Contrary to common belief, the potential yield of rice and maize varieties has not increased in the past thirty years. This is a major problem, says American agronomist Kenneth Cassman, because agricultural production has to be improved if it is to meet the requirements of the growing population in the next decades. The average yield of food crops has increased in the past decades, admits Cassman, but when the actual yield rises to 75 percent of the potential yield, farmers encounter an increase in diseases and soil degradation in their intensified production systems. I don't say that doubling the world food production is impossible, but my goodness, we'll have to make an enormous effort to reach this goal, says Cassman, professor at the University of Nebraska. Many politicians and organisations like the FAO think we have enough technology available to feed the growing population, but I doubt it very strongly. Politicians should invest more in agricultural research, states Cassman
International seed and food companies are joining hands to develop and market a new generation of crops. Modern biotechnology makes it possible to design new crops, says American economist Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Companies are developing maize that contains human antibodies to cure cancer, sugar beet with special types of sugars, and potatoes with added vitamin A. Agro-chemical company DuPont is developing three new types of pig fodder, increasing the amount of fats and amino acids in maize varieties. The pig farmers can save money in this way, because they won't have to add supplements to the fodder anymore. The companies' strategy is to increase the number of products for special markets in future. Through mergers and take-overs in the food chain the companies ensure that added value of these products returns to units developing new crops
The WAU is quite successful in obtaining funds for research from the European Union. In 1996 the EU shelled out 27 million guilders for research at WAU. But the EU has changed the criteria in its new scientific programme: universities have to develop joint research proposals with companies and non-profit organisations so that scientific results are applied. Moreover, technical and social scientists have to cooperate in multidisciplinary research projects. The new conditions may lower the EU funds for WAU because scientists will have to find new partners and may not like the applied focus of the programme, says fund intermediary Boekje Vrieswijk. Fons Werry, head of International Cooperation of the DLO institutes for agricultural research, is more optimistic. Wageningen has always focused on application of fundamental research, but We have to watch out that the EU doesn't judge Wageningen as a bunch of boffins.
The Social Democratic Party (PvdA) proposed the abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture during the negotiations for the formation of the new Dutch government. The social democrats want to shift agricultural education, including WAU, to the Ministry of Education. But the other two parties in the formation process, the democratic party (D66) and the liberal party (VVD), are against the proposal. They fear that a discontinuation of the Ministry of Agriculture will harm the build-up of Wageningen University and Research Centre, the merger of the university and research institutes in Wageningen