The Executive Board had to explain itself to ESG at a dialogue session concerning its new strategy. Why has nature been left out?
Nature and biodiversity would not bring in new customers during the current economic crisis. In such difficult times, customers in the government and the private sectors want plans and initiatives to generate economic growth. As such, biodiversity and nature were not featured in the position paper which Wageningen UR presented to the government, said board chairman Aalt Dijkhuizen when the new strategic plan was discussed at the Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) on 17 May.
Different speakers from ESG indicated that issues such as biodiversity, nature, climate, ecosystem services and landscape are not mentioned as priority areas in the new strategic plan. These issues, according to rector Martin Kropff, are still very important to Wageningen UR. The quality of life has been listed as one of the three knowledge domains of Wageningen UR; climate research remains a priority; and the new plan devotes special attention to giving more emphasis on 'complex adaptive systems'.
However, money is needed to carry out the strategic plan. In the face of cost-cutting efforts at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, DLO in particular - Alterra in this case - has to look for new customers. 'If we can't make up for these cost cuttings, we would have to down-size', adds Dijkhuizen. Are there customers other than the national government who would require research into climate adaptation and ecosystem services?
An ESG-employee remarked: 'We have tried to enter new markets in the past years, but that is no simple matter.'
The burning question is therefore: how does Alterra get hold of demand-generated research assignments from new customers? Which know-how and services are important to potential customers such as provincial governments, water boards and companies? And are they willing to pay during the crisis?
Who has ideas and examples? If these are not forthcoming, the motion - nature is not crisis-proof - stands.
During this week and the next, the Executive Board will make the rounds of the organization with its strategic plans for 2011-2014. Resource will be reporting on each session.