Wetenschap - 19 juni 1997

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Students leave for parts known
Most of the MSc students at WAU are about to start fieldwork for their thesis research. Last week students presented their thesis proposals to fellow students and supervisors. Since a large number of the students are returning home for their fieldwork, most know what to expect and will get off to a well-informed start
I was a bit nervous about presenting my thesis proposal in public, but it is good to get some constructive criticism from fellow students and supervisors. Especially the way they chop off digressions, which prevents the research from becoming too broad, says Owino Onyango. The Kenyan Environmental Sciences student presented his thesis proposal, on the littering behaviour of the residents in Mombasa, last Friday June 13 at the department of Sociology. During the coming weeks most MSc students will be getting ready to leave Wageningen and return to their home countries to carry out fieldwork for their thesis research
Presenting the research proposals to fellow students has become an annual tradition for students in the MAKS programme. For students in the field of environmental sociology it was the first time that this section of WAU's Sociology department organised such an event. In the discussions following the presentations, tips and constructive criticism help students to fine tune and brush up their proposals, mainly with regard to methodology and marking out the scope of the research. In contrast to their fellow Dutch fellow students who decide to go abroad for research, many international students are returning to a familiar environment. They speak the language, will not be faced with culture shock and often have prior knowledge of the context within which they will carry out the fieldwork
Sensitive
MAKS student Ruth Kiraka knows what she is letting herself in for. She will focus her research on the ins and outs of financial stability of community development NGOs in Kenya. She plans to make a comparative analysis of the financial affairs and fortunes of four NGOs. Her fellow students doubted whether she would be able to obtain this kind of sensitive data unless she had very good contacts. She smiles meaningfully: I feel confident, I think I'll manage. Kiraka goes on to explain that she herself used to work for one of the community development NGOs before coming to Wageningen
Chris Ogbu, student in environmental sciences, also has good contacts. The Nigerian will focus his research on an offshore Liquified Natural Gas project in Nigeria. The operations are in the hands of a consortium composed of three major oil companies: Mobile, Elf and Shell. Ogbu hopes to gain insight into the environmental performance of foreign contractors in Nigeria. What are the environmental considerations these firms make? In addition, I want to understand Nigeria's position on the issue of the environment versus foreign contractors' investments. The environment is scarcely regarded as a policy issue in Nigeria and yet some of the firms are shut down under this pretext. Something is going on there, but what is it? Ogbu's audience also wonders whether he will be able to obtain this kind of sensitive information. I know the management: we play golf and tennis, and drink beer together, he replies. The fact that the firm is possibly going to finance his work does not really worry him or as far as the independence of his research is concerned. Ogbu takes a practical approach to the matter. Another good contact and resource person he knows works for Greenpeace: However, Greenpeace did not pay very well.
Mushroomed
Lei Zhang's thesis research also concerns the industrial sector, although on a completely different scale and in a very different setting. She will try to identify the environmental problems related to township and village enterprises (TVEs): small industrial enterprises in the rural areas of China. Zhang explains that since the economic reforms started, China has become well known for its huge population and markets. However, environmental pollution is also growing substantially. According to Zhang, over the past twenty years, the number of TVEs has mushroomed from 1.5 million in 1987 to over 23 million in 1993. These small industries account for only 15% of the country's total export and 15% of its tax income, but in 1988 they were already responsible for 37% of economic losses due to ecological damage. Zhang, who works for provincial government in China, relates that while the environment is mentioned in all policy documents, nobody really knows how to give meaning to the issue. She hopes to develop analytical instruments to assess environmental problems arising from TVEs
Micaela Shuster, from Argentina, is one of the exceptions to the rule. She decided to stay in the Netherlands for her research. Shuster hopes to be able to take a closer look at the decision-making process concerning environmental aspects at various levels in food production processes at Unilever. Although she has received full cooperation from Unilever's management, she is not sure about the secrecy procedures in the company. It is the first point on the agenda for my next discussion at Unilever headquarters. So perhaps I won't have much to say at the next presentation.
Evil weevils
Traditional cultivation and storage methods turn out to be the most effective way of controlling damage caused by weevils (Cylas spp.) to sweet potato
Last Friday June 13 Nicole Smit obtained a PhD for her thesis Integrated Pest Management for Sweet Potato in Eastern Africa. Smit's research, which was supervised by WAU's department of Entomology, focused on sweet potato weevil species found in the East African region around Lake Victoria. Sweet potato is grown in this area for domestic consumption, either as the major staple crop or as an addition to other crops. Sweet potato weevils are the most destructive and common pest of sweet potato. The weevil strikes mainly in areas where the dry season is long. Weevil larvae tunnel through the crop's roots, making affected roots unfit for consumption. Very little research has been done on the African weevil species. Smit's experiments revealed that weevils cannot dig down through soil to reach the roots. The weevil only can affect the roots which are exposed above soil level or which can be reached through cracks in the soil. This explains their preference for dry spells. Smit proposes that traditional cultivation methods be maintained, whereby farmers practice in-ground storage and piecemeal harvesting instead of modern methods of harvesting the crop in one go. Additional cultivation practices could be considered, like adopting deep-rooting varieties, regularly filling the cracks or avoiding the presence of roots in the dry season by adjusting the timing of planting and harvesting
New platform chair
Dick Legger, programme director of the MSc Programmes in Environmental Sciences and Urban Environmental Management, has succeeded MAKS director Martha Bloemberg as chair of the MSc programme directors' platform
Although the chair has no formal position in WAU's management structure, the platform of programme directors was established to represent the common interests of international education at WAU. Formally, each MSc programme falls under one of the Education Institutes. The chair of the MSc programme directors' platform represents the combined interests of Wageningen international education when dealing with other bodies, such as the University Board and the Standing Committee on Education

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