Science - June 1, 2010

'My heart is in the content'

A bridge builder. That is how colleagues describe Huub Löffler, the new director of Wageningen International. They see Löffler as a motivator with good contacts among donors and foreign research institutes. And these qualities are needed to fulfil Wageningen UR's ambitions to get into the top five internationally and secure more assignments.

Huub Löffler helps plant rice in Indonesia.
Löffler has just got back from Indonesia, where the Agriculture Beyond Food programme was launched. Löffler is coordinating this collaborative programme, which is researching the scope for the Biobased Economy together with Indonesian partners. 'We took people from the Ministry of Economic Affairs with us, to see whether we could involve Dutch and Indonesian companies in the programme. That should create new funding possibilities.'
Löffler is currently Business Developer at the Plant Sciences Group. His main achievement over the past few years was the co-development of the research programme for photosynthesis, Biosolar Cells, which has cost 42 million euros. 'I could have had the overall responsibility, but that is very much a management job. My heart lies more in the content in the international context.'
What do you want to achieve at Wageningen International?
'The international context of Wageningen UR consists of four spheres. Europe, the emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, developing countries and knowledge economies outside Europe. In this latter group of countries - the US, Japan, New Zealand - there are top scientists that you want to work with and learn from. There is also a business world with plenty of capital.
'Wageningen International has never played a big role in this area. The top international people know each other and they organize their own networks. And the multinationals are very well aware of what's going on in the strong research institutes. 'So we will have to go for scientific excellence above all. The added value of Wageningen International in pursuing that is still not clear.
'In Brussels we are already doing fine. We must keep on doing our best in EU research programmes. We should get more involved in discussions in Brussels about the big research issues.'
And the poor countries?
'Agriculture is back on the development agenda. The Scientific Council for Government Policy wants the Netherlands to focus on what we are good at: food security, climate change, the water issue, and nutrition and health. Those are our fields. We must work on them in collaboration with local partners who take responsibility themselves, such as AGRA in Africa. New networks are growing up, and Wageningen UR must prove its worth in those.'
How do you see the relationship between Wageningen International and the knowledge centres?
'We need to improve collaboration at home too. The board has opted for another approach, in which each of the directors of the knowledge centres takes responsibility for all Wageningen research in one part of the world. I hope that will increase mutual involvement.'
What does bridge building mean to you?
'For collaboration it is very important first to identify common interests. If you don't do that, your own interests will get in the way of collaboration. It is also very important to translate an abstract plan into a detailed, concrete plan. Then you get a discussion about what everyone means, exactly. By doing that you create a sense of community and prevent misunderstandings. I enjoy organizing that.'

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