Wetenschap - 27 juni 2002

English summary

One hundred days into his job as Chairman of the board of Wageningen UR, Aalt Dijkhuizen, has eased his way in, and presented the 'top 25' here with a strength and weaknesses analysis.

Absenteeism needs to be reduced, so that employees enjoy going to work more than they do at present. Wageningen UR also needs to professionalise in its behaviour towards clients. Strategic research is too fragmented, and needs grouping into one to three core topics. Overheads are also too high: the 1550 full-time administrative positions for 7000 scientists will have to be reduced. The new government is also talking of cuts, and Dijkhuizen does not exclude Wageningen as potential candidate for these.

After 25 years in Wageningen, starting as student and ending as Professor of Geology, Eric Smaling is moving on.

He is frustrated and disillusioned with the new managers and the formation of the expertise groups, but it's also just time for a change. Smaling was the driving force behind the Inref Programme and North South DLO programme, intended to be the crowning glory to the interdisciplinary research in developing countries for which Wageningen is famous. Smaling commented that it is strange the Wageningen UR, which has so many international ambitions, has an executive board with so little international experience.

Alterra researcher Paul Kersten calls last year's foot and mouth crisis in the Netherlands a social disaster, that can be likened to the firework disaster in Enschede.

A survey among 800 dairy farmers in and near the crisis areas indicates that a quarter still have serious psychosocial problems a year later. They feel misunderstood and marginalised, show signs of stress such as problems with sleeping, insecurity and restlessness, are less happy than previously, tire quickly and have difficulty undertaking new activities - the first signs of depression. The figure of 25 percent is high, the average for the Dutch population as a whole being five percent. Kersten even goes so far as to say there are no healthy farmers left in the Netherlands.

Introducing market mechanisms for water distribution in Mexico has not led to more efficient use of water according to new PhD graduate Dr Wim Kloezen.

This flies in the face of the beliefs of especially the big donor organisations such as the World Bank. At the beginning of the 1990s Mexico was one of the first countries to privatise its water use organisations, and farmers had to pay cash for water. The idea was that sellers would charge as high a price as possible, and farmers would be thrifty with water. But prices did not rise, as economics was not the only driving force. Water managers were prepared to sell water for less in return for political favours. The users also take social, political and management factors into account as well as the purely financial side. Privatisation is not the cure for corruption it seems.

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