News - September 3, 2013

Opening of Orion and academic year

Rob Goossens

With a press of a button Queen Máxima started up a flashy film giving an impression of the new education building on the nine screens in the large lecture theatre. Both Orion and the academic year were launched on Monday afternoon.

Dozens of fans were waiting by the entrance of Orion, mobile phones at the ready, to welcome the Netherlands’ new queen to the Wageningen campus. And they were not disappointed: there she was, elegantly dressed in red and taking her time to make her entrance into the building. The 700 guests were already seated; they included professors, students, staff and alumni. Never before have so many people attended the opening of the academic year.
And this record fitted the occasion, which was quite a superlative fest altogether. Board chair Aalt Dijkhuizen summed it up with pride: countless international projects, the research funding they generate, and the knowledge that then benefits the global community. And of course the 20 percent more students coming to Wageningen this year.
Minister Kamp
The new students are more than welcome because we are going to need them, stated minister Kamp of Economic Affairs. The climate is changing everywhere and the Netherlands ‘is eating away her own natural resources, as well as those of other countries’. If we don’t do anything, said the minister, we are going to reach the limits. In his view we need to learn from global problems in the past. Now as then, ‘innovation is the key’. ‘Think of the doom scenarios predicted by the demographer Malthus, which largely did not come true because of spectacular innovations in the field of food production.’
Jason Clay
The next speaker, Jason Clay (vice president of the WWF) took us back to the superlatives, but now mainly negative ones. He spoke of the exponential population growth, the extremely rapid urbanization and the unprecedented welfare spurt in emerging economies. ‘In China the GDP doubled in 12 years, something which took England 155 years.’ This means that in 2050 we shall need twice as much food, whereas the best farmland is already allocated.

But there are solutions, or at least a list of action points which between them could soften the blow. They include combatting food waste, which currently causes the loss of one third of all calories produced. Calories the production of which has already used up water and land as well as contributing to climate change. Clay’s contribution was an impassioned ‘call to action’. Addressed to the world in general but to Wageningen in particular, because Wageningen works on the knowledge that can help solve the global food problem.

Queen Máxima
The time came at last for the opening ceremony by Queen Máxima, who was present for all the speeches. As the audience helped count down, she pressed the button with which she started up a film show about the building. It is the newest on the campus but will certainly not be the last, as board member Tijs Breukink explained. In a virtual bird’s eye tour of the campus of 2025, he showed what else Wageningen UR has in the pipeline.
 Aalt Dijkhuizen will not be seeing all this as executive board chair. He announced that he would not be available for another term when his current one runs out in March 2014, thereby putting an end to much speculation. He said he would remain active in the agrifood sector in the role of commissioner and other such positions.
This year the Silver Medal of Honour went to George Lubbe, chair of the Wageningen Ambassadors. The ambassadors are a select group of alumni who work to promote Wageningen UR and play a significant role in fundraising. As he bestowed the medal Dijhuizen called Lubbe and his fellow ambassadors a ‘role model for commitment to their alma mater’.
Photos: Guy Ackermans