News - May 14, 2012

Successful knowledge agent in Africa

Wim Andriesse was a go-between for Wageningen UR in its dealings with African partner groups and international networks for many years. He bade farewell on 10 May. What was the secret of his success?

He kept appearing in group photographs when yet another agreement or project in Africa or Europe was signed by Wageningen's international division. These projects and networks had names such as ECART, FARA en YPARD - abbreviations which carried no meaning except for the signatories. At the farewell reception for Wim Andriesse - on the occasion of his retirement - all these agreements and group photographs were brought up. Rector Martin Kropff showed a topographic chart with hundreds of ongoing projects in Africa, of which, for example, 49 are in Ethiopia. Added to these are a lot of 'capacity building' to improve the quality of African universities, and 250 Africans currently doing their PhD studies in Wageningen. More often than not, Wim Andriesse was 'our man in Africa' who had paved the way.
Many a time, Martin Kropff sat in the same plane as Andriesse on their way to Africa to close a deal. Soil expert Erik Smaling, now professor in Twente and senator, got to know Andriesse 25 years ago during projects in West Africa. Christian Hoste, his French counterpart, got to know Andriesse during the forging of research partnerships for African development. And ex-minister Agnes van Ardenne related how Andriesse built a successful partnership between Wageningen UR and the Ministry of Development Cooperation. All of them, together with about 150 colleagues and partners in cooperation, were present on this occasion to thank Andriesse.
What made Andriesse so successful? He was always talking about concrete issues, such as soil fertility, food security and agricultural markets, related Kropff, using his own photographs as illustration. More than anyone else, Andriesse understood that success is not determined by technology but by people, Kropff added. This attention to people made him a good networker. Moreover, Andriesse was very good in bringing together various viewpoints from research, policy-making and development, said the Frenchman Hoste. In a discussion, all the participants got their way most of the time, and Andriesse added something as well. His ability to bring people together was also put to good use. One photograph showed two people talking to each other, with a smiling Andriesse in between, a little withdrawn but very clearly the initiator of the conversation. Those who know him described him as pleasant, honest and approachable.
Andriesse took all these in with a smile, and also offered some advice to Wageningen UR. Such as: set up interdisciplinary participatory research in Africa in which the project objectives can be adjusted along the way in a consultation process. Exercise more care when choosing international projects; they are too fragmented currently. Better choices and discussion can further increase the impact of Wageningen projects in Africa, said Andriesse. He is succeeded by Jennie van der Mheen.