WUB-reporter Marianne Heselmans visited that Swaminathan Research Foundation in Madras, India, last December. This institute tries to organize sustainable development among poor farmers and the landless in India. According to Swaminathan, founding father of the institute, modern biotechnology will not trickle down of its own accord through Indian society. Its implementation must be organized in a participatory way.
The institute tries to develop biovillages in India's rural areas: villages with many small scale enterprises, based on biological techniques such as mushroom, jasmine and lamb's lettuce cultivation, or small scale livestock production. The biovillages are backed by biocentres, where agronomists test and multiply the biological materials; by a network of researchers in a Science and Technology Consortium, and by bankers, donors and insurance companies in a Financial and Management Back-up Consortium.
By giving technical and organizational support and supplying loans, the institute wants the poor farmers to generate (additional) incomes themselves. However, this is hard to achieve in practice, explain the fieldworkers. Apparently simple changes and innovations take a lot of time and effort. The poor people are not used to changes, learning skills and caring," says the coordinator of the project.
WAU professor Dr. G. Lettinga from the Department of Environmental Technology wants to get rid of the Dutch sewage system. The current system, using drain pipes is costly, vulnerable and spoils useful products such as human waste and drinking water, says Lettinga. He is preparing a research proposal, in which excrement and waste water will be treated at the community level. More awareness among citizens about their waste products is needed, according to Lettinga, who opposes the government's plan to pour billions of guilders into repairing the sewage system.
Wageningen is the most internationally oriented university in the Netherlands and is strengthening that position by cooperating with five Dutch institutes which also offer MSc courses to foreigners. However, no common strategic policy has yet been formulated, because the institutes first have to overcome all sorts of formalities and bureaucratic procedures. Once they have managed to wade through all the red tape, the Minister of Development Cooperation, Jan Pronk, will present them with a three-million-guilder budget.
Meanwhile, WAU also wants to strengthen its ties with the DLO Ministry of Agriculture research institutes in Wageningen. Collaboration should take place over the purchase and use of expensive apparatus, and researchers from the university and the institutes should tender for EU funds together, say WAU chairman Vos and DLO general director Heuver. The main focus of cooperation is WAU's graduate schools.