capita, with Bruges the only exception because its population is above hundred thousand. Even if one ignores this disproportionate support from the Municipal and other funds for the big cities, the differences are still enormous, although the same municipalities are not always on the receiving end.
With the highest concentration of Flemish funds limited to a small number of municipalities, most other local authorities drop to below the average despite warped figures as a result of the higher concentration of schools in certain municipalities. As an example, Dilsen-Stokkem in Limburg scores very high because of its many educational institutes.
This discrepancy between the different municipalities has raised considerable debate among Flemish MPs. “It seems that cities with a central function often receive less than is generally claimed,” says Flemish MP Karin Brouwers (CD&V). “The justification of a number of funds seems unclear. To what extent can one justify the fact that one municipality receives a fund and not another one?”
Vlabest president Herman Matthijs believes the criteria for the distribution of funds from the Municipal funds should be revised. He also questions a number of smaller funds which run counter to the objective of reducing the burden caused by various plans, and calls for administrative simplification and transparency. “We must prevent further proliferation of these kind of funds,” he says. Flemish minister of administrative affairs, Geert Bourgeois (N-VA), is currently working on a revised Municipal fund, but at this stage the details are unclear.
The University of Ghent’s figures on support to the provinces highlight similar discrepancies, with Limburg topping the list at 103 million euros of financial support and West Flanders and Flemish Brabant receiving only 30 million. The federal government earned 1.9 billion euros from the regions in 2011, with the bulk of this income destined for police services and Public Social Assistance Centres (OCMWs).
Children’s book illustrators Ingrid Godon, Kaatje Vermeire and Pieter Gaudesaboos will present Chinese translations of their books at the Beijing International Book Fair at the end of August, courtesy of the Flemish Literary Fund (VFL). During this time they will also lead workshops for children and masterclasses for students. Gaudesaboos will present his Mannetje Koek series and Ingrid Godon the Chinese version of her picture book ‘Is it still far?’ while illustrator Kaatje Vermeire had already four books translated into Chinese.
The VFL regularly supports Dutch language literature and a broad spectrum of translations into and from Dutch by distributing subsidies to writers and translators, and organizes partnership projects. This is their second year at the Beijing book fair, and so far it has led to Chinese translations of Hugo Claus’s classic novel The Sorrow of Belgium, Stefan Brijs’s The Angel Maker and Dimitri Verhulst’s The Misfortunes. But according to the Fund, the real drawcard are the picture books created by Flemish illustrators and that is the reason why the Chinese book fair organizers approached the VFL with the idea of a Flemish illustrators’ project for the 2013 fair.
Flemish fashion designers are struggling to survive. Late last year Belgian fashion label Sandrina Fasoli suspended activities because they could not find a capital investment while Walter Van Beirendonck was forced to close his fashion store in Antwerp just like Olivier Strelli and hat designer Christophe Coppens. With even established names struggling to survive, the Flemish government has decided to set up a Flemish Fashion House that will provide affordable workshop and retail space, an advisory centre and a fashion fund to assist designers with practical and financial support. The Flemish government has meanwhile commissioned a viability study which is set for completion this summer. Immense financial and work pressure are often at the root of their problems, with designers basically having to survive on two fashion sales a year. Moreover it costs several hundreds of thousands of euros to run a fashion show and more than a million to open a fashion store. Add to that an economic crisis and you have a dangerous cocktail. “Finding capital is very difficult,” says designer Annemie Verbeke. “Banks are no longer fulfilling the role of a banker and are scared to take risks. You, as designer, need the funding to pay suppliers upfront but your customers only pay you after thirty or sixty days.” The support they currently receive from Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen’s (PMV) CultuurInvest fund and the Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI) is limited, and according to FFI’s Agnes Wené “only a drop in the ocean”. To make matter worse, they have to contend with high wage costs, a limited market and smaller orders from multibrand boutiquesand from clothes chains like Zara and H&M, who often copy their designs and sell them for much less.
Designer Marina Yee, lecturer at the Ghent Academy for Fine Arts (KASK) calls for increased (financial) support for young designers, even if carefully considered. “A fund like this sounds good, but first and foremost we need innovation. We should honestly ask whether we do not already have enough fashion designers and if there are enough consumers.”
Designers often lack business sense. Running a fashion label involves management, PR, financial deals and budget control. Those designers who make it on all levels are those with a strong business sense, like Dries Van Noten. Yee feels art schools should include business training in their curriculum and focus more on fashion management.
In the Flemish floriculture mecca north of Ghent (Evergem), Deroose Plants cultivates more than 140 bromelia varieties and hybrids in Evergem, Shanghai and Orlando (Florida) and exports more than 21 million cultivated and cloned plants to all corners of the world. Deroose Plants, owned by the 59-year-old Reginald Deroose, is the world’s largest bromelia business. More recently it has set its focus on a brand new business. One of its employees, the 59-year-old agricultural engineer Ludo Maene, managed to clone the Hevea rubber plant by striking a cutting. This marks an absolute revolution for the rubber industry as the plant has traditionally only been propagated by grafting a cutting from the mother plant onto existing roots. Maene’s success with the first tree from a cutting with its own roots will result in a 30% increase in production compared to traditionally grafted trees. Of the global production of 25 million tonnes, 45% of the rubber – used to make rubber bands and condoms, latex mattresses, insulation foam and tyres – is natural. Ludo Maene is incredibly excited about his ‘discovery’ made in collaboration with the Ghent technical college (Hogeschool Gent) and supported by Luc Boedt, CEO of the plantation group Socfinco. “An estimated 166 million rubber trees are replaced each year,” explains CEO Joos D’hoedt of Deroose Plants. “If we could deliver 10 million plants each year, we could treble our current turnover of 12 million euros.” In response to questions about fears of industrial espionage, he says: “We chose not to patent the cloning technique as this would compel us to disclose our technique, which opens the door for copycats.” The discovery has also led to a 2.35 million investment offer (38% of Deroose Plants’ capital) from Brussels plantation group SIAT in addition to an order for 150 000 hevea plants for trial fields. The group manages 75 000 hectares of rubber and palm plantations in Gabon, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cambodia.
Flemish minister of sport Philippe Muyters (N-VA) has been unanimously nominated to represent the European council of ministers for sports on the Foundation Board of the World anti-doping agency Wada for a term of three years. “The Foundation Board is the only platform for an international voice in terms of doping policy,” says Muyters. Europe has three delegates on the Foundation Board, which is represented by members of sporting federations and governments. Europe is represented by 3 ministers. Two of these representatives are designated by the current and future presidency of the European council of ministers (currently Ireland and Luxemburg) and the third one for his special anti-doping expertise. This is the role now assigned to Muyters. “I want everyone to fight with the same physical weapons in sport competition and allow regulations to be based on reasonableness. Someone who makes an administrative mistake should not receive the same punishment as someone using the forbidden substances.”