Science - June 20, 2015

Ruerd Ruben back in Wageningen

Joris Tielens

Development economist Ruerd Ruben (1954) is back on familiar territory. A couple of weeks ago he was appointed special professor of Impact Assessment, with special reference to Food Security in the Development Economics chair group.

Ruben left Wageningen University eleven years ago for Nijmegen. After a stint at the ministry of Foreign Affairs (as director of the inspectorate) he joined the LEI last year as programme manager for international research. As professor at Wageningen he will work on the development and evaluation of methods of impact assessment.

Why leave government in the Hague, actually?

You shouldn’t do inspectorate work for too long, you don’t make many friends that way. And I was asked by the LEI. It is very nice to spend more time coaching and training younger researchers again.

What are your plans as special professor?

It’s all about measuring the effect of stimuli on the behaviour of businesses, or of government policies in the area of food security. What works? Food security is not just a matter of food production but of the combination of production and consumption. What people spend their money on can be just as important as the rate of population growth. Post-harvest processing and the way the chain is organized are important too. The same goes for the contracts farmers have with traders.

In Wageningen there is still a lot of emphasis on production and technology. But it is not just the technical possibilities that matter, but also whether they are accepted and can be implemented. You can transport food all around the world because it can be grown more cheaply elsewhere. But is that what we want to do, and is it the most efficient approach for the world as a whole?’

You are going to organize discussions?

Certainly. I want to link up students and researchers from various disciplines, but there’s room for more discussion in Wageningen too. Between economists working at micro and macro levels and between ecologists, technicians, social scientists and nutritionists. What do we think of government support for agricultural policy or of agricultural trade agreements? What do we do with the question of why there is less poverty in the world but no less hunger? Wageningers should speak up more.

You coordinate a lot of international research. How is that going?

Well. In the past few years the CDI (Centre for Development Innovation) has developed well and relations between the university and DLO are good. Wageningen could be doing more, though, for policy support for governments and agricultural organizations in developing countries, and focus a bit less on individual companies. I coordinate a WUR-wide programme on good security and nutrition. The chair will help promote integration between all the science units. And there are some big programmes coming up. At the minister’s request I contributed to the recent partnership between the Netherlands and the World Bank on food security. And the CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) will come up with a new round in 2017. To be part of that it is more and more important to demonstrate the relevance for development. Impact assessment, in other words!

In a nutshell

Ruerd Ruben got his Master’s and PhD at VU University, Amsterdam, and worked in agricultural development in Central America. On returning to the Netherlands in the early nineteen nineties he got a job in the Development Economics chair group in Wageningen. Nine years ago he left to become professor of Development Studies in Nijmegen. He later ended up in The Hague, tasked with keeping the ministers on their toes as director of the inspectorate at Foreign Affairs. He was appointed to the LEI one year ago and as special professor at Wageningen University on 1 June.