Biotechnology on the path of development cooperation
Providing refresher courses for staff, exchange of staff and students, compiling lecture notes and equipping laboratories are among the activities involved in improving the quality of education abroad. It is partly a mission and partly pioneering. Besides, we have yet to get used to the idea of disseminating our knowledge and expertise abroad," says Mr H.W.J. van den Broek, director of the MSc biotechnolgy programme at WAU.
Cooperation in the field of biotechnology with universities in the South has so far been based on initiatives of individual staff members or departments of WAU. These activities, however, were of limited of scope and have largely been going on out of the limelight. Furthermore, the WAU MSc programme in Biotechnolgy has only being going for the last four years. Van den Broek admits that the scale and nature of this new form of cooperation is quite new for the biotechnologists at WAU.
A decade ago Nuffic, the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education, launched a funding programme, targeted at financing cooperation between universities in the South and Dutch universities and institutes for higher education. After selection by Nuffic, universities are then asked to draw up detailed proposals of what they consider necessary for the development of their institution. With their lists of wishes universities are invited to do their scientific shopping at Dutch educational institutions.
Can Tho University in Vietnam and the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso have already decided to do their biotechnological shopping in Wageningen. A South African university is due to visit WAU next week and is also interested in biotechnology.
Although these universities are poles apart as far as their wishes for education programmes are concerned, they have certain things in common. Firstly, the biotechnology courses at their institutes need a strong emphasis on food processing for use around the house. Secondly, the courses must eventually to turn out students, who are practical and versatile.
Professor T. P. Duong, both rector and professor of microbiology of Can Tho University illustrates why. His university is situated in the densely populated Mekong Delta. This region faces an increasing demand for food and food products. Much of the work Can Tho University is therefore aimed at transferring technology to agricultural communities in the region. Working knowledge of food processing and conservation can add value to agricultural produce, thus providing an extra source of income for the rural population and improving food security. Duong feels that gaining food processing knowledge is also of national interest. After all, processed food products yield more than raw materials on the export market. He concludes, Biotechnology can do it, we just need the skills and people to do it."
Transferring scientific knowledge and applying it for local use is quite a gap to bridge. Mr A.P. den Hartog, from the Department of Human Nutrition, coordinates the cooperation with the University of Ouagadougou, which wishes to establish a new study programme on human nutrition and food technology. He feels that by making the course programme as practical and applicable as possible the gap will become smaller. A course on community development will also be included in the new programme. Staff will be able to follow nutrition courses at the International Agriculture Centre, in which aspects of project management are covered.
Mr M.J.R. Nout of the Department of Food Technology feels that the Wageningen departments should offer technical know-how on biotechnology in a recognizable form. However, it is up to the receiving universities to adapt this knowledge to their educational structure. For Burkina Faso there will be even more emphasis on processing of local crops than for Vietnam. There are no food processing industries and research institutes in Burkina Faso. Since women play an important role in agricultural production and are largely responsible for food processing activities the future education programme must have a strong focus on the role of women. Mr M.A.J.S. van Boekel from the same department explains that while the counterparts in Burkina Faso endorse the focus on gender issues in the study programme, it was Nuffic who insisted that this be included in the programme. Van Boekel indicates that the programme is in an initial phase and still open to adjustment: We might decide to hire exp
ertise in the field of extension and gender issues."