Wetenschap - 23 april 1998

International Page

International Page

International Page
Not enough English in Wageningen Knowledge Festival
Many international students were disappointed by the fact that they were largely excluded from seminars at the Wageningen Kennis Festival which took place last week. Organisers have defended the fact that Dutch was the language of communication because most issues focused on the situation in the Netherlands. However, some topics would have been very interesting to international students as well
Peruvian PHD student, Jorge Chavez Tafur, attended a seminar on Wageningen and the Third World. As Tafur is coming to the end of his studies here, he can understand some Dutch, but he found it strange that considering this seminar title, there was not a single participant from the Third World present. He and other students in his international corridor find it unacceptable that this was not even considered. During the festival two seminars included lectures in English, because the speakers came from outside Holland. Nevertheless, this was also very limited as debates on the issues were held separately in Dutch, which meant there was no opportunity for non-Dutch participants to respond to or discuss the points raised during the readings
One of the two lectures on Market Structures and Food Distribution was held in English. Dr. M. Hossain, from IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) in the Philippines, discussed the possibility of achieving food security in Asian rice-producing countries through trade liberalisation. While Hossain believes in trade liberalisation under the pre-condition of equal access for all, he thinks that Asian countries will argue against international market liberalisation for rice as it is too political an issue. Most rice-producing countries want to achieve self-sufficiency in production of this staple food. At present the international market for rice represents only 4% of total rice production. Under trade liberalisation, governments would no longer be allowed to maintain price controls or to provide subsidies to farmers. If high prices and dependence on international markets cause a scarcity of rice on the domestic market, it could lead to national instability in highly populated countries like China, India and Indonesia
Clone
Very different approaches were presented in two lectures on The Cultural Significance of Genetic Technologies. The first, by artist and biologist, David Kremers from Caltech in the US, led the audience to look at the issue of biotechnology in a different way. He started his lecture by referring to himself as a clone, because he is a monozygotic twin, Kremers raised the issue that everything around us has been manipulated or engineered in one way or another by human interference. We have all received man-made educations and the forces of society and history have shaped our world views and the boundaries which we accept. Whenever a new concept, in this case biotechnology, is introduced, it is always looked upon with trepidation in the beginning because we don't know what the outcome will be. Kremers maintains that we are now going through a major cultural transition period; the future outcome will be weird from our present point of view, but ultimately it will be normal, just as many things we now take for granted would have seemed crazy three hundred years ago
Henk Hobbelink from GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International) in Barcelona, was more concerned with the ethical approach to the issue, by asking the questions: Who is initiating this research, and why? It is often argued that biotechnology is a solution to world hunger, but GRAIN's experiences working with small farmer organisations in less developed countries finds that the inevitable narrowing of genetic diversity is threatening their livelihoods. Using data that unfortunately was somewhat outdated but nevertheless persuasive, Hobbelink showed that plant breeding research and patents are in the hands of a very limited group of actors dominated by agro-chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Their research focuses on limited alternatives, primarily the development of resistance to high doses of agro-chemicals, ultimately aimed at reaping greater profits
May 5th - Liberation Day
The most well-attended event of the year in Wageningen is almost upon us! The German occupation of Holland during the Second World War ended fifty three years ago. On May 5th 1945, agreement on the German surrender was reached in Hotel De Wereld in Wageningen, though the papers were officially signed on the following day
Every year, Prince Bernhard (Queen Beatrix's father) comes to Wageningen for the official memorial ceremony held in the square in front of Hotel De Wereld. During the parade crowds cheer ageing World War II veterans, who still come to Wageningen to celebrate every year. UN peace-keeping forces now also join in the parade, reminding us that issues of peace and human rights are as important today and in other parts of the world. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The theme is Freedom calls on every voice, which will be represented by a wave of voices in which 13 choirs will sing a specially composed freedom song, starting in The Hague at noon, moving from town to town, and ending in Amsterdam at about 10:00 in the evening. The choirs will also carry the wave to festivals in 13 cities all over Holland, including Wageningen. Here the town centre will become packed as about 70,000 people come to listen to local and international bands playing open-air music all afternoon and evening
April 30th - Queen's Day
Every year, April 30th is a popular event as Holland celebrates the Queen's birthday. Queen Beatrix usually visits a chosen town, and takes part in the festivities in that region. You will notice that the colour orange becomes a prominent feature on that day - people dress in orange clothes, orange flags and banners are hung out and even cakes at the bakers have had orange food colouring added. This happens because the Dutch royal family belongs to the House of Orange, which has historical links to the 16th century when this royal house was founded
Not only is April 30th a national holiday, it is also the one day in the year that people are officially allowed to sell their unwanted possessions second-hand in the streets. In bigger cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht, the streets are festive (and very crowded!) with a market atmosphere as musicians, artists and second-hand sales take over the city centres. In Wageningen there will also be activities throughout the day, including concerts and games as well as live bands in the cafes in the evening

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