Student - June 18, 2009

WAGENINGEN SETS EXAMPLE FOR INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH

The formation of Wageningen UR is a good example of reform in international agricultural research. This came out of a meeting of the Science Council, an advisory body to the CGIAR, the international agricultural research institute which met in Wageningen this week to discuss a new direction.

CGIAR is an umbrella organization for fifteen international research centres spread over the whole world. The institutes are still autonomous but current thinking is that their research needs to be more tuned in to development issues and the national research institutes in developing countries. Collaboration with companies, NGOs and western knowledge institutions also needs to be strengthened in order to improve knowledge transfer. To achieve improved agricultural production, the institutes will have to lose some of their autonomy, and to work more in research networks. This is the message from western donors, including the Dutch minister for Development cooperation, Bert Koenders. The donors want to double their budget for international agricultural research to one billion euros, but on condition that the international institutions are reformed.

The Wageningen conference was hosted by University Professor Dr. Rudy Rabbinge, chair of the Science Council. At present, international research centres compete for funding with national ones in developing countries, whereas they should be cooperating with them, says Rabbinge. The donors, too, should integrate their subsidies in long-term research programmes. At the conference, researchers from a number of organizations worked on setting up knowledge networks based on six global research themes.

The CGIAR is going to appoint a director who will allocate part of the donor funding. ‘We are looking for a figurehead who can steer all these institutes, just as Cees Veerman formed Wageningen UR,’ says Rabbinge.

At the conference Rector Martin Kropff explained how Wageningen UR managed to reverse the decline in student numbers and financing by integrating theoretical and applied research, establishing systematic cooperation within Europe and collaborating with the business world. His speech went down well with many researchers, as a lot of agricultural universities and institutes are in decline. The hardest part of the reform process will be for the management and board of CGIAR institutes to give up their autonomy – just as it was for Wageningen institutes ten years ago.

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