Holland has had plenty of rain in the past two months. A lot of land is now under water, especially in the northern part of the country, causing large amounts of damage to farmers who were about to harvest their potatoes, beet and horticultural crops. Environmental organisations claim that Holland has to change its water management, giving more space to nature reserves that can store water in heavy rain periods. Hydrologists from the WAU counter that the arguments of the nature conservationists don't hold for the polders below sea level and that they themselves are part of the problem: while farmers try to survive in lower parts of the country, environmental organisations buy land in the higher parts. The farmers want to lower the waterline, the ecologists want to raise it. If the farmers and ecologists were to change places, we would have fewer problems, says hydrologist Piet Warmerdam
Brazil nuts cannot be cultivated, but only grow in the wild in rain forests. Labour costs of collecting the nuts are high and might become too high to compete with other nuts in the packets of mixed nuts in the western shops. WAU student Ad de Veld studied the economic perspectives for Brazil nuts in Bolivia and argues that the collection and processing of the nuts can be profitable for both the companies and workers. De Veld thinks that the price of the Brazil nuts can be raised if western consumers are told that they are buying a quality product that helps to protect the rain forests
Soil science professor Johan Bouma from the WAU attended a major symposium of the American Society of Agronomy and World Bank in Baltimore, entitled Sustainability in Agricultural Systems in Transition. The widely accepted conclusion of the symposium was that agriculture has to change its paradigms. Sustainability includes not only economic prosperity, but also care for the social environment - a multifunctional agriculture. Bouma agrees with Lester Brown from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington that there is reason for severe concern about the future potential to feed the world population. Organic and sustainable agriculture are not equivalents, remarks Bouma. A lot of American farmers go bankrupt because of the low prices on the world market. All the arguments about ecological multifunctional agriculture evaporate in the face of these problems. Making agricultural businesses oriented towards bulk production into ecologically friendly enterprises wasn't on the agenda. Nevertheless, this congress was unique: it would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
The WAU students Nigel Stapleton and Arie van der Meijden at the Haarweg student flat are living in danger. In his collection of animals Nigel has a python, although it's only one meter in length. He once tried to strangle me, but he's not dangerous - he has the strength of an adult man's arm, but I have two arms. Arie also has very poisonous scorpions, but his prize pet is a centipede which is forty centimetres long. I think he's highly dangerous. I have put a lock on his terrarium. Every evening I hear him trying to get out.