Student - April 24, 2008

New thinktank for development

Fifteen professors have come up with a proposal to start a Platform for Food Security and Sustainable Development. The platform is intended to be a forum for more debate and inspiration in Wageningen research and education on sustainable development.

‘Wageningen already does a lot on interdisciplinary projects, but the work is often fragmented. We need a meeting place where all important issues are brought to the fore, and where cooperation can be structured. If we want to come up with innovative solutions to development problems, then we need to share, broaden and deepen our insights,’ said Professor Ken Giller, chair of Plant Production Systems and one of the initiators.

On Thursday 16 November the platform presented its plans to Rector Martin Kropff and representatives from the development cooperation world. ‘It’s important that there is a pool of people where government ministries and NGOs can go with their complex questions. A thinktank that can translate relevant expertise from different disciplines into innovative solutions. Committed people who know that the answer is almost never to be found in their own particular field alone,’ added Professor Akke van der Zijpp, chair of Animal Production Systems.

The platform is open to everyone, but participants are expected to show personal commitment to dealing with the core problems related to sustainable development. In the first instance, this is the downward spiral of poverty and natural resource degradation in which people in many developing countries are trapped. Another core issue is the question of long-term food security: ensuring that the increasing global demand for food can be met. ‘It is clear to all those involved that we must rise above the level of one’s own particular field of interest. The issue is not whether Rudy Rabbinge or Paul Richards is right. We are not looking for consensus either, but recognise that the questions are so complex that all opinions are welcome in the attempt to break the spiral of non-sustainability,’ commented agricultural economist Dr Niek Koning.

The platform is also keen to see more interdisciplinary insights reflected in the education programme. Giller: ‘The interdisciplinary approach is already well embedded in research here, but when it comes to teaching it is too often limited to just a few subjects at graduation level. I think students need to be confronted at an earlier stage with the complexity of development issues.’

The initiators stress that they are not looking for a ‘place in the Wageningen UR organisation chart’. Koning: ‘We already have Wageningen International and the INREF programmes for that. The platform wants to liven things up: more debate and more inspiration. We are open to everyone who wants to contribute.’ University chair Professor Rudy Rabbinge will coordinate the platform’s activities.