For the first time at an opening of the Wageningen academic year, the executive chairman of a foreign knowledge centre came to give a speech. This was Marion Guillou, president of INRA, a French research organization which works extensively with Wageningen UR in European projects.
Wageningen UR and INRA meet regularly to discuss research projects and the setting up of consortia to obtain European research grants. Pooling resources will increase the chances of success, especially since the EU encourages such cooperation. They want to become European centres of excellence. Brussel only has eyes for top recognized institutes in the Netherlands and France when it comes to agricultural, nutrition and environmental research.
These two institutes have much in common. Like Wageningen UR, INRA covers applied as well as fundamental research. Its research laboratories are spread over some twenty locations in France, and receive strong centralized management from Paris, while also maintaining links with and thriving on funding from the various regions. The INRA institutes in Montpellier are well-known for their international research.
INRA depends on public funding more than Wageningen UR does, but France too is facing pressure in this area. ‘INRA is big and strong, while we are perhaps more innovative and ahead in our cooperation with the business sector’, says Dijkhuizen. ‘Wageningen UR is more active in interdisciplinary research into social problems for various funding sources. That makes us interesting for the French.’
The two organizations also have something else in common: their ability to provide policy advice. Just like the DLO in the Netherlands, INRA advises the French Ministry of Agriculture on research policies. This ability is now being exploited by both partners through what is called Joint Programming. The European Union has approached Wageningen UR and INRA to draw up a vision paper for future research.
In encouraging such cooperation, Dijkhuizen and Guillou will avoid top-down pressurizing. ‘Let’s work together first on the work floor and shape further cooperation later on’, says Dijkhuizen. The Wageningen knowledge units have meanwhile teamed up with their French counterparts in INRA.
The Animal Sciences Group (ASG) is one step ahead of other units and its director Martin Scholten signed a letter of intent on 7 September with his counterpart at INRA. The agreement states that French and Dutch animal scientists will work closely on research into animal welfare, genomics, animal diseases, sustainable animal farming systems and sustainable aquaculture. Initiators have been appointed in Wageningen UR and INRA to pave the way for cooperation in each research theme.
‘We are aware that the production of animal protein has to increase sharply to feed the growing world population’, says Ruud Duijghuizen of ASG, who helped draw up the letter of intent. ‘Our aims therefore are increased production, high consumer satisfaction and a sharp reduction of the ecological foot print, such as CO 2 emission. This is the framework within which our pool of experts will get to work. It’s therefore about using technology, genomics and system approaches to produce more food with less environmental impact.’
Other knowledge units will follow suit and establish collaboration themes with INRA and those who will turn these joint efforts into research proposals for the EU. The Plant Sciences Group has signed a draft version of such an agreement. Perhaps the parties will also agree on which of the two will invest in expensive equipment.