Wetenschap - 24 april 1997

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Population of Wageningen doubles on 5 May
The biggest and most crowded open air festival in Wageningen takes place each year on 5 May. Liberation day marks the end of World War II for the Netherlands. This year the theme of the festival is Neighbours: freedom is something to be shared... and celebrated
Wageningen, yes I know. The end of the job! said Corporal Harald Callagher in an interview held just after liberation almost 52 years ago in Wageningen. The Canadian soldier came all the way from northern Africa, via Italy, France and Belgium and ended up in Wageningen, where the German troops in Holland finally surrendered to the allied forces. Despite coming through the war unscathed, Callagher and his mates drove their jeep into a tree near Wageningen a few days later. The driver had to go to hospital: He was a little tipsy. Since last week we have partied every day.
Fifty two years later 5 May is still an important day in Wageningen. Capitulation talks between the allied and German forces were held at an old farm to the west of Wageningen. On 5 May 1945 negotiations were continued in Hotel De Wereld in Wageningen, and a preliminary agreement was reached. Although the official papers were not signed until the following day in the University Aula, that Hotel De Wereld remains the symbol of the liberation of the Netherlands
Every year Prince Bernhard, the present Queen's father, who attended the negotiations in 1945, comes to Wageningen for the official memorial ceremony. In the afternoon he lays a wreath at the monument in front of De Wereld, and takes the salute from war veterans. Throughout the town centre numerous bands play music of all genres until about midnight. Visitors usually descend on Wageningen from far and wide and the population almost doubles for a day
Multicultural
In the midst of such a crowd it is difficult to imagine that 52 years ago the town was completely deserted and only twelve houses were left standing after the heavy fighting and shelling of the previous weeks. The town was in the front line both at the beginning of the war in 1940 as well as towards the end. Both times inhabitants were evacuated. On 10 May 1940, thirty two barges were used to evacuate the population of Wageningen via the river. By the end of the day everyone was either black or white; it was not that the population had suddenly become multicultural, but some of the barges used were coal barges and others were cement barges
During the war a start was made on rebuilding the town. The foundations for the last four houses had just been laid when the allied troops reached Arnhem in the autumn of 1944. On 1 October the population of Wageningen had to flee once again. This time, however, the town remained empty for almost eight months. Not until 18 May 1945 did people return home
Although liberation day is primarily a commemoration of regained freedom, over the past decades the scope of the celebrations has broadened. Freedom not only has a past, but also a present and a future. Freedom also involves other people, hence the this year's theme, neighbours
Termites for land rehabilitation
The change of soil characteristics due to termite activity was enough to create conditions necessary for natural vegetation development and crop production on previously degraded bare soils, explains Abdoulaye Mando. Mando, who was awarded his PhD degree on Wednesday 23 April, studied the effects of various types of mulch on termite activity and their contribution to the rehabilitation of crusted soils
Mando carried out field experiments in the province of Bam in northern Burkina Faso, his home country. Here he worked as PhD fellow at the Antenne Sahelienne, a joint research centre of WAU and the University of Ouagadougou. The area is situated in the Sahelian zone, where soil degradation is a huge problem. The most extreme form of degradation occurs when previously arable land turns into completely bare and crusted soils, due to overgrazing and continuous cultivation. This is increasingly the case in the area
Mando's research focused on subterranean termites, the major soil fauna component in the area. He compared bare plots with mulch covered plots. Mulch is spread to reduce water loss by evaporation, prevent soil erosion caused by rainfall and increase infiltration of rain water. Mando found that on crusted soils the effect of mulch on soil rehabilitation is of less importance, but that it is the termites that really do the trick. Applying mulch on these crusted soils attracts termites in a relatively short time. The termites crack the crust by burrowing. Then they create a three dimensional network of galleries throughout the entire soil profile down to considerable depths (120 cm). The resulting changes in soil structure improve the properties of the soil: hydraulic conductivity, water infiltration and drainage improve considerably. Furthermore termites reduce the soil resistance to below a critical level which enables plant roots to penetrate the soil. Termites also increase the decomposition of mulch and increase nutrient release in the soil. Finally, Mando compared mulched plots where cow pea was grown, with and without termite activity. The difference in crop height between the termite and non-termite plots was already statistically significant after just a few weeks
According to Mando, there have been studies of single aspects of the effects of termites on soil conditions, vegetation growth and the implications for farmers. However, as far as Mando knows this was the first time that an experimental approach to ascertain the overall relevance of the effect termites and their possible contribution to soil management had been explored
Queen
If you graduated recently but haven't managed to sell all your household goods yet, 30 April offers a good opportunity. This is the only day of the year that you are legally allowed to offer personal possessions for sale on the street. Koninginnedag or Queen's Day marks the Queen's official birthday. Actually, it is the birthday of the Queen mother, princess Juliana, but since Queen Beatrix's birthday is in the middle of the winter, she decided to keep the celebrations on April 30. Beatrix gets the day off as well and like everyone else, she likes nice weather. Every year she visits a different region in the country, where special festivities are organised. Weather permitting, the entire country holds street parties. Amsterdam's free market is famous, but usually very crowded. You seriously should consider travelling there a day in advance to avoid packed and delayed trains
You may also notice that many things are all of a sudden orange that day: cakes at the baker, people wear orange clothes, balloons, banners. It's not the latest trend in fashion for the coming summer, but refers to the last name of the Royal Family, Oranje, which is Dutch for orange

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