The Department of Theoretical Production Ecology is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The department has established an international reputation by developing simulation models for the growth of plants and their environment. Its founding father, Dr C.T. de Wit, wanted to know the optimal yield of crops, given the available soil, water supply, fertilizers, sunlight and so on. The critics now say the research of the departments focuses too much on crop production under controlled circumstances using test plots. This means the computer models are judged as an end themselves instead of a means to improve production on site. The department should therefore cooperate more with social scientists, farmers and extension officers to develop production support systems which are actually being used by the farmers in Holland and abroad, the critics say.
Dutch farmers produce an overload of manure, because of the intensive production methods in the dairy farming sector. The government is restricting the spread of manure for environmental reasons: the ammonia in the manure pollutes the ground water and damages the forests. One option to cope with the environmental goals would be to decrease the amount of cattle and pigs, but the farmers oppose that idea. They want technical solutions, such as injecting the manure into the soil so that ammonia would not be released, and building stables that are insulated in such a way that no ammonia can escape. This is very costly and about fifteen percent of the farmers will not be able to afford the necessary investment.
WAU graduate Marion Herens has just returned from Rwanda, where she has been supporting womens' organisations through the Disaster Relief Organisation, in order to create some reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi women there. However, the odds are against her: Rwanda is expecting a month of mourning and revenge, because it is exactly a year since former president Habyiramana was killed. Insiders fear that the Hutu extremists, who have rebuilt their strength in the refugee camps, and the Tutsi military force, which is not under control of the new government, will start killing again, especially when the situation in neighbouring Burundi runs out of control.
WAU student Dennis Jansen used to be quite normal: he went to lectures and practicals of the Forestry course dutifully. But since he discovered Internet - when his student flat was connected to the WEB - Dennis has been studying at home, behind his computer. He started to correspond with his friend, who was doing practical work in New Zealand. I became a reporting station for others too," says Dennis. His girlfriend came down to E-mail one evening, his parents called me to let him know that his grandma was celebrating her birthday in the coming week." This year Dennis has spent four hours behind his computer a day. He has already arranged his practical period in Chile through Internet at the University of Concepcion. He knows everything about this university's research and about the cultural programme in Santiago, where his girlfriend is studying. I already know which ballet I will visit in September."