Wetenschap - 30 mei 2002

English summary

www.gcw.nl/wispr

Researchers at the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry in Wageningen are working an a microchip that can indicate the presence of diseases. See the Wisp'r website for a translation of the opening article on page 1 of this Wb.

Wageningen University Professor Rudy Rabbinge will participate in high-level international research on food production in Africa.

The request came directly from Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan: "Draw up a plan within one year that indicates how science and technology can best be put to use in order to ensure a substantial increase in agricultural production in Africa." Rabbinge will collaborate with other famous names including M.S. Swaminathan, Professor Per Pinstrup Andersen of IFPRI and the Ugandan vice president Spinosa Kazibwe in a core group that will organise case studies and workshops. Dr Prem Bindraban of Plant Research International has been appointed study director within Wageningen UR.

Ethiopian PhD researcher Tadesse Kippie Kanshie studied the Gedeo, a group in Southern Ethiopia, who seem to live in paradise on earth.

According to Kippie they have one of the most productive and stable agricultural systems ever designed by humans. The secret lies in the diversity, different varieties of perennial crops are cultivated together and sown at different times. This ensures that the soil is always covered and therefore does not erode, and the diversity prevents diseases and pests from gaining the upper hand. A complex system of management ensures that maintenance and harvest take place at the right moment. Kippie now wants to examine whether this system can be applied in Northern Ethiopia where monoculture has led to erosion and disease, and where food has to be imported.

A collective labour agreement was signed this week between the VSNU organisation representing universities in the Netherlands and the unions. A phased salary increase totalling 5.85 percent for the coming year up to September 2003 was the most important issue, together with a thirteenth month salary addition. All employees will also be entitled to a personal development plan, in the hope that this will make university employment more attractive to those seeking work. At the moment many young scientists choose a career in the more attractive private sector.

Plant sciences is an area of dwindling interest, if the number of undergraduate applications for the coming academic year is anything to go by.

So far just nine applications have been received. The subject came up at a recent reunion of all plant study disciplines that have existed in Wageningen through the years. To some extent it is a chicken and egg situation. There are now far fewer plant science specialisms, but is this due to the decrease in students, or has this decrease in options itself resulted in fewer applications? The fear is that, even if the publicity were made far more exciting, there just are not that many young people interested in the secret life of plants.

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