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wageningen world

Magazine Of Wageningen UR about contributing to the quality of life

no.2 2013

Research on bee deaths to prevent pollination crisis No buzz from the beehives, page 18

The other side of Ethiopia | Should we tighten controls on food? | Insuring poor farmers Natural coast protection | Louise Fresco outstanding alumnus | Breeding for animal welfare



The science of bee deaths Something is badly wrong with the honeybee, which dies out in the winter. Scientists are gradually gaining more insight into the possible causes of bee deaths but cannot yet pinpoint a sole culprit.


Serving up safety

Companies and traders have been known to mess about with food. Does the Netherlands need to upgrade its safety control system or are these just isolated incidents that must be accepted as the price of a cheap and plentiful food supply?


The other Ethiopia Ethiopia’s image is of droughts and food aid. But there is another side to Ethiopia. There are big opportunities for small-scale farmers in its fertile highlands. The country could become a rich grain basket, say Wageningen experts.

COLOphON Wageningen World is the quarterly magazine for associates and alumni of Wageningen UR (University and Research centre) and members of KLV, the Wageningen Alumni Network. A PDF version of the magazine can be found at www.wageningenUR.nl/en/wageningen-world Publisher Wageningen UR, Marc Lamers, Editorial Board Hans Bothe, Yvonne Fernhout, Ben Geerlings, Bert Jansen, Jeanette Leenders, Desirée Meijer-Michielsen, Jac Niessen, Erik Toussaint, Delia de Vreeze Editors-in-chief Gaby van Caulil (Editor-in-chief Resource), Pauline Greuell (Corporate Communications Wageningen UR) Magazine editor Miranda Bettonville Copy editor Rik Nijland Alumni news Alexandra Branderhorst Translation Clare McGregor, Clare Wilkinson Language editor Clare McGregor Art direction and design Jenny van Driel (Wageningen UR, Communication Services) Cover picture Hollandse Hoogte Overall design Hemels Publishers Printer Mediacenter Rotterdam ISSN 2212-9928 Address Wageningen Campus, Akkermaalsbos 14, 6708 WB Wageningen, PO Box 409, 6700 AK Wageningen, telephone +31 317 48 40 20, wageningen.world@wur.nl Change of address alumni www.wageningenUR.nl/en/alumni.htm Change of address associates (mention code on address label) wageningen.world@wur.nl Change of career details alumni@wur.nl The mission of Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) is ‘to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’. Wageningen UR includes nine specialist applied research institutes and Wageningen University. These institutions have joined forces to contribute to finding answers to crucial questions related to healthy food and a sustainable living environment. Wageningen UR has a staff of 6,500, 10,000 students, 35,000 alumni and 40 sites, with a turnover of 662 million euros. Institutes of Wageningen UR: Alterra, LEI, Plant Research International, Applied Plant Research, Wageningen UR Livestock Research, Central Veterinary Institute, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, IMARES and RIKILT.




update News in brief about research and developments at Wageningen UR.


Insuring poor farmers Marcel van Asseldonk of LEI Wageningen travels the world researching insurance policies for poor farmers.


Building with nature An oyster reef to protect the coast and willows in front of the dyke. Nature is helping us keep the upper hand over the advancing waves and rising sea levels.


Impact: Compostable plant pots Wageningen UR and plant pot manufacturer Desch Plantpak have developed a compostable flowerpot.


Breeding for animal welfare Chickens that do not peck each other to death, sheep with fewer maggots in their tails: Wageningen scientists are developing breeding programmes targeting animal welfare.

features 38

95 YEARS OF WAGENINGEN UR The agricultural college was founded 95 years ago this year. Wageningen World looks back on repeated attempts to create a campus.


Life after Wageningen Agricultural engineering graduates Jørgen Audenaert from Zeeland and Errol Zalmijn from Suriname were both fascinated by tractors from a very early age. Now one works for John Deere, the other for microchip manufacturer ASML.


Wageningen University Fund Global food supply expert Louise Fresco received the Outstanding Alumnus Award. She is a source of inspiration to many people, said the jury.


Alumni News for alumni of Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR.


Personalia Information about the lives and fortunes of alumni of Wageningen University.


KlV Announcements from the KLV alumni network.

PhOTO Guy Ackermans


Much-needed agricultural policy reform ‘In June the Irish chair at the EU aims to reach a decision at last on changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, such as making the distribution of income support to farmers more equal and tightening up environmental legislation. The decision-making process in this field is complex and slow, thanks to the defence of vested interests. And now another year has been lost, in spite of years of preparations by the Commission. ‘Back in 1957, when the six member states of the European Community agreed in Rome on a single market and free movement of agricultural products, ministers of Agriculture had a relatively free hand. In order to guarantee the farmers a reasonable income, a stable price considerably higher than the world market price was established for products such as grains, dairy produce and beef. ‘Now there are 27 member states, the Parliament has to ratify legislation and the available budget is going down. That budget amounts to about 50 billion euros a year – only 0.5 percent of the EU’s entire revenue – and a sizable population group is dependent on it. Particularly in the new member states, agriculture is still a major employer. ‘The steps that the EU wants to take now build on the change process that started back in 1992: the switch from price support to direct payments. This means that the current distribution of payments in the Netherlands, which is still based on subsidies, is out of date. That model is now rightly giving way to the regional model, in which the amount per hectare is levelled out. Sharpening up the conditions for payment at the same time can contribute to a much better targeted policy. Inevitably, dairy farmers, farmers who raise calves and those who grow starch potatoes will lose support as a result. It is at least as important to reduce the differences in income support per hectare between the different regions of the EU. The support in the Netherlands is twice as high as in new member states. This difference came about for historical reasons but it has no place in a forward-looking policy. Huib Silvis, researcher at LEI Wageningen UR



Public health

Sleep is good for your heart Adequate sleep is one of the rules for preventing cardiovascular disease. People who sleep for less than six hours run on average 15 percent more risk of cardiovascular disease than those who get enough sleep.

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

A healthy lifestyle remains the best way of preventing cardiovascular disease. The combination of a healthy diet, sufficient ex-

ercise, moderate alcohol consumption and no smoking cuts the risk of going down with cardiovascular disease by 57 percent and the risk of dying of it by 67 percent. These percentages go up when people also get enough sleep: they then run 65 percent less risk of a heart attack or stroke and 83 percent less risk of death from these causes. These finding emerge from the analysis of three studies of 20,000 Dutch adults done by Wageningen

nature conservation

Elephant thrives in educated Africa Whether big game is successfully protected seems to depend more on literacy rates, standard of living, good governance and low corruption than on the creation of conservation areas. These were the findings published by researchers from Wageningen University together with Kenyan and British colleagues in March in Biological Conservation. The African elephant is the icon of nature conservation in Africa. In order to protect it better in the long term, the group, led by Wageningen ecologist Fred de Boer, sought to identify the factors affecting elephant numbers. These can be natural factors such as the availability of food and water, or they



can be human factors such as policy, corruption or a country’s economy. For the study they analysed the literature on the distribution and population density of elephants in Africa. The research shows that natural factors play the biggest role in the distribution of elephants across the continent. But for the number of elephants per square kilometre, human factors seem to be the best predictor. Info: fred.deboer@ wur.nl

University, part of Wageningen UR, together with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM. Researcher Marieke Hoevenaar-Blom received her PhD for this study in March. In the analysis, enough sleep comes out as seven to eight hours sleep per night. However, the risk of heart problems or a stroke among people who wake up rested and refreshed even after a shorter night is comparable to that of the good sleepers. People whose nights are short and whose sleep is disturbed are doubly disadvantaged. The study suggests that this group has a 65 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease. No evidence was found for a higher risk among long sleepers – people who sleep more the nine hours a night; a finding which did come out of earlier, similar studies. A Mediterranean diet is even more important for preventing cardiovascular disease than previously believed, the study suggests. This link is underestimated in many studies, according to the researchers. And exercise only helps if it is fairly intensive. A gentle walk or a little bit of gardening are not enough to make a difference. Info: daan.kromhout@wur.nl


Soil-plant relations

Wageningen in the world

Alterra in Zambia As of April this year, Alterra Wageningen UR now maintains a long-term presence in Lusaka, Zambia. The institute is implementing more and more projects in the country, with EU funding and in collaboration with Zambian universities and businesses. ‘The office can facilitate the implementation of projects in the region and make sure that new potential projects are identified faster and are allocated to us,’ says Claire Jacobs, who has taken up the post in Zambia. Info: Claire.jacobs@wur.nl

photo nasa


Growing plants on Mars Because no return journey has been planned for, it will be necessary for the colony to be self-sufficient. ‘Mars is a long way away,’ says researcher Wieger Wamelink, explaining his plans. ‘But the moon is closer, so it is more realistic to think of starting a colony there.’ To get an idea of the theoretical possibilities, the researchers first compared the environmental conditions that suit many plant species with the mineral composi-

tion of lunar and Martian soil. ‘Then we grow various species of wild plants and agricultural crops in pots with the artificial Martian and lunar soil provided by NASA, and compare their growth with that of similar species grown on terrestrial soil,’ explains Wamelink. The researchers assume that there is water and an atmosphere in the colony – under canopies or in buildings, for instance. Info: weiger.wamelink@wur.nl


Vaccine against chikungunya virus Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, has developed a prototype vaccine against the chikungunya virus. This was done in collaboration with the Erasmus Medical Centre and the TI Pharma partnership. The chikungunya virus is transmitted to humans by tiger mosquitoes, and causes high fever and chronic joint pain. The virus originally

comes from Africa but is currently mainly a problem in Asia. Occasional outbreaks have been known in Europe too. The prototype vaccine contains nanoparticles which from the outside are indistinguishable from the true virus, enabling them to provoke a powerful immune response. Info: gorgen.pijlman@wur.nl

photo guy Ackermans

With a view to space missions to the moon and Mars, Alterra Wageningen UR is studying whether plants can grow on our neighbouring planets. The question was raised by the Dutch plan to start a colony on Mars.

Wageningen is biotech city Wageningen is the world’s second city when it comes to biotechnology, after Cambridge Massachusetts in the US. So says a study by the University of Utrecht on how and where new biotechnological knowledge is generated. Wageningen is described as showing steady growth, with new scientific areas being explored all the time. The study appeared in February in the Journal of Economic Geography. Info: bouke.devos@wur.nl




Nano particles bad for baby worms Nano technology carries risks for soil life. In earthworms, which are a good indicator for the quality of life in the soil, exposure to nano particles of carbon and silver reduced reproduction and growth rates and increased the death rate. Baby worms proved particularly sensitive to the particles. These were the findings of Merel van der Ploeg, who obtained her PhD from Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, in January. The minute, artificial particles are being used in increasing quantities in food, medicines, cosmetics and various kinds of equipment, amongst other things. Info: nico.vandenbrink@wur.nl Livestock feed

Food safety

Positive after Mexican steak The illegal use of growth-promoting drug clenbuterol in the livestock industry can lead to top sportspeople testing positive in doping tests. This emerged from a study by RIKILT Wageningen UR in collaboration with related institutes. During the under-17s World Cup in Mexico in 2011, the World Football Association FIFA had a study done on the possible contamination of food with substances on the doping list. This was prompted by positive tests among players on the Mexican national eleven. RIKILT studied 47 samples of meat and food from hotels at which football teams were staying. Clenbuterol was found in 14 samples. Meanwhile, colleagues found traces of clenbuterol in the urine of footballers staying at the hotels concerned.

At the behest of doping authority WADA, RIKILT is now investigating whether the clenbuterol found in the blood of racing cyclist Alberto Contador in 2010 came from a doping pill or a beefsteak. The institute has developed a technique for distinguishing between the pill and the meat variants of clenbuterol. Info: saskia.sterk@wur.nl


Soya, lupine and other plant-based protein sources do not provide an adequate alternative to South American soya meal in pig and poultry feeds. The European ingredients offer less value for money, partly because the yields per hectare are lower. That situation can only be changed with the help of breeding and with new extraction techniques in order to adapt protein from other sources – peas, algae or duckweed – for use in livestock feeds. These conclusions were drawn by Wageningen UR researchers in a study conducted for the ministry of Economic Affairs. In the short term, they concluded, peas seem to be the best alternative to soya meal, while in the longer term they see good potential for improved European soya and protein from grass and beet leaves. Info: marinus.vankrimpen@wur.nl



Photo Varkensnet, netwerk gespeende Biggen

Soya imports still needed

Pleasant shed for robust pigs The ‘Weaned Pigs’ network of the VarkensNET network, which includes researchers from Wageningen UR, pig farmers and other players in the chain, has designed a new pig shed in which a pig can develop in an independent and natural way which entails fewer losses, less disease and good profits. This ‘robust pig shed’ includes a safe hide to sleep in, which grows with the pig, and designated areas for eating, playing, sleeping and excreting. Info: anita.hoofs@wur.nl, www.wageningenur.nl/biggenstal


Food security


Agricultural policy calculated

The Netherlands can feed itself If imports and exports were to come to a standstill during a period of crisis, the Dutch would not have to starve, concluded the agricultural economics institute LEI Wageningen UR from a scenario study. The Dutch diet in this cut-off situation – autarky – would have to change, though. It would include more legumes, chicken and eggs, little bread or pasta, no coffee and hardly any pork due to the collapse of feed imports. The shortage of fruit that would arise could be compensated for with more vegetables. The LEI carried out the study at the behest of the ministry of Economic Affairs as part of an updating process for the ‘Policy guidelines for crisis management of the national food supply’. In consultation with the Nutrition Centre, the researchers made calculations for a scant menu, the currently typical menu and a healthy menu. The assumption was made that means of production such as agricultural machinery, seeds and propagation materials would still be available,

as would natural gas. Because potassium fertilizer would be one of the biggest problems if borders were closed, calculations were made for the three menus for a situation in which artificial fertilizer is available and one in which all farming has to be organic, with productivity an average of 30 percent lower. Where two producers offer the same food, the product was chosen which took up the least agricultural land. The calculations show that even with the current consumption pattern, nine percent of the agricultural land would not immediately have to be used in order to feed the 17 million population. People would also start vegetable gardens and keeping chickens and rabbits, as well as possibly going hunting and fishing. Info: ben.kamphuis@wur.nl

Harvest and transport

Flowers can travel dry It makes no difference to how long flowers will last whether they are transported from the grower to the shop with their stems in water. How long the consumer will be able to enjoy them depends solely on the quality of the plant, according to a study conducted by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research together with several flower traders, and funded by the Horticultural Board. When tulips are transported dry in cardboard boxes, 88 percent more stems can be fitted into a truck, making for big savings in transport costs and greenhouse gas emissions. For imported roses that are dry on arrival, dry transport from airport to shop can save shopkeepers 15 percent in transport costs. It is important then that retailers give the delivered flowers a couple of hours in water to revive them. Info: eelke.westra@wur.nl

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

Wageningen UR is studying the effects of the reforms proposed for the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on farmers’ incomes, food prices, the world market and the natural environment. Researchers are also helping to think through the way the CAP – which is intended as a step towards a greener, more innovative and sustainable agriculture sector – should be implemented in the Netherlands. All the predicted effects are listed at www.wageningenur.nl/ HervormingGLB. Farmers can calculate the impact on their incomes at www.glbcheck.nl. Info: roel.jongemeel@wur.nl




Poo transplant brings relief The intestinal bacterium Clostridium difficile, which can cause persistent diarrhoea, can be treated more effectively by introducing the gut flora of a donor than by antibiotics.

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

The treatment is effectively a poo transplant: a tube is used to insert the diluted faecal matter of a ‘donor’ into the patient’s intestines after they have been flushed clean. Research into the effect of this treatment shows that 31 per cent of patients were cured after being treated with antibiotics alone, DNA technology

compared with 23 per cent treated with a combination of antibiotics and flushing the intestines. But 81 per cent of patients treated with antibiotics, intestinal flushing and a poo transplant were cured. A second transplant of gut flora for the remaining patients bought the proportion cured up to 92 per cent. Microbiologists at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, investigated the gut flora of patients and donors as part of the study, the results of which were published at the end of January in The New England Journal of Medicine. Info: erwin.zoetendal@wur.nl

Breeding and genetics

A quarter of all rats are resistant Studies of rat droppings have shown that there are brown rats across the Netherlands with reduced or no susceptibility to rat poison. The droppings were sent in from all over the Netherlands following an appeal in the media. A new DNA test developed by Wageningen UR was used to see whether the droppings (59 per cent of the 361 submissions were usable) came from rats with reduced susceptibility to rat poison. One quarter turned out to come from resistant rats. Indeed, all the rat droppings from parts of Twente and the Achterhoek region were from resistant animals. Pest control is used on brown rats because they spread diseases, including Weil’s disease. Info: bastiaan.meerburg@wur.nl

Less inbreeding for pedigree dogs The Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands and Wageningen UR Livestock Research have published a book aimed at helping prevent inbreeding among pedigree dogs. The book is intended for breeders and includes basic genetics and information on Human habitat

Environmental enterprise Alterra Wageningen UR is working with businesses on various fronts to preserve the living environment and ensure a sustainable future. In February, Alterra signed a covenant with the beer company Heineken and the province of Zuid-Holland to work jointly towards a sustainable region. Over the next five years, the partners will promote the use of sustainable energy, an adequate supply of good quality water, closed cycles of raw materials, sustainable mobility and an improved living environ-



population control. The book can be downloaded free of charge from raadvanbeheer.nl. Software has also been developed to monitor and predict inbreeding and relationships. More than one third of all Dutch dogs are pedigree dogs. Info: jack.windig@wur.nl

ment. That is just one example of how Alterra is helping businesses come up with solutions. In the book Landschappelijk ondernemen in de Achterhoek [environmental enterprise in the Achterhoek region], the authors use ten case studies to show how companies can take account of nature and the landscape in their business operations. The authors also highlight the opportunities for making a profit from the Achterhoek’s typical mix of woodland and fields. Info: francine.loos@wur.nl


Climate and meteorology


Weather forecasting for cities Wageningen University is working on weather forecasts geared specifically to working and living conditions in cities. to health. Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, has already used an analysis of measurements in combination with observations by amateur meteorologists to show that the Netherlands also has a substantial urban heat island effect. Not only does the excessive heat make the urban climate physically uncomfortable, but labour productivity also decreases compared with the surrounding area. The research will be a huge technical challenge because of the many local variations. The final results will be published not just in scientific journals but also on websites and through social media. Holtslag: ‘We want to reach a wide public because this is genuinely new: weather forecasts geared specifically to working and living conditions in cities.’ Info: bert.holtslag@wur.nl

Showcasing traditional vegetable varieties

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

‘We will be developing models that can be used by policymakers and town planners to improve the climate in cities,’ says Bert Holtslag, Professor of Meteorology. ‘We also want to develop a forecasting system that enables businesses and local residents to obtain direct, detailed information about the weather and forecasts for their city.’ Cities are often urban heat islands: heating up more than the surrounding area and keeping that heat for longer. This can cause problems in particular for the elderly and people with health problems. The 2003 heatwave, for instance, led to an additional 70 thousand deaths in Europe. The United Nations is expecting further migration from rural areas to the cities in the 21st century. That will mean an increase in the number of people having to deal with a city climate that is potentially damaging

The Netherlands Centre for Genetic Resources has issued a brochure to draw attention to its ‘Orange List’ of traditional vegetable varieties. Owners and users of traditional varieties are invited to share their information; the list is undoubtedly not complete. The Orange List is a database of traditional varieties of more than 30 vegetables found in seed catalogues, lists of varieties and other literature between 1850 and 1950. It also includes supplementary information such as descriptions of the variety and photos, plus information about the variety’s availability. The Orange List contains nearly 4500 vegetable varieties representing the Netherlands’ biocultural heritage, including 745 varieties of potatoes and 166 cucumber varieties. Many old varieties became neglected after the Second World War as the emphasis in farming was on increasing yields. However, the traditional varieties are often the starting point that modern varieties are based on. Keeping old vegetable varieties available means they can also be used for future varieties of cucumbers, chicory and carrots. They also often have a different shape, colour and flavour. Info: www.oranjelijst.nl, brochure: http://edepot.wur.nl/249703



The science of bee deaths

No buzz from the beehives There is something seriously wrong with the honey bee: in the winter one third of the populations die off. Scientists are gradually gaining more insight into the possible causes of these bee deaths but cannot (yet) point the finger at one sole culprit. Text arno van 't hoog Photography Bram Cornelissen Illustration Jenny van Driel



Bee research


ees have been failing to thrive all around the world for years now. Bee populations have been dwindling in Europe and North America since the 1970s. Their decline is not limited to the honeybee kept by people (Apis mellifera); wild bee species are having a hard time too. Bees and bumble bees account for an estimated 75 percent of the pollination in agriculture and horticulture. As a result there is talk of a looming pollination crisis that could have consequences for nature management and agricultural yields. It is not for nothing that

there is growing international attention for the ‘bee problem’ and scientific research into the causes. It is at the end of the winter particularly that beekeepers notice that the honeybee is not doing as well: more populations die off nowadays. The winter period is a hard time for bees: it is cold and there is a shortage of food. Of the 20 to 30 thousand bees inhabiting a hive in the summer, only about 10,000 are left at the end of the winter. Sometimes an entire population is wiped out. There have always been these wintertime deaths but the average death rate has risen dramatically in the past few years, sometimes by 30 percent. The population deaths can vary between countries and regions in the same year from 7 to 50 percent. The winter of 2012-2013 seems to have turned out not too badly in the Netherlands, says researcher Tjeerd Blacquière of Plant Research International, part of Wageningen UR. Surveys of beekeepers suggest a low death rate of between 8 and 15 percent.. Public debate A global search is going on into the mechanism underlying the bee deaths. And one of the possible causes, the neonicotinoids – a class of pesticides – has been an especial focus of scientific and public debate in recent years. Environmental organizations and some beekeepers suspect that these kinds of pesticide are the main cause of the bee problem and that the solution lies in banning them. Science has not yet provided an unequivocal verdict on the matter. Yet for decades research has been going on at universities and government institutions in Europe and North America in the interests of the beekeeping industry. The main subjects of research are disease control, the food supply for bee populations and the impact of pesticides. But the beekeeping sector is not a rich one and this has an effect on the research, innovation and knowledge transfer in the field, explains Blacquière: ‘There is plenty of room for improvement, including in the provision of infor- > Dead worker bees at the entrance to a beehive, February 2013.



mation to beekeepers on topics such as disease control.’ What is more, scientists have not yet been able to determine with certainty the cause of death in a single bee or population. One of the reasons for this is that in the summer, bees only live for four to six weeks. So the bees that die off in the winter are not the ones that come into contact with the pesticides in the summer. Studies of the causes of bee deaths therefore focus on the links between possible causes and their effects on an entire population. Various different causes are being looked into, from pesticides to infectious diseases and the reduced supply of nectar and pollen. Deformed wings Blacquière: ‘In international research, infections with the Varroa mite keep coming out as a possible cause of bee deaths.’ The mite moved about 60 years ago from its original host, the Asian honeybee, to the western honeybee. It is just over one millimetre in size and feeds on the blood of larvae, pupae and adult bees. The Varroa mite not only sucks its host dry but also transmits a collection of insect viruses which affect the health of the entire population. These include DWV, which causes deformed wings and ABPV, which caused paralysis. Many of these viruses were already naturally present among honeybees but never caused problems. In an article in Nature (336:1304) in 2012, American and British researchers showed that the Varroa mite caused ever more aggressive virus strains to spread at lightning speed. The Varroa mite is on the march all over the world, causing a systematic deterioration in the physical condition and lifespan of bees, as well as raising the risk of winter deaths. One source of this finding is large-scale mon-

itoring of bee populations in several countries. A large Danish research institute, for example, monitored a total of 1200 beehives over a period of four years for the presence of pesticides and winter deaths. Statistical analysis of the data revealed a link between the seriousness of the Varroa infestation, the weakness of the population in the autumn and the number of winter deaths (Apidologie 41: 332). No link was found with the use of pesticides. Oxalic acid and thyme oil Although a lot is known about the Varroa mite, it remains a key topic of international research, says Blacquière. The mite repeatedly develops resistance to pesticides, making it necessary to find new methods of keeping it under control. Previously successful chemicals such as fluvalinate and coumaphos either no longer work or are no longer permitted. Blacquière: ‘Beekeepers now use organic acids and aromatic oils such as oxalic acid and thyme oil. But these have to be used with great precision, making their use often less effective than the simple chemical products of the old days.’ Varroa mite control has become a standard aspect of beekeeping. There is still much to be gained by optimizing the way it is done, says Blacquière. Recent publications by the research group bijen@wur (Journal of Insect Physiology 59: 487), in which Blacquière is the senior researcher, show for instance that the assault on the bee’s robustness made by a Varroa infection cannot be compensated for by putting enough food in the hive. ‘The right timing of pest control seems to be crucial,’ says Coby van Dooremalen, bee researcher at Plant Research International. She compared the effect of various different timings for Varroa control on the chances of

The Varroa mite is on the march all over the world, raising the risk of winter deaths 12


surviving the winter (Public Library of Science ONE: PLoS ONE 7: e36285). ‘Controlling the mite in July, before the winter bees hatch out, is more effective than doing it in September. Timely control of the Varroa mite extends the lifespan of the winter bees that are born in the autumn and raises the chances of the population surviving the winter.’ Dirty honeycombs The use of pesticides against mites (miticides) is reflected in the chemical analyses of beeswax, pollen and honey. This is because miticides are not biodegradable and accumulate up in fatty substances such as wax. Very high concentrations of miticide are sometimes encountered in beeswax, especially in beeswax from North America (PloS ONE 5: e9754). High concentrations of miticides or other pesticides in the wax can have negative effects on the bee population. These high concentrations can be formed when old honeycombs are melted down to create the basis for new honeycombs on which the bees can go on building. This is sometimes done for years in a row. A number of other pesticides are introduced to the hive by the beekeeper in the interests of combatting bee diseases. The vast majority of the pesticides that arrive there, however, hitch-hike on pollens and nectar. Chemical analysis of wax and pollen from France, Germany, Spain and North America reveal a list of almost 100 different pesticides that the bee is exposed to. A bee population transports between 20 and 50 kilos of pollen to the hive, as a source of protein. The amount of nectar transported is in the region of 100 kilos. The lifespan of bees that grow up as larvae in polluted honeycombs is four days – more >

Bee research

Bee demographics The development of a bee population is comparable with the demographics of a traditional farming community. Only after the passage of time do births, deaths, good harvests and bad

weather result in a flourishing or declining community. Identifying the causes of bee deaths therefore means linking possible causes with their effects on the population as a whole.

The bee population through the year Death


At the end of the winter, with its cold and food shortages, about 10,000 of the original 30,000 bees are left.

Bees and bumble bees account for three quarters of the pollination in agriculture and horticulture.


Nuptial flight

Reproduction The queen bee lays her first eggs in January. By May she is producing about 2,000 per day.

After the queen has left a new queen emerges. She sets off for a drone congregation area to mate.

Pollen A population transports tens of kilos of pollen per season, which mainly serves as a source of protein.


At the end of March the bee population is at its smallest. After this new larvae hatch faster than the bee death rate.

A population transports nearly 100 kilos of nectar per year, turning it into honey for the winter.

Drones and workers




Drone slaughter The task of the drones is to fertilize the queen. In August they are of no more use and are driven out of the hive and killed by the workers.

Bee age In the summer worker bees live for four to six weeks; in the winter six months. The queen continues to lay eggs in the summer to keep the bee population going.

Hibernation In October it is hibernation time. Bees do not sleep and keep the nest at 20 degrees.


Summer: 6 weeks


Winter: 6 months


De c

No v


Se p

Au g




Ju n

ay M



Brood M ar

Bees Fe b




Queens (1) and workers (2) come out of fertilized eggs. Unfertilized eggs produce drones (3).


New bees

Swarming In June, bee populations swarm in order to form new populations. The queen departs with half of her population.

Source: Bijen@wur

Threats to the bee population

Varroa The Varroa mite feeds on bee and larvae blood, weakening the bee and also transmitting viruses such as DWW, which causes deformed wings, and ABPV, which leads to paralysis. Combatting Varroa is best done in July before the winter bees hatch, according to recent research. But the mite keeps developing resistance to pesticides.

Nosema Parasites of the Nosema genus inhabit the digestive tract and damage the bee’s stomach wall. Disinfecting the beekeeper’s equipment and replacing the wax are effective preventive measures.

Foulbrood Larvae can be affected by foulbrood – a collective term for various bacteria which can then affect the entire population.

Pesticides While collecting pollen and nectar the bee comes into contact with almost 100 different pesticides which can cause damage either directly or indirectly. The substances accumulate in the honeycombs and other places. The life expectancy of larvae growing up in polluted honeycombs is 10 percent shorter, research has shown.

One-sided diet Bees depend entirely on pollen for a number of essential proteins. The more varied their intake of pollens, the more likely the bees are to get all the nutrients they need. When the amount and variety of pollens fall short, the bees are more susceptible to diseases and winter deaths.

Scientists cannot yet rank the threats

Worker bees bring pollen and nectar back to the hive.

than 10 percent – shorter on average than that of normal bees, found an American study of larvae growing up in clean and in very polluted honeycombs (PloS ONE 6: e14720). Because different substances are in use in different countries, it is not easy to translate this study into European terms, says Blacquière: ‘But it shows clearly that old, dirty honeycombs are not good for the bees’ health. It is better to remove old honeycombs than to leave them in the hive for years.’ Fungicides are known to be relatively safe for bees. Their use is permitted during the flowering season and no field studies have ever been done on their effects on bees. Blacquière ‘You can practically immerse bees in fungicides in lab tests without seeing any effect. But it seems as if there are nevertheless some effects on the food supply and the digestion of food.’ Fungicides might inhibit the fermentation of pollen into ambrosia (or bee bread), the proteinrich food supply for the bee larvae. Lab stud-



ies by American researchers also show that fungicides can magnify the effect of other pesticides (PloS ONE 8: e54092). Neurotoxins In recent years beekeepers have increasingly suspected a link between neonicotinoids and the increased winter deaths. Neonicotinoids form a class of what are known as systemic insecticides. These insecticides can spread throughout the plant, which puts them at an advantage: a coating on a seed protects the plant from the time it germinates. But the neonicotinoids also end up in nectar, pollen, and drops of sap that sometimes hang off the ends of leaves. Neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that block neurotransmission in insects. They are deadly in small quantities for voracious leaf lice, and just as dangerous for the honeybee. This is why the use of neonicotinoids is subject to a whole range of regulations. For example: they may not be used on flowering fields or in an apple orchard in

blossom. In spite of all the regulations and restrictions, bees can end up being exposed to neonicotinoids both directly and indirectly during the course of a year. This came to light in 2008 in Germany, when thousands of bee populations lost vast numbers of bees in a short period in the spring. They had been exposed to dust particles containing neonicotinoids that came from coated maize seeds. Many of these populations recovered during the summer, however. Even when exposure does not noticeably lead to deaths, it can have negative effects: a substance that affects nerve stimuli could have more subtle effects on a bee’s brain. Dozens of publications show effects of small quantities of neonicotinoids on learning behaviour, mobility and memory in bees. These are all characteristics that play a role in food gathering. In a recent study by French researchers published in Science (336; p 348), hundreds of honey bees were given drops of sugar water con-

Bee research

taining a non-lethal dose of neonicotinoids. The skill with which they found their way back to the population was then monitored. The dosed bees performed poorly in comparison with bees that had not been dosed. Fewer of them found their way back and they tended to lose their way in new territory. Such losses can help to weaken a population. Chronic exposure Whether these effects correspond to what happens in winter bee deaths is unclear. Winter deaths are the endpoint of a development that takes place over several generations. In the summer a worker bee lives for five to six weeks, so thousands of bees die off in a population every week. Whether extra losses of worker bees caused by contact with pesticides have a negative effect depends on many more factors. It is comparable with the demography of a traditional farming village. Births, deaths, diseases, good harvests and bad weather only reveal their impact over a longer period of time, in the form of a flourishing or declining community. Blacquière’s group is therefore doing a study, at the behest of the ministry of Economic Affairs, on winter deaths after chronic exposure to the neonicotinoid Imidacloprid. A large number of bee populations were given a sugar solution containing a non-lethal dose of Imidacloprid twice a week for four months of the summer of 2012. Blacquière: ‘We are looking at the impact of this on the development of a bee population and ultimately on winter deaths. It is a large-scale and costly study involving 120 bee populations. We are still analysing the results.’ Because negative effects usually occur in combinations, this year we are going to study the survival of bee populations submitted to various combinations of Varroa infestation, intestinal infections with the single-cell parasite Nosema ceranae and exposure to low doses of neonicotinoids. Stream of publications It remains difficult to pinpoint one sole cause of winter deaths. ‘It would be nice if you could create a kind of ranking,’ says

Van Dooremalen. ‘Then you could indicate the causes that should be addressed with high priority. But science hasn’t got that far yet.’ Internationally, bee research is generating a stream of data and publications from which it is not always easy to distil a clear and unambiguous picture. Research sometimes produces apparently contradictory results, regarding neonicotinoids for example. Sometimes tests done under laboratory conditions reveal clear negative effects while these are not clearly seen in terms of winter deaths in the hives. Epidemiological analysis offers a way of ordering all the data. This kind of analysis can be compared to proving that there is a relationship between smoking and lung cancer without doing experimental research. A fixed set of criteria known as Hills criteria are looked at, including the available knowledge on plausible disease mechanisms and the relation between exposure and disease or death. In 2012 a study of this kind was published on exposure of bees to low doses of neonicotinoids through pollen and nectar and the increased number of bee deaths (Pest Management Science 68: 819). The researchers, James Cresswell, Nicolas Desneux and Dennis vanEngelsdorp from the UK, France and the US respectively, found no relation between neonicotinoids and the falling numbers of bee populations in vari-

ous countries. Numbers had begun to fall before the use of these substances really took off in the mid-1990s. But the authors emphasize that the analysis is provisional. ‘Our publication is primarily intended to illustrate the way you can evaluate the available knowledge in a systematic fashion,’ says co-author vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland. His view is that there is clearly something up and neonicotinoids could have a hand in it: ‘I am open to all the possibilities. But personally I see a far clearer and more consistent effect of fungicides on bees in the research data. It surprises me, because why would that be?’ It remains a complex issue, says vanEngelsdorp. ‘A lot of bee research is done on individual bees. It shows, for instance, that low concentrations of neonicotinoids are bad. What is lacking is evidence of effects at population level. That type of research is made more difficult by the robustness of the honeybee. A hive contains tens of thousands of bees and you can lose quite a number of individuals before the population is seriously affected. In that sense the honeybee is a tricky research model.’ W Bee deaths dossier (A Dutch language page with links to some English articles): www.wageningenur.nl/nl/show/Bijensterfte.htm

European moratorium on neonicotinoids The European Commission decided at the end of April to impose a moratorium on some of the ways three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – are commonly used. The restriction applies for two years and primarily targets uses which can cause honey bees to be exposed to the substances. One of the applications concerned is the coating of seeds and the spraying of leaves of plants that attract bees, such as maize and oilseed rape. Other applications will still be allowed. In a report at the beginning of 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) pointed out the risks that can result from the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids through pollen or nectar, but the authority believes there is not enough scientific knowledge to arrive at an accurate estimate of the possible effects on bees and other pollinators. Of the 27 EU member states, 15, including the Netherlands, voted for the proposal, 8 were against and 4 abstained. This distribution of votes does not provide a clear majority but in such cases the European Commission can impose a moratorium anyway. This applies from December 2013 throughout the European Union. During the moratorium the authorization criteria for these three substances will be re-examined.



Ensuring Insurance Marcel van Asseldonk travels the world researching harvest insurance policies for poor farmers. These are in the credit provider’s interests too. ‘Because of the growing demand for food crops, Africa is becoming more and more appealing to investors.’ Text Rik Nijland Photography Harmen de Jong


magine an African farmer with a few hectares of land. The market is crying out for maize and seed is readily available. And yet the farmer does not seize this opportunity; putting all his eggs in one basket is too risky. If the harvest fails his family will have nothing to eat and, to make matters worse, will be in debt for the expensive seed. Specializing in a single crop usually leads to higher profits, but cultivating multiple crops with meagre but low-risk yields is a safer strategy. Unless, that is, the farmer is able to insure himself against a failed harvest. This is why, since the turn of the century, aid organizations – often in cooperation with socially responsible western insurance companies – have been working to set up harvest insurance policies in developing countries. It is a win-win situation explains Marcel van Asseldonk, in his office at the Leeuwenborch in Wageningen. It is not just the farmer who benefits; taking out insurance is in the credit provider’s interests too. ‘Farmers often don’t have enough financial capital to be able to specialize, or to buy fertilizer and high quality seed. But money lenders are often reluctant to offer them loans. What if there’s a major drought? Will the farmer still be able to pay back his loan? If the harvest is insured that risk is much lower for the money lender, especially if there is no other form of security. In Africa it is often unclear exactly who owns the land, what it’s worth, and whether it can be sold. In such cases an insurance policy can serve as security.’ A few wet years Van Asseldonk, who works for the agricultural economics institute LEI Wageningen UR, travels the world researching insurance policies for poor farmers. The foundation for his research was laid in the nineties when he worked for the Business Economics chair group at



Marcel van Asseldonk

Food security

in Africa Wageningen UR. Following a few unusually wet years, they raised the question whether Dutch farmers were in need of a general weather insurance policy alongside the common hail insurance. They later carried out similar research into insurance against swine fever and footand-mouth disease. Their findings are still proving useful. In recent years, Van Asseldonk has been involved in various projects – often with EU or World Bank funding – in Burundi, Burkina Faso, Grenada, Zambia, and Saudi Arabia. Recent projects have focused not just on whether insurance is a realistic option but also on determining its ef-

‘By insuring their inputs farmers can at least keep their farms running’

fects. Do farmers actually benefit in practice; does their productivity go up? Coming up with creative solutions is often important in these countries. For instance, it is often difficult to insure against drought in Africa. If extreme water shortages are a frequent occurrence, insurance premiums become unaffordable. ‘One solution can be to take out insurance on the cost of the farm’s inputs such as seed and fertilizer, rather than the value of the harvest, as we do in the Netherlands. That way the farmer will at least be able to keep his farm running after a bad year.’ Determining drought objectively Insurance companies find Africa a difficult market to work in, says Van Asseldonk. ‘There isn’t sufficient information available to make an informed risk analysis and calculate a reasonable premium, but there are also high operating costs. For example, visiting farmers to verify their claims, or placing and monitoring rain gauges in order to determine drought conditions objectively.’ This is why Van Asseldonk is involved in an experimental alternative in Burkina Faso: index-based drought insurance using satellite data for evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration). ‘That data is available for dozens of years and it’s cheap. Based on that it’s possible to calculate an appropriate premium. Farmers won’t be paid out on the basis of the damage they sustain, but instead they will all receive compensation if the evapotranspiration index doesn’t pass a certain level, indicating drought.’ Van Asseldonk continues: ‘we are now setting up the first pilot projects to see if this form of insurance can gain traction and whether it actually leads to productivity increases.’ The LEI researcher thinks the insurance market in Africa is making progress, little by little. ‘Because of the higher prices and growing demand for food crops, Africa is becoming more and more appealing to investors. Private European and American insurance companies are starting to enter the market, but the financial system in Africa is still in the early stages of development. We need to create links between the rural microcredit providers and the global reinsurance companies in London and Zurich that pool the risk of drought in Africa with the chances of a terrorist attack in the US or an oil disaster. We shall need to take a long term view.’ W Wageningenworld


Nature lends a hand

‘Oysters grow faster than the sea level rises’



Coast protection

An oyster reef to protect the coast and willows in front of the dyke. Slowly but surely a new insight is gaining ground: hard civil engineering interventions by themselves are not a panacea. Nature seems willing to help us keep the upper hand over the advancing waves and rising sea levels.

Text René didde Illustration Schwandt infographics


n extraordinary structure went up this spring off the Bangladesh coast between Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar on the Gulf of Bengal. It consisted of 50 metres of concrete sewerage pipes open on top. ‘Tests have shown that an open concrete structure provides the best substratum for very young oysters to grow into fully fledged specimens,’ explains Arjo Rothuis of IMARES Wageningen UR. This artificial oyster reef is all in a noble scientific cause. Not only does it break the rough waves from the sea, but it also causes sand and other sediment to pile up between the reef and the dyke behind it. An earlier trial showed that this sediment widens the seaward-facing bank of the dyke, thus helping to combat coastal erosion. Fish nurseries This intervention should help Bangladesh, an impoverished country in the East Asian delta, to reduce the costs of coast maintenance, says Rothuis, who collaborates intensively on the project with researchers from Royal HaskoningDHV. And that is not the only advantage it offers. The broad bank flanking the dyke could be a step towards replanting mangroves along the coast. This would contribute both to further improving the sea defences and to nature and economic development. Mangrove swamps are nurseries for tropical marine fish. The oyster reef can play a supporting role in this as well: ‘Mature oyster reefs attract fish, crabs and shrimps. That is good for biodiversity and for fisheries. The local population can also harvest oysters from the reef, as long as they do so in moderation,’ says Rothuis. Using oysters as an alternative form of coastal protection was first trialled in the Netherlands in the Oosterschelde estuary. The construction of a large storm surge barrier in the nineteen eighties may have constituted the most impressive part of the delta works, but it also had the effect of reducing the influx of sand from the sea. ‘The gullies in the Oosterschelde then drain sand away from the shelves and mud flats,’ explains Martin Baptist, a marine ecologist at IMARES

Wageningen UR on the island of Texel: ‘This tendency to draw away all the sand is a harmful side effect of the storm surge barrier and bad news for the many migrating birds that use the waters of Zeeland as foraging grounds.’ Baptist’s office is strewn with project proposals and studies on natural forms of coast protection. In spite of the storm surge barrier, even a slight south-westerly wind still sends waves from the Oosterschelde crashing onto the coast, on the Tholen peninsula for example. In the interests of both nature and safety, the plan was to use local materials to hold back the water. ‘Thanks to the oyster cultivation in Yerseke, there are plenty of empty oyster shells around,’ says Baptist. In 2010, oyster shells were poured into long stretches of iron mesh gabions, or cages. Unlike mussels, oysters have a useful tendency to stick to each other powerfully. The idea is that the metal cages will gradually rust away in the salt water leaving behind a natural reef that can check the leaching away of sand, explains Baptist, who was involved in the Zeeland trial. Reef grows A reef made up of old shells eventually becomes a living reef: small oysters clamp onto the dead shells and grow to maturity there. This enables the reef to grow with the rising sea levels caused by climate change. ‘Better still,’ says Baptist, ‘oysters grow a lot faster than the sea level rises. And the nice thing is their morphological plasticity – they are quick to adapt their shape to their conditions. At locations with a lot of sedimentation I see specimens of up to 30 centimetres high.’ ‘Building with nature’ is the name of the concept launched in the nineteen eighties by Ronald Waterman. His Waterman Plan involved building an island off the coast of South Holland to form a breakwater as well as housing pig farms, a second national airport, recreation facilities and wind turbines. The Waterman Plan never got off the ground, but the ideas behind it are now widely accepted: do not battle with the elements but get nature on your side. The range >



of possibilities seems endless. You can dissipate wave energy using willows, natural reefs, swamps that retain water, mangrove forests and mud flats that absorb rising sea levels. This not only makes life safer along the coasts, but also benefits nature and offers opportunities for recreation and even for aquaculture, as illustrated by the oyster reef in Bangladesh. Soft and hard ‘Building with nature is not a substitute for hard civil engineering works such as dykes, dams and sea defences,’ believes Baptist. ‘It is more that making use of the natural dynamics of the ecosystem complements classic water management interventions.’ A kind of synthesis between Wageningen’s ‘soft’ green disciplines and Delft’s ‘hard’ grey civil engineering. The entire Dutch water sector is collaborating in a consortium called Ecoshape to implement ‘building with nature’ projects and develop the concept further. Knowledge institutions such as IMARES, NIOZ and Deltares are involved, and dredgers such as Boskalis and Van Oord are pitching in, as are consultancy firms such as Royal HaskoningDHV, Arcadis and Witteveen+Bos. Wageningen UR and the universities of Delft and Twente all have a prominent role in the consortium. Building with nature often turns out to be cheaper than, for instance, raising dykes in the time-honoured way. ‘In Delfzij the original sea defences can only be raised and widened if the chemical industry is moved and houses in the town are demolished,’ says Baptist. ‘A seaward mud flat that breaks the waves is an effective alternative.’ Wave-breaking dyke The approach offers yet another significant advantage. It can speed up the often sluggish decision-making process. Or so Baptist expects: ‘By involving stakeholders such as environmental organizations, fisheries associations, farmers, leisure businesses and the general public in the planning from the early stages, letting them contribute to the thinking and designing, managers can sidestep delays to planning permission caused by objections and rounds of consultation.’ As an example, the creation of a wave-breaking dyke in the Noordwaard polder at Werkendam could be speeded up. Willows break the wave, making it unnecessary to raise the dyke and spoil the residents’ view. There were no written objections to the willow dyke. ‘These governance aspects are going to play an increasingly important role in densely populations deltas such as the Netherlands, and others parts of the world as well.’



One example is the already ten-year-long discussion about partially opening the sluices on the Haringvliet dam. If these sluices are partially opened, tides in the Haringvliet inlet will create more natural dynamics upstream at the Biesbosch nature reserve, fish will be freer to migrate and the blue algae in the currently fresh water may bite the dust. But this decision has remained a paper tiger. ‘The effect of salt on the water raises objections from farmers and market gardeners as far inland as Boskoop, because they fear for the impact of salinization of soil and groundwater on their crops. Drinking water companies that collect surface water are none too happy about the salt water, either,’ says Baptist. Together with the consultancy firm Grontmij and landscape architecture bureau Waterarchitect, IMARES has come up with a building-with-nature solution in the form of a seaward-lying Balance Island. Baptist: ‘This island can create a gradual transition between salt and fresh water on the seaward side of the Haringvliet dam, so that the sluices could be partially opened without creating problematic levels of salt in the Haringvliet.’ The plan won several design awards but still awaits practical follow-up. Archipelago for nature But nice plans or trials on a postage-stamp scale are not the end of the story. Next year in the Markermeer lake, a start will be made on a swampy area of 1000 hectares, eventually to become 14,000 hectares of archipelago along the Houtrib dyke at Lelystad. The first island is being created using dredged up sediment. The idea behind these ‘Marker Wadden’, an initiative of nature trust Natuurmonumenten, is to combine new nature creation with dyke protection in one plan. The concept of building with nature seems to be striking a chord all around the world, Martin Baptist observes. ‘Safety is especially at stake in vulnerable, heavily populated deltas with a lot of economic activity,’ he says. Monitoring of the catastrophic consequences of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 showed that the areas where the salt marshes of the Mississippi delta in Louisiana were intact suffered less damage than areas which lacked these buffers. ‘Since then hard work has been going on to restore the salt marshes,’ says Baptist. No doubt the recent change of course in development cooperation towards more market-oriented aid will play into the hand of building with nature, too. As illustrated by the oyster reef in Bangladesh, this concept has the potential to develop into a win-win export product with which the Dutch water management sector earns money while clients cut the costs of coastal protection. W

Coast protection

‘A mud flat that breaks the waves is an alternative to raising the dykes’ Natural coast protection The Building with Nature principle offers a range of possibilities for benefitting both coastal safety and nature.

fresh water

Salt water-impeding Balance Island salt water

Dyke-protecting mud flat

Wave-breaking willow dyke

Wave-breaking oyster reef



Serving up safety Companies and traders have been known to mess about with food. They put things into products that are not on the label or take risks with safety. Does the Netherlands need to upgrade its safety control system or are these just isolated incidents and the price of a cheap and plentiful food supply? Tekst astrid smit illustrations ien van laanen


ver a period of two years Dutch tycoon Willy Selten’s meat company in Oss passed horsemeat off as beef. The horsemeat was mixed with beef and sold to 370 companies across Europe, where it was processed into pizzas, lasagne or meatballs and retailed through supermarkets and large catering companies. An easy way to boost profits, they must have thought in Oss. Horsemeat is cheaper than beef. This is the biggest but not the only food-related incident to come to light in the last six months. In Germany freerange eggs were sold as organic eggs, maize from Serbia found to be contaminated with aflatoxins – highly carcinogenic substances from a fungus – was fed to Dutch cows, as a result of which aflatoxins ended up in the milk. The milk was quickly withdrawn but some of it had already been consumed. All these incidents make consumers wary. Is the Dutch food safety control system working as well as it should be? ‘No, it is not,’ says Babs van der Staak of the Consumer Association. ‘It is unbelievable that Selten could carry on like that for two years before it was noticed. And it is not



the only time it has happened. A few years ago we discovered that some companies were selling water disguised as fish. A couple of salmon and eel producers in the Netherlands were adding cheese protein to smoked salmon and eels, which causes fish to retain more water. It is allowed but it has to be stated on the label, which was not the case.’ Safety still adequate The control on economically driven fraud, such as substituting horsemeat for beef, is inadequate in the Netherlands, says Robert van Gorcom, director of RIKILT Wageningen UR, where research is done on food safety. Funding cuts affecting the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority have led to diminished attention to honesty in business. ‘But the monitoring of food safety is still adequate,’ says Van Gorcom. Since the establishment of the EU’s General Food Law in 2002, responsibility for food safety has been laid at the door of the companies themselves. They do their own quality control and have to be able to show where the >

Food safety

‘It would be nice if the media didn’t exaggerate the dangers so much’



ingredients come from and check whether they meet EU norms. The NVWA carries out spot checks to see whether companies are adhering to these rules. The General Food Law is very much oriented to transparency and companies have to be able to demonstrate to the NVWA how often they conduct safety checks. If they come across something untoward they are supposed to report it and take action immediately. ‘Businesses monitor better and more frequently than they used to. That is reflected in EU reporting on incidents as well,’ says Van Gorcom. ‘More incidents are reported but they are becoming increasingly minor and are solved more quickly. Because of the increased transparency more incidents come to the attention of the public and it seems as though there is more wrong with our food than before the General Food Law. The more transparent the system the more the consumer finds to worry about.’ Tiny van Boekel, professor of Product Design and Quality Management at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, agrees that food safety control is good in the Netherlands: ‘Our food has never been so safe. A hundred years ago, when the food processing industry was just getting going, there was much more messing around with products. It even posed a threat to our exporter status. The food manufacturers themselves then made sure a produce law was put in place. Since then the controls on food have got better and better. But you cannot achieve 100 percent certainty. If you want to monitor everything it will cost you a fortune. Consumers will just have to learn to live with the fact that they run a bit of a risk now and then.’ Highly carcinogenic Tinka Murk, professor of Environmental Toxicology at Wageningen University, agrees on this point and believes that consumers do not know enough about risks and real dangers. ‘Contamination of milk with aflatoxins is a nice example of a food safety incident that posed no danger to public health. Aflatoxins are highly carcinogenic, which is why safety checks for them are so important. But if you are exposed to them in very low concentrations, there is no danger. In this case the amounts of aflatoxin were well below the recommended toxicological limits of 0.5 micrograms per kilo of milk, and also below the even stricter legal norm of 0.05 mi-



‘The more transparent the system the more the consumer finds to worry about’

Food safety

crograms. So consumers had nothing to fear. It would be nice if the media would mention this as well and not exaggerate the dangers.’ Murk is less positive about food safety control in the Netherlands, however. ‘The control is OK but I feel it is borderline.’ Thanks to its budget having been cut, the NVWA no longer conducts many broad surveys of food safety standards in general. These might include studies to find out whether new production methods release new toxic substances into our food, or to monitor whether particular products are still safe. Without such testing, says Murk, ‘we could miss important developments.’ One example of an exploratory study of this kind is the monitoring of the quality of drinking water. The National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) noticed last April that drinking water companies are finding it harder and harder to extract the non-biodegradable residues of cleaning products, sun cream and drugs from the drinking water. ‘And that is an important finding that we need to address, but there is less and less funding for those kinds of studies.’ RIKILT director Van Gorcom confirms this. The EU system focuses on the ‘hazards’: the food sources which – due either to their origin or to the production method – pose the biggest risks of infection with a pathogen or toxin. There is less interest or funding for exploratory studies or monitoring. ‘That makes it difficult to get an overall picture of the quality of our food in safety terms.’ Reversing cuts How can food safety control be improved? Reversing the funding cuts at the NVWA would be a good start, believe most of those interviewed. More funding is needed for the control of economically motivated food fraud and for general monitoring of food safety. Additionally, in Van Gorcom’s the NVWA should be in charge of more of the procedures itself. ‘If a company reports an incident the NVWA leaves the research to the company itself, to save money. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It makes it possible for the company to evade the issue or to cover up the seriousness of the situation.’ A suggestion from the consumer association is that the food chain – from farm via processing to the shelf – needs to be shorter, with as few intermediate steps as possible before the food lands on the consumer’s plate. Van Gorcom puts the effect of this in perspective. ‘The length of the food chain does not in itself tell you anything about the reliability of a product. A product that you buy directly

from the farmer could have been messed with. He emphasizes the distinction between food chains in which something is added to the product at every stage – one company slaughters the chicken, the next makes kebabs from it – and those in which food products are simply passed on. ‘In the latter case, the food is more of a speculation product and the chances of carelessness are bigger.’ Keeping tabs Saskia van Ruth, professor of Food Authenticity and Integrity at Wageningen University, who works at RIKILT as well, thinks certification for authentic food would help. ‘The label should tell you exactly where the ingredients come from, how they are produced and what has been added to them. That way we could safeguard the whole food chain.’ So there is no lack of ideas. But is anything going to really change? Probably, yes. The series of incidents such as those concerning horsemeat and aflatoxins led to a parliamentary debate on 14 March, in which minister of Public Health Edith Schippers and secretary of state Sharon Dijksma agreed to partially reverse the funding cuts to the NVWA to enable it to keep tabs on companies better, especially with regard to food fraud and monitoring in general, as well as to impose bigger fines on fraudulent companies and to shorten chains. One week earlier they also proposed setting up a taskforce on ‘confidence in food’ together with the meat industry and supermarkets. The taskforce would identify weak links in the meat chain and make concrete proposals for shortening chains. The consumer association is pleased with the outcomes of the parliamentary debate but does not see the value of the taskforce. Van der Staak: ‘We see that as a job for the NVWA. Up to now taskforces made up of a mix of the business world and government have not delivered the goods.’ Van Boekel was not too impressed by the parliamentary debate. ‘More controls and shorter chains are just ways of dealing with symptoms, if you ask me. The key issue was not discussed, unfortunately, and that is that consumers are alienated from their food. They no longer know how it is made. If they knew more about that, they would be quicker to understand that something can go wrong now and then, and wouldn’t be so put out about the horsemeat affair. We should involve consumers in their food much more. Then they will appreciate it better and they will also understand that you have to pay a bit more for an honest cut of meat.’ W



Biodegradable pots by Wageningen UR and flower pot manufacturer Desch Plantpak have developed a plant-based and compostable plastic pot. It does the job just as well as a plastic pot. Text and Photography HANS WOLKERS


utch plant-breeding companies use millions of kilos of plastic plant pots every year. Many of the pots are produced by the Dutch market leader, Desch Plantpak in Waalwijk. The production of the pots uses large quantities of plastic, the raw material for which is oil. Something had to be done to change this, thought the company. So it joined forces with Wageningen UR to look for a sustainable alternative. ‘As a company we want to act responsibly towards people and the environment and to make smart use of resources,’ explains commercial director Wouter Zieck. ‘Besides, there is not an unlimited supply of the raw material for plastic pots, crude oil. When oil becomes scarcer, the supply of our raw material will become less reliable and the price will go up.’ Technological support The development of the sustainable plants pots was a challenge that took more than six years to meet. ‘The pot not only had to be made from plant-based materials but also to be produced at a competitive price and to function well in practice,’ says project leader Gerald Schennink of Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research. His team provided the project with technological support and developed the raw material for the pots. Applied Plant Research (PPO), part of Wageningen UR, studied how plants grow plants in the pots. Desch Plantpak tested the production process on an industrial scale. The sustainable plants had to be producible by the same method as the plastic pots. This



is a process known as thermoforming in which a machine presses thick warm plastic foil into a mould. The chosen raw materials was polylactic acid (PLA), made from starch from all kinds of crops and waste flows. The main disadvantage of this material is that is not heat-resistant, causing pots made of pure PLA to become misshapen in a hot greenhouse. But their heat resistance improved with the addition of secret ingredients. Green waste The result is impressive: a plant pot that has been named D-Grade® and which behaves like plastic but is 100 percent recyclable as well as compostable in an industrial compost facility. So the pot can go into the green waste bin. The cost price is about three times as high as that of conventional plastic plant pots, but that is counterbalanced by the added value the product has for many customers, who do not mind paying extra for it. ‘Within two years we want to double the production of D-Grade pots,’ says Zieck. ‘After that we expect further growth.’ Desch Plantpak does not want to stop at the D-Grade pots. ‘Together with Wageningen we are going to work on a variant that breaks down even more easily, a soil-degradable pot,’ explains Zieck. ‘Pots like those are of particular interest to forestry and large-scale planting projections such as on roadsides. These pots break down in the ground so they don’t have to be taken away.’ W


the tonne

‘We want to double production within two years’



Breeding for animal welfare Chickens that do not peck each other to death, sheep with fewer maggots in their tails and double-muscled cows that can give birth naturally. Wageningen researchers are working on breeding programmes targeting animal welfare. ‘Society doesn’t want ill-treatment of livestock.’ Text NIENKE BEINTEMA Illustrations jenny van driel


ots and lots of meat, milk and eggs. Fast growth, strong immunity… it is for characteristics like these that breeding animals are traditionally selected in the livestock sector. And with impressive results. The yield per animal has risen spectacularly in the last century. But this top production has a downside too: when it comes to animal welfare, it leaves a lot to be desired. Chickens peck each other to death, pigs chew on each other’s tails and double muscled cows can only give birth by Caesarian section. ‘These things are coming in for more and more attention,’ says Rita Hoving of the Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre at Wageningen UR Livestock Research. ‘Society doesn’t want ill-treatment in the livestock sector. We are therefore working together with the



Breeding and genetics

sector on breeding programmes with which we can improve on animal welfare by breeding animals that will not need as much veterinary care. Examples are cutting tails or carrying out Caesarians.’ Nasty wounds Hoving gives the example of the sheep disease myiasis. ‘Sheep with long woolly tails run the risk of flies laying their eggs in them,’ she explains, ‘especially when the tail is wet from faeces. The maggots eat into their flesh causing nasty wounds.’ Most breeds of sheep, such as the Texel sheep, have short tails and

therefore do not suffer from this problem, but some English breeds have long, thick tails. ‘Farmers used to be allowed to cut the tails but that has not been allowed since 2008,’ says Hoving. ‘An exception is made for only three English breeds. But even for them, farmers would rather not have to cut the tails. After all, as an intervention it affects the animal’s integrity.’ But not cutting tails means a higher risk of myiasis, especially in the warm summer months. Hoving: ‘Our research shows that the length of the tail is partly a matter of heredity and that you can easily breed for it. We estimate that you could reduce the tail length of English breeds from 20 to 10 centimetres in 20 to 25 years. That is enough to solve the problem: sheep can easily hold up a shorter tail when excreting, so it will no longer get wet.’ Many of an animal’s characteristics are hereditary, explains Hoving. If there is a natural variation in this, >

‘If chickens in a run die at a fast rate you know you’ve got an antisocial family on your hands’



you can select animals for it. If for example you continually cross-breed the sheep with the shortest tails, the tail length will decrease with each generation. ‘We have been applying that principle for centuries,’ Hoving emphasizes. ‘It is the basis for domestication. So no out of the ordinary techniques are used.’ This does not mean there is no modern technology involved, however. Breeders use advance computer programmes to create an image of the perfect breeding strategy. This is based on information about the ancestry and the ‘breeding value’ of particular animals: their genetic predisposition to a particular characteristic. ‘Breeding has been done for decades using this kind of software,’ says Hoving. ‘Our research helps to improve those breeding programmes.’ Calves are too big Following the same principle you can breed for polled (hornless) cattle so that you no longer have to dehorn the calves. This is a painful intervention which has to be done without anaesthetic and leaves the calf in a lot of pain. Wageningen research has shown that in just 10 years of targeted breeding you can obtain a cow population of which half are polled. In practice, however, there are still relatively few polled breeding bulls that meet the sector’s high standards. Dehorning is therefore still standard practice, although breeding for polled cattle is gradually gaining ground. Double-muscled cows pose a bigger challenge. Nowadays they are almost all delivered by Caesarian because the calves are too big for the birth canal. Jan ten Napel, who also works at the Animal Breeding & Genomics Centre at Wageningen UR Livestock Research, led a project between 2006 and 2012 in which researchers worked with the sector to find out whether anything could be done about this. ‘At first breeders were wary,’ explains Ten Napel. ‘They were afraid that you could only solve problems by doing something about the extreme muscularity of the cows, whereas that is precisely their trademark. But it quickly turned out that the problem was not their muscle tissue but their bones.’ An unintended byproduct of selection for the clearly visible muscle is a smaller skeleton – and this includes the pelvis. So the challenge was to find out whether you could breed cows with a bigger skeleton but still with that unusual muscle mass. This turned out to be possible. The researchers used advanced models in this research as well to calculate breeding values. ‘The difficult thing about this,’ says Ten Napel, ‘is that you are of course



breeding for something much broader that a natural birth. There are all sorts of other characteristics that are important as well, such as growth.’ If you breed for pelvis size, you are by definition not breeding so much for growth, he explains. ‘And you also want to prevent inbreeding. It is always a question of weighing up one thing against another.’ For this reason, change comes about slowly in practice. When it will no longer be necessary to carry out Caesarians on double-muscled cows, Ten Napel does not venture to predict. ‘There are frontrunners in the sector that are already breeding for pelvis size,’ he indicates, ‘and there are already some double-muscled cows giving birth naturally. We have no evidence that their death rate is any higher than the average. Now we will have to wait and see how quickly the sector picks up on this.’ Antisocial families Selecting for physical characteristics is just one of the possible ways of boosting animal welfare. Another is selecting for behaviour. The social behaviour of animals that are kept at close quarters with each other, such as pigs and chickens, can pose the toughest welfare problems. ‘Laying hens often peck each other,’ says Piter Bijma, a colleague of Hoving’s and Ten Napel’s. ‘Sometimes even to death. Now the tip of the beak is clipped off shortly after hatching, in order to limit the damage. If you don’t do that, the death rate can be up to 40 percent in extreme cases. And pigs push and bite each other. That is bad, not just for their welfare but also for productivity. Stressed animals do not grow as well.’ So the Wageningen researchers wondered whether you could breed for more sociable animals. If so, you could solve these problems. ‘The difficulty is,’ says Bijma, ‘that breeding for behaviour is much harder than breeding for productivity. It is very easy to measure the number of eggs or kilos of meat. But you can only measure social behaviour by doing thousands of observations. That is far too labour-intensive.’ So Bijma and his colleagues do this research indirectly. They do not look at the animals themselves but at the others they share the same space with. How many of them die, or does their growth lag behind? This is relatively easy to track for thousands of animals and therefore at family level too. Bijma: ‘If the chickens in family X’s run die at a relatively fast rate you know you’ve got an antisocial family on your hands.’ By studying the family tree like this, the Wageningen researchers discovered that social behaviour has a strong genetic component. Interestingly, it is not just the genes

Breeding and genetics

‘Breeding for behaviour is much harder than breeding for productivity’

of the ‘peckers’ that contribute to this, but also those of the victims: some families go under more often than others. Two breeding values turned out to be significant for breeding out pecking: an animal’s capacity for survival and its influence on the survival of its fellows. ‘We are now working on finding out which genes are involved,’ says Bijma. ‘But even without genetic information we have already got quite far, working with poultry breeding company Hendrix Genetics. Our estimate is that you could reduce the death rate by 3 to 4 percent per generation by breeding for more sociable animals.’ Preference for trimming beaks On paper, then, the prospects for this kind of breeding look good. In practice, however, it is not easy to exploit their potential to the full. ‘Breeding that targets welfare issues is often detrimental to productivity,’ say Bijma. ‘If only because you then have less scope for selecting for production. It seems, for example, that the more sociable chickens start laying eggs a few days later. Chicken farmers are not keen on that.’ For the time being, some of them prefer to go on trimming beaks. ‘The expectation is that in the long run it will be banned,’ says Bijma. ‘And then at least Hendrix Genetics will have a more sociable chicken at the ready.’ Jan ten Napel comes across the same considerations in his interaction with breeders of double-muscled cows. ‘There are a lot of breeders who want to wait and see how well the animals bred for this new purpose will do in the long term in the inspections,’ he says. ‘There is also still a debate among the breeders themselves as to whether the cows suffer more from a Caesarian than from a natural birth.’ A Belgian study suggested that it makes little difference in terms of animal welfare. But the crucial argument for the public is that ‘it is not normal’ and ‘not natural’. ‘It all depends now on how important the breeders think this is,’ says Ten Napel. He is optimistic. ‘A growing group of breeders are working on this. I think it will work.’ Support among breeders is crucial to breeding for shorter sheep’s tails too, says Rita Hoving. ‘Choosing characteristics to select for remains a matter of weighing things up,’ she says. And there remains one challenge. There are relatively few pig and poultry breeders, and they can change track fast. But the selection of cattle and sheep is in the hands of thousands of livestock holders. Hoving: ‘Besides the question of to what extent you can select for welfare characteristics at all, there is also the question of how to motivate such a large and diverse group to commit themselves to it.’ W



From food aid to grain basket

Food security

Ethiopia’s image is of a country at the mercy of catastrophic droughts and food aid. But there is another side to Ethiopia. There are big opportunities for small-scale farmers in its fertile, well-watered highlands. The country has the potential to become a rich grain basket, say Wageningen experts. If the government loosens its grip.


Photography hollandse hoogte Illustration Schwandt infographics


he road north from the provincial capital Bahir Dar is quite passable in the dry season. The fertile Ethiopian highlands stretch into the distance on both sides. The land looks green, with plenty of trees and bushes, and small herds of cows and goats grazing here and there. About 35 kilometres down the road the Farmers Training Centre of the district of South Achefer comes in sight. Meanwhile the burning sun is high in the sky. Muluken Lulie has a meeting here today. ‘The rainy season is coming; it is time to plant,’ says Lulie. Lulie tills three hectares of land together with his wife. They mainly grow maize for their family but they also grow barley, teff – an old grain variety – and potatoes for the market. ‘During busy times we sometimes hire help when the children are at school, but we do most of the work ourselves. One of my sons will soon graduate as a doctor.’ Muluken Lulie is one of the ‘model farmers’ in the Ethiopian government’s national agriculture programme. He learns new farming techniques at the Farmers Training centre and is then expected to share his newly won knowledge with ten neighbouring families. They in turn should reach out to ten other families so that a snowball effect is created and tens of thousands of farmers are eventually reached. Lulie’s neighbours, Teshome Melese and Yeshialem Addis, were day labourers without land of their own. This year they were able to lease 2.5 hectares. They are looking to their neighbour for guidance on how to go about things, they explain in the shade of their mud hut, where chickens scratch around and a watchdog barks. Female farmer Yeshialem runs the household with four children but also helps as much as she can on the farm. ‘Raking, weeding, harvesting; the ploughing is the only thing I leave to my husband.’ Fertile and well-watered Ethiopia often seems to be synonymous with drought, hunger and food aid. ‘And yet >



there is tremendous potential,’ says tropical soils expert Arie van Kekem of Alterra Wageningen UR. A considerable proportion of this African country – an area the size of France and Spain combined – consists of fertile highlands with more than enough rain. ‘With a bit more knowhow farmers here could increase their yields in no time,’ says Van Kekem. ‘Ethiopia has the potential to become a major agricultural export country. For the time being it is the small-scale farmers who produce most of the food. Improving their harvests is the basis for increasing rural prosperity so that children can go to school.’ Van Kekem is project leader of CASCAPE, a scientific five-year plan for increasing the agricultural yields, the trade in farm produce and the food security of small-scale farmers in Ethiopia. CASCAPE is a collaboration between six Ethiopian universities and Wageningen experts from Alterra and the Centre for Development Innovation. Six

Arie van Kekem, expert on tropical soils at Alterra Wageningen UR ‘With a bit more knowhow farmers here could increase their yields in no time’



promising growth regions of the fertile Ethiopian highlands have been selected. These ‘high potential’ regions each have their own CASCAPE team with an interdisciplinary group of mainly young, well-educated Ethiopian experts. The project focuses on agriculture, livestock, natural resources, gender and nutrition-related issues. The Dutch department of Development Cooperation is funding CASCAPE to the tune of 12.5 million euros up to the end of 2015. ‘I was shocked to discover that 50 percent of the young children in our research area in Amhara were malnourished,’ says Van Kekem. ‘The soil there is often very fertile, it gets almost twice as much rain in a year as the Netherlands and there is plenty of irrigation water. But the daily menu is too one-sided, especially for small children and pregnant women.’ Firew Tegegne Amogne, vice president of the University of Bahir Dar and assistant coordinator of the CASCAPE project, talks of a paradox. ‘Amhara has the highest yields in Ethiopia, but it also has the most malnutrition. That is why it is important not just to look as food security but also at nutrition security. Fortunately our project team has now been expanded to include a nutrition expert.’ From aid to trade CASCAPE offers scientific support to the Ethiopian government’s ambitious national agriculture programme, funded by the World Bank and many other donors. The government’s aim for this Agricultural Growth Programme is to make the switch as fast as possible from food aid to trade and economic collaboration. The new Dutch development policy – Trade, not Aid – is a perfect fit. Both Dutch and Ethiopian policymakers point to the example of the Dutch flower growers who came to Ethiopia with the help of development

funding and have turned the country into a major flower exporter. Within CASCAPE a lot of attention is paid to soil fertility and advice on fertilizers. Project leader Van Kekem points out the big discrepancies in soil fertility. ‘There are deep red soils with a thick layer of rich topsoil, but there are also places with a lot of erosion where that fertile soil has disappeared and the ground is stony. There is a lack of good advice on fertilizer use and the traditional extension service functions poorly. Extension workers are not adequately trained and the knowledge which is generated in agricultural research and at universities does not get through to farmers enough.’ But CASCAPE workers do go into the field. They talk to farmers, address their problems, demonstrate new methods and offer advice on good seeds, combatting diseases and pests, and the right fertilizer. ‘Then you see fantastic results within a short period of time,’ says Van Kekem. Government control There is little scope in Ethiopia for private initiatives – in the artificial fertilizer sector for instance. The government controls the import and distribution of artificial fertilizer. Farmers often lack good seed and a well-functioning cycle of organic matter. ‘In the end organic matter is much more important than artificial fertilizer for keeping the soil healthy,’ says van Kekem. ‘Farmers do not put enough organic matter back into the soil because they also need it for livestock feed, fuel and roofing. All that happens at the expense of soil fertility. We advise the farmers to put more animal manure, kitchen waste and other sources of organic matter on their land.’ ‘Our work really isn’t rocket science,’ says Christy van Beek of Alterra. ‘The harvest can often be tripled immediately with simple interventions.’ The supply of artificial fertilizer in Ethiopia is in government

Food security

‘The harvest can often be tripled immediately with simple interventions’ hands. There are only two kinds or fertilizer for sale, namely urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP). They are far from suitable for all soil types and crops, says Van Beek. ‘Farmers have to bend over backwards to pay for artificial fertilizer but on acid soils ammonium fertilizer can even have a counterproductive effect. What is more, the same standard advice is issued for all crops. We have started drawing up fertilizer advice tailored to each soil type and crop. That has proven to be a massive improvement,’ says Van Beek. ‘There is a huge biodiversity in the country,’ she continues. ‘You come across biophysical conditions such as differences in altitude and climatic zones, and you also get differences in access to things like markets and extension services. There is no standard formula for all farmers. But Ethiopia is

a country in which everything is extremely centralized. People prefer to decide and control everything from above, the same for every farmer, whereas what they really need is tailor-made solutions.’ Innovative thinking ‘The starting point for the Agricultural Growth Programme in Ethiopia is to look for farmers who are doing exceptionally well so as to enable other farmers to copy those best practices,’ says Irene Koomen of the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) in Wageningen. ‘Our centre has been called in to stimulate innovative thinking in the project. The technology is available – we all know that good seed and sufficient fertilizer lead to better harvests. Innovative thinking means that together with local farmers, extension workers and other

stakeholders, you look into what is required at a specific place to speed up progress.’ This thinking includes an examination of why some new ideas are taken up and others are not. For this it is important not to tar all farmers with the same brush. Someone who has five hectares can afford to experiment a bit more than his neighbour with only a quarter of a hectare of land. Some farmers are dirt poor and illiterate, while others have been to school or may have managed to save some money as migrant workers. Some farms are run by women, often widows. They do not have their own oxen for ploughing – which is primarily men’s work. Household kitty Ethiopian women generally find it hard to make ends meet. They get to do their >

Less than 5 hectares Ethiopia has tens of millions of small-scale farmers. After a communist coup all land was nationalized in 1991. Large landowners were driven off their land, which was divided among the population. Village elders usually decided who was allowed to farm where. Ninety percent of the farmers own less that 5 hectares of land, some no more that half a hectare. The population is still growing fast. One century ago the population was 10 million, now it is 90 million. The average farmer has about six children and if they become farmers too then land ownership becomes more and more fragmented. Only 13 percent of the population earn their keep from something other than farming.



Food production in Ethiopia Location

Population Ethiopia

Population distribution






17% 1997




City dwellers

Rural inhabitants

Top five food crops Fertile farmland

Addis Ababa



Various grains

Root crops Sorghum

40% in 2012

Data source: FAO, FAOSTAT 2013

share of the work but not of the decisionmaking. Traditionally, the man is in charge of the cash crops while the woman grows beans for the family on a leftover patch of land. If more emphasis comes to be laid on cash crops the possibility cannot be ruled out that women will be made to give up their land. ‘And the question is whether the money earned at the market always goes into the household kitty,’ says Koomen. ‘In some districts the man eats separately and goes first. Women and children have




to see what is left over. We need to have a good look at whether the Agricultural Growth Programme really improves the nutritional situation at all. As a researcher you always have to be alert to the fact that interventions can work out counterproductively.’ According to Koomen, extension workers like working with the progressive farmers, who are quick to pick up on new ideas. ‘They visit them often and enthusiastically. They have much less contact with all the other farmers.’ Farmers are also given the chance to visit a

network of training centres. But Koomen feels the approach is very top-down. ‘Extension workers and research institutes pump all sorts of new ideas into the system from above, without having much affinity with their target group and without distinguishing between different kinds of farmers.’ Meanwhile, they are running into various practical problems. Artificial fertilizer and seed, for instance, are often hard to come by in time for the start of the planting season. What is more, farmers have to borrow money for them, but mi-

Food security

‘There is no standard formula for all farmers’

crocredits from farmers’ organizations or regional banks are often not issued in time. ‘In Ethiopia fertilizer is distributed centrally and there are always delays,’ says Koomen. ‘The Agricultural Growth Programme should primarily look at what the farmers need and what the opportunities in a region are for commercializing production.’ Letting farmers choose The first step taken by CASCAPE in 2011 was to select six high potential regions as its working area, and to find out what the differences were between the model farmers and the others. The next step was a joint consultation process with stakeholders in each village to identify the local opportunities and problems. Koomen: ‘The Wageningen input consists of coaching and developing local capacity. Ethiopia has excellent universities but they all tend to train their academics for education and academic research. For an academically trained Ethiopian researcher, it takes a whole new way of thinking to go about a varieties test not by measuring leaf lengths and cob sizes but by letting the farmers pick out the most suitable variety themselves. A farmer on drought-sensitive soil stands to gain more from a variety that ripens fast, before the drought starts in earnest, than from a variety that may have a higher yield but ripens later.’ Model farmer Yekoyesew Emru – 2.5 hectares, six children – is applying himself to growing potatoes. ‘Two years ago we compared seven varieties. The Beletta variety came out as the best. Beletta turned out to be much more productive than our old varieties, so now everyone wants those seed potatoes. We also learned a new storage technique in the project. I used to just dump all the seed potatoes in a heap in a corner of my house. Now they lie on a shelf in a well ventilated shed, so you get

less rot. The new variety is so much more productive that I am considering growing less maize next year because you can earn more from potatoes.’ Religious holidays Raising productivity does not always hold an immediate appeal for farmers. Ethiopians are a proud race and for an Ethiopian livestock holder there is a lot of status in a large herd, even if each cow only gives a couple of litres of milk a day. And overgrazing has caused degradation of marginal land. In experiments with better cattle feed, the milk yield quickly rose from 2 to 2.5 litres a day. ‘Five healthy cows that are well looked after and have a roof over their heads might give as much milk as 50 cows that roam around the area causing soil erosion,’ says Koomen. ‘But a farmer with five cows is seen as a loser.’ ‘I come to Ethiopia six or seven times a year but it is always hard for a westerner to really get to grips with a country like this and to understand how decisions are reached. It is noticeable for instance that there are a lot of religious holidays bang in the middle of the planting season. All work comes to a standstill and no weeding is done, however badly it is needed.’ Ethiopian agriculture is still largely dependent on manual labour and is therefore very labour-intensive. ‘And Ethiopia has many different tribes and an enormous cultural diversity. The country really is different to the rest of Africa. Our biggest challenge is to set up something sustainable here. Something that sticks even after the western experts have left again. Farmers who work with CASCAPE get a lot of attention and extra resources now but will they go on digging after we leave? Be that as it may, in CASCAPE we have developed an innovative concept that we can apply in other countries as well as in Ethiopia, and beyond the agriculture sector as well.’ W

Christy van Beek, Alterra Wageningen UR ‘We give fertilizer advice tailored to each soil type’

Irene Koomen, Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) Wageningen ‘And the question is whether the money earned at the market always goes into the household kitty’



Wageningen University looks back on 95 years

From the hill to Orion Wageningen celebrates 95 years of higher education in agriculture this year. Wageningen World looks at what has changed in four short articles. Part 2 covers the long road to the campus.


Text LEO KLEP Picture De Gelderland Bibliotheek

he opening of the Forum teaching building in September 2007 was a milestone in Wageningen University’s history: it was the emphatic confirmation of Wageningen UR’s decision to have the university based at the campus at the Born alongside the research institutes. It symbolized a new vibrancy, which students clearly picked up on as the number of students is now more than half as big again as in 2007. And May this year saw the opening of Orion, a second, equally imposing teaching building. There was a similar vibrancy initially when the Agricultural College was founded in 1918: there were plans too for a campus, only then at the top of the hill known as the Wageningse Berg. There would be a long line of labs, a main building and a library spreading up from the flood plains to what is now the Dreijen. Then, too, the plans were for imposing modern architecture, with the Schip van Blaauw and the Microbiology building (1922) as the surviving evidence. And then, too, one of the considerations was that the existing accommodation spread around town was aging and inefficient. The main building on the Salverdaplein dated from the start of the eighteenth century while Microbiology was based in an ordinary house on the Herenstraat that did not even have a toilet. But unfortunately the Dutch parliament decided the campus plans were too expensive. Apart from the two buildings just mentioned, the only addition to the hill site was a sober edifice for Genetics (1928). The plan to have everything on one site fell through in part because the plant breeding group wanted to be on the clay soil in the Nude



while the horticulturalists headed by Professor Sprenger preferred the Haagsteeg because of the soil conditions and groundwater levels. New buildings only appeared sporadically during the crisis years of the 1930s. The biggest building to be erected was the Botany Laboratory (1932) on the Arboretumlaan, with part of the small arboretum being sacrificed to accommodate it. Agricultural Chemistry got modest new premises on the Diedenweg in 1932 as well. In 1936, the Aula was built next to Hotel De Wereld and in 1939 a new building was erected for Tropical Plant Breeding on the Ritzema Bosweg. After the war, the university was still having to use every inch of space due to the big increase in the number of students. It says a lot that the wooden ‘emergency aula’ erected at Duivendaal in 1921 as a temporary hall/lecture room and overflow accommodation for departments with a shortage of space would remain in use until it burnt down in 1972. Row of institutes After 1945, the Ministry of Agriculture focused mainly on the DLO institutes, much to the distress of the Agricultural College. The construction of a row of institutes along the Mansholtlaan marked the first steps towards the current campus. Another plan by the Agricultural College in 1948 to create a campus at the Dreijen did not make it, but had more effect than the previous plan: in 1953 the Geo-information Science building was erected on the edge of the site on the hill. And in 1955, work started on the largest structure up to that

Wageningen UR Jubilee

point: the Chemistry building with a lecture hall for 300 students - a new record. Next to it appeared the Nitho building (which became the Dreijenborch): the College’s first high-rise structure. The fragmentation of the accommodation remained an issue: in 1954 the Physiology of Animals department went to the Haarweg and in 1961 Entomology set up house in the Binnenhaven. A fine example of spatial improvisation was the ‘semi-permanent’ lecture hall for 600 students in 1965 on the Hollandseweg. It was much needed as the College was feeling the effects of the baby boom, with student numbers tripling between 1964 and 1978. And this time there was money. The gaps on the Dreijen site were filled in, starting with the Transitorium (1971), followed by the Maths Building, Biotechnion, Computechnion and Agrotechnion. New buildings elsewhere included Nieuwlanden on the Nieuwe canal (1973), Leeuwenborch on the Hollandseweg (1974) and Zodiac on the Marijkeweg (1975). But student numbers started to fall again, from more than

7100 in 1988 to 4100 in 1999. This was in part due to the restrictions on the number of years spent studying for a degree and possibly also because ‘agriculture’ had fallen out of favour. the new campus At the same time, DLO was undergoing a restructuring operation that led to many institutes having to merge. This prompted a move towards more concentrated building at De Born. The Staringcentrum (Alterra Wageningen UR) was one of the first in 1998, with a building that was prized as being ‘sustainable’. This structure signalled the start of the new Wageningen Campus, but also showed what a relative concept sustainability is: the old, energy-inefficient building, the Staringgebouw, was demolished only 31 years after its erection. There is not actually a single original university building still in use today. We will have to see whether the new Orion building with its lecture hall for 700 students (another new record) lasts any longer. W

The laboratory of Plant Physiology, in the building known as Blaauw’s Ship, marked the start of the formation of the campus on top of the hill the Wageningse Berg.




Microchips and tractor tyres Jørgen Audenaert from Zeeland and Errol Zalmijn from Suriname were fascinated by tractors from a very early age. Now one works for John Deere, the world’s largest producer of agricultural machinery and the other for microchip manufacturer ASML. Text ALEXANDRA BRANDERHORST Photography Harmen de Jong


ur company is one of the oldest in the US. Like other businesses in the agricultural sector, John Deere is built around continuity and tradition. But at the same time the pressure to improve and implement changes never lets up’, says Jørgen Audenaert. Audenaert studied Agricultural Engineering and now works in the strategic marketing department of the biggest tractor and agricultural machinery manufacturer in the world: John Deere. The company, which counts 67,000 employees, also produces machines used in construction, soil transport, forestry, and gardening. A farmer’s son, he can identify with the desire for tradition and dependability. He and his wife are involved in two farms, in partnership with their parents. Audenaert met his wife Jacqueline Simonse while studying in Wageningen. She was studying Agricultural Economics and, like him, hailed from Dutch Flanders. Currently, she works at Cargill. ‘We wanted to continue the family businesses. We rent part of the land and hire labour,’ Audenaert explains in his lilting Flemish accent. ‘It’s fun to spend time working on the farms at weekends and



in the holidays; it’s a way to stay rooted in the practical side of things. And it’s part of the family’s history; you build up a connection with the land you’ve tilled for three generations.’ And yes, his father used John Deere machines. Audenaert has had a soft spot for tractors, and combine and potato harvesters from an early age. Developing chip machines His classmate Errol Zalmijn works for a global giant too: ASML. This Veldhovenbased Dutch company develops and manufactures machines for the production of computer chips and is thriving despite the economic crisis. It now employs some 10,000 people. All electrical appliances, from water boilers and laptops to medical equipment, contain chips. These are made of slices of silicon which are printed with grooves 27 nanometres wide. ASML wants to reduce that to 13 nanometres. For comparison: a human hair is 50,000 nanometres thick. ‘ASML’s work is technology pushing the limits of what is physically possible’, Zalmijn says

enthusiastically. As a child, growing up in the Surinamese rice district of Nickerie, he was equally in awe of the big tractors, combine harvesters, and agricultural aircraft he used to watch. His father was employed as a rice expert by the Foundation for Mechanical Agriculture (SML) in the Surinamese Wageningen. This ‘rice village’, surrounded by thousands of hectares of rice paddies, was founded in 1949 by agricultural engineers from the Dutch Wageningen. ‘The whole place lived and breathed industrial agriculture. Many of my dad’s colleagues were from Wageningen. They would come to visit us and I picked up knowledge from nearly all the disciplines taught in Wageningen.’ Besides agriculture, the young Zalmijn was also interested in maths and physics. A degree in Agricultural Engineering was an obvious choice. Alongside his course work he also chaired the Surinamese student society Redi Doti for two years. ‘Initially my plan was to take up a policy position after completing my degree and help agricultural development in Surinam step up to the next level.’ >

Life after wageningen

‘ASML’s work is technology pushing the limits of what is physically possible’

Errol Zalmijn


Age: 47 Studied: Agricultural Engineering 1985-1993 Works: Scanner performance measurement and modeling specialist at the Eindhoven branch of ASML, the producer of microchip manufacturing systems.

Jørgen Audenaert Age: 45 Studied: Agricultural Engineering 1985-1990 Works: Segment Manager XXL & Contractors at the agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere in Mannheim, Germany

‘I develop machines and technologies that will appear on the market three to seven years from now’

Life after wageningen

Where do agricultural engineers end up? Between 1983 and 2010, 436 people graduated from the Agricultural Engineering programme, later renamed the Biosystems Engineering Master’s. We know what 276 of those graduates are doing now. Nearly 40 percent work in industry and trade, 15 percent are employed by engineering and consultancy agencies, 9 percent are in ICT and the same number work at a university or research centre. Finally, 7 percent work for the government and 12 percent have started their own business or work as freelancers. Source: KLV Wageningen Alumni Network

As Zalmijn’s interest in scientific research grew that plan was shifted to the back burner. He specialized in control theory, systems engineering, and engineering physics and did an internship at Virginia Polytechnic. After graduating in 1993 he hoped to get a doctorate in sustainable energy. ‘Then came the black hole. It was a difficult period; there wasn’t much work for science graduates.’ Technology stories Audenaert too remembers it as a difficult period for agricultural engineers. ‘I had a strong preference for the business sector because of its dynamism and ambition. I sent in a lot of open applications and was able to land a job quite quickly.’ In 1991 he joined the Douven factory in Horst, Limburg, which designed and produced sprayers for pesticides. ‘It was an innovative, growing, and export-oriented family business,’ Audenaert recalls. A year later he made the switch from product engineer to product manager. ‘I was a little concerned that this role would be too far removed from the actual engineering work, but the opposite proved to be true. First you look at all the market developments and new technologies that are emerging, and then you translate that into new or improved products.’ At the end of the nineties the family company was bought up by John Deere. Audenaert’s work became much more internationally oriented and he was given responsibility for all the marketing. ‘A world of opportunity opened up for me, but it was also a huge challenge to integrate an existing company into a large multi-national. Small companies enjoy a quick decision making process and try to grab opportunities as soon as they arise. John Deere is far more robust. It has access to more technology and know-how but takes fewer risks and carries out more research and tests be-

fore launching new products on the market’, explains Audenaert. In 2007 he swapped his familiar workplace in Horst for the European headquarters in Mannheim. He was given a position in the new department of strategic marketing as the segment manager responsible for Europe, the former USSR, North Africa, and the Middle East. He focuses on massive agricultural companies and equipment hire companies, and his field has expanded from pesticides to include large tractors, harvesters, and precision agriculture. ‘I analyse clients’ needs and their production systems, and we develop new products and services based on that. I’m mainly responsible for machines and technologies that will be put on the market in three to seven years.’ Hoping to secure a PhD position, Zalmijn ‘hung around’ the university for a while tutoring first-years in maths. Gradually, he started finding jobs in the up-and-coming ICT sector. He developed software systems for financial administration at PinkRoccade. ‘It was nice to have a job, but it wasn’t my thing’, he says. Thanks to a happy coincidence he was invited to apply for a position at ASML in 2001. He was taken on in the Research & Development metrology department, which makes the control software for the chip manufacturing machines. The learning curve was steep. Zalmijn: ‘chip machines are the most complex pieces of equipment known to man, apart from CERN’s particle accelerator.’ Since 2005, Zalmijn has been collecting information on chip manufacturing machines owned by customers around the world. ‘A chip manufacturing machine records what it’s doing every microsecond. That data goes into my model so that we can track the production process and the machine’s condition. Using that information we can improve our products.’

His personal goal is to develop a precise method to determine the cause of a machine stoppage. ‘It costs millions whenever the chip manufacturing machines suffer any downtime. Accurately determining the cause of the stoppage is absurdly complicated. There ought to be a much more exact method.’ Zalmijn hopes to write a PhD on the subject one day. He has been with the Customer Support department since 2005. ‘Our customers need support with the machines they buy.’ Those customers are often electronics factories in Asia, so Zalmijn’s days often start with an early morning conference call with Japan or Taiwan. Way of life According to Audenaert, the most important developments in the market for agricultural machines have been the increase in scale and the professionalization of companies. ‘Customers are more demanding and highly educated than they used to be. Companies are treated as a business rather than a way of life.’ Then there is also the rapid advance of technological developments such as automation and precision agriculture. ‘The challenge is to try and double food production in the next 30 years by making more efficient use of fertilizers and pesticides.’ Audenaert’s classmate Zalmijn has not abandoned the theme of sustainability either. ‘ASML is investing a lot in finding ways to produce chips more cleanly and efficiently, but there is little room for idealism in my work. It facilitates a way of life which may lead to the destruction of the planet.’ He hopes for a green technology revolution. ‘The only solution to the current economic crisis and the future crisis of natural resources, energy, and climate, is a drastic shift to green energy.’ W



‘We need to learn how to deal with affluence’ Global food supply expert Louise Fresco has received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Wageningen University. After an international career with the FAO, Fresco is now professor at Amsterdam and distinguished professor at Wageningen University, ‘I have a duty to be visible’. Text ALEXANDRA BRANDERHORST Photography Bart de Gouw

What is it like to receive the Outstanding Alumnus Award? ‘It’s a fantastic accolade, a confirmation of my Wageningen roots. I still keep in regular contact with colleagues and the Executive Board and I give the occasional guest lecture. Wageningen has grown from a rather small minor university of applied sciences to an internationally oriented university and research centre, while keeping its focus on applied, multidisciplinary science.’ Even at secondary school you used to campaign against famine. ‘I was at the European school in Brussels and I wanted to show all those rich kids that there were poor people who hardly had enough to eat. With a couple of my fellow pupils, I arranged for a day in the school canteen where there was only dry rice on offer. That made an impact. The next step was when I realized it was purely a matter of luck whether you were born in Biafra,



the Netherlands or Calcutta; that gives you a duty to do something for the world. That’s still the guiding principle in my life. But I was never a militant campaigner. I’m more of a dialogue and compromise person. I was always a well-behaved girl even when I was a student in the progressive 1970s.’ What are the key issues when it comes to feeding the world? ‘Chronic hunger is linked to underdevelopment. That means the top priority is to combat poverty; you need to focus on general economic development. We will also need to have enough food for the expanding cities around the globe. And we will need to make food production more sustainable. In short, we have to invest in agriculture and innovation. This is something that was neglected for years. Only when food prices started to rise in 2008 did politicians realize the need for investments to make the shift from self-sufficient farming

Outstanding Alumnus Award On 15 March, during the celebrations of Wageningen University’s 95th Founders’ Day, Louise Fresco was handed the Outstanding Alumnus Award. The jury called her ‘one of the best known and most influential alumni in recent years, who is recognized as an authority worldwide’ and ‘an inspiring example to students and researchers’. The Wageningen University Fund awards the prize every four years to graduates who have made an exceptional contribution to society in Wageningen’s domains. Previous winners were writer Frank Westerman, cancer researcher Floor van Leeuwen and ‘bugman’ Ruud Kleinpaste.

wAGENINGEN University fund

to professional agriculture. Now, food and agriculture are high up the agenda even in the Netherlands. The general public is more involved, with the inevitable associated misconceptions - for example that organic farming is always better or that biotechnology is inherently dangerous.’ Are you a role model for women scientists? ‘Yes, maybe I am. There aren’t that many women at this level in science and policy making. I have a duty to be visible. I try to help young people and encourage them in their scientific careers. I don’t have to prove myself anymore by producing a certain number of scientific papers every year so I have the freedom to be of service to others.’   Are you idealistic, realistic or a combination of the two? ‘I do aim for an ideal, namely a world without hunger and poverty. Over the years I have become more realistic about what you need to do to achieve that but I’ve remained optimistic. We can learn from our mistakes and from each other. For instance, take the reduction in the number of car accidents compared with 25 years ago thanks to a combination of technology and behavioural changes. Cars are safer, we drive more carefully and we have better legislation. The same applies to food. Look at how well fed we are in the Netherlands and how much choice we have after tens of thousands of years of scarcity. Now we need to learn how to deal with affluence. That’s the biggest challenge today.’ W Info: www.louiseofresco.com

Louise Fresco 1952 Born in Meppel, grew up in Brussels 1970 Degree in Rural Sociology of the Non-Western Regions, minor in Tropical Plant Breeding 1986 PhD with distinction in Tropical Plant Breeding 1990 Professor of Plant Production Systems in Wageningen 1997 Director of Research, FAO Agriculture Department 1999 Assistant Director-General of Agriculture, FAO 2006 to date University professor of sustainable development in an international context at the University of Amsterdam 2012 Publication of her book Hamburgers in Paradise





Averting crises with social media ‘Social media can act as the link between online and offline life and it can brighten up and simplify our daily lives,’ said Reint Jan Renes at the alumni gathering on 15 April hosted by the World Wildlife Fund in Zeist.

Reducing post-harvest food loss was the theme of an alumni meeting on Tuesday, 26 March in Ethiopia. Thirty alumni descended on the head office of the African Union in Addis Ababa to exchange ideas. The meeting tied in with a conference about Post-harvest loss reduction in SubSaharan Africa organized by the African Union Commission (AUC), the FAO and Wageningen UR. During the alumni programme, the rector magnificus Martin Kropff outlined recent developments at Wageningen. Yemi Akinbamijo, head of the AUC’s Agriculture and Food Security Division, emphasized the importance of education and agriculture for development in Africa. Wageningen has around 250 African PhD students and more African undergraduates than other international universities. There was a lively debate on how to reduce food loss after harvesting, for example during transport or processing. The alumni present saw opportunities for reducing food wastage within the context of existing projects for Ethiopian farmers. After the lunch, an extra session was put on with six alumni who wanted to incorporate this issue in an existing project with Wageningen UR. There are also plans to set up an Ethiopian alumni group.

Renes, an associate professor (personal chair) in health and communication at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, advocated the use of social media as a way of influencing thinking at crucial moments. For instance, there is an app that shows the effect on your body if you take the stairs rather than the lift. A packed room with 75 Wageningen alumni listened enthralled during the meeting, organized by Wageningen University’s alumni desk, KLV and the Utrecht region committee. The evening began with a persuasive talk by Marlou van Campen, social media manager for the WWF, who graduated

from Wageningen in Western Sociology and Communication Science in 1987. She explained how the WWF used its website and media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage with its target group and get people to act. You can also use social media to nip a crisis in the bud, as was done at the end of last year after a critical TV programme about the WWF. ‘Ten years ago, when it was revealed we weren’t doing anything for seals, we had six weeks of people cancelling their membership. Now we were able to reach people through the social media and the crisis was over in one day,’ said Van Campen.

Photo Edo-Jan Meijer

Reducing food waste in Ethiopia

Reint-Jan Renes (Wageningen UR, left), Marlou van Campen (WNF, centre) and Emmy Hagenaars at the alumni meeting at WNF on 15 april.

Jubilee Honours

Honorary doctorates Biologist Richard Lenski, climate and plant scientist Graham Farquhar and plant biologist Brian Staskawicz received honorary doctorates on the occasion of Wageningen University’s 95th anniversary, in March 2013.



The smartphone will replace ‘old fashioned’ voting.

Reint-Jan Renes, associate professor of Health Communication at Wageningen University.



Greetings from Guyana! Alumna Sonja Scheffers is reading Wageningen World in Rupununi, a savannah area in Guyana. ‘Rupununi is incredibly beautiful, I love to drive through it on my motorbike,’ says Scheffers in her e-mail. She graduated in 2001 in Rural Development Sociology and has now been working for nearly three years in Guyana for Conservation International. She worked as a participatory advisor on the plans for eleven Indian villages in the Kanuku Mountains area that contribute to the sustainable management of the area and its natural resources. Scheffers reads Wageningen World to keep up to date with Wageningen research. ‘I always find something that ties in with what is happening in Guyana, such as climate change and nature conservation.’ Are you reading this magazine a long way from Wageningen too? Send your photographic evidence to wageningen.world@wur.nl University celebrates 95 years

Lifelong learning

Reunion and debates on food security There are celebrations planned throughout the year to mark the 95th anniversary of Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. For instance, there will be a reunion for all alumni on Friday 14 June in Wageningen. There will be activities on campus in the afternoon, followed by an alumni dinner in the town centre. The alumni will also be able to attend the festivities organized by the town of Wageningen to celebrate its 750th anniversary. An international series of debates has also been arranged on the central anniversary theme of food security. Debates have already been held in Ethiopia and Chile and the 452 alumni in

China are being invited to debates in Nanjing on Wednesday, 25 September and Beijing on Friday, 27 September. There will be a meeting in Indonesia on 11 October and in Brazil on 7 November. Debates are also being organized in the US and Brussels in the autumn. Stay informed through the Wageningen University Alumni LinkedIn group. Or visit the website www.wageningenur.nl/alumni/ jubileum www.wageningenur.nl/eng/alumni/ anniversary


Reunions for alumni who matriculated in 1988 and 1963 The reunions for the alumni who matriculated 25 and 50 years ago will take place on Wageningen campus in the autumn. The alumni who started their degree in 1988 are invited on Saturday, 2 November and the 1963 starters on Friday,

18 October. There will be talks, a tour of Wageningen campus, a renewed acquaintance with the town, and drinks and a dinner to finish. If you haven’t received an invitation, please send an email to alumni@wur.nl.

Wageningen Academy offers new courses Professionals working for the government or private sector can now contact the Wageningen Academy for courses run by Wageningen UR through. The former Wageningen Business School (WBS) is being relaunched under this new name. The numbers taking WBS courses were dropping, in part because of the economic downturn, explains Janine Luten, the Wageningen Academy director. Luten carried out an exploratory study in April 2012. ‘This showed that our customers do have a need for our unique expertise in the areas of food and the living environment,’ says Luten. The new slogan is: Today’s knowledge, tomorrow’s business. Luten: ‘We assess customers’ needs and offer knowledge tailored to requirements in the form of in-company training courses and opportunities for distance learning, in addition to the open application courses. The course programme can be found at www. wageningenur.nl/wageningenacademy




Prof. Louise Fresco, WU Rural Sociology of the Non-Western Regions 1976, was awarded the 2013 Founder’s Day prize for outstanding alumni of Wageningen University. 15 March 2013. See also page 44.

Prem Bindraban

Prem Bindraban PhD MBA, WU Tropical Plant Breeding 1990 and director of the ISRIC soil institute, has been appointed director of the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center in Washington. 15 June 2013. Rutgerd Boelens PhD, WU Tropical Land Development 1990, has been appointed to the Territorial Studies Chair at the National Science and Technology Foundation (CONACYT) in Mexico. 12 April 2013. Iris Boumans MSc, WU Animal Sciences 2013, won the 2013 NZV thesis prize with her thesis ‘Development strategies of pig farms in the province North Brabant’. 18 April 2013. Prof. Pim Brascamp, WU Zootechnics 1972, has been appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau. 26 April 2013. Gerjanne Brink MSc, WU Landscape Architecture and Planning 2011, and René van Seumeren MSc, WU Landscape Architecture and Planning 2011, have won the 2012 Folkert Hellinga MSc Award, given by the Land and Water Network, for their joint thesis ‘Revitalizing ZeeuwsVlaanderen’. 19 April 2013. Prof. Marcel Dicke, Leiden University Biology 1982 and working in the



Grant for her presentation during the 2013 WIAS Science Day. 28 February 2013. Reinerius Klein Holkenborg MSc, WU Farming Technology 1973, has retired from his position as honorary consul general for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Paraguay and has been appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau. 31 December 2012. Prof. Maarten Koornneef, WU Plant Breeding 1974, has retired from his position as professor holding a personal chair in Genetics at Wageningen University. 11 April 2013.

Photo Guy Ackermans

Prof. Adrie Beulens, Eindhoven University of Technology Mathematics 1972, has retired as professor of Information Technology at Wageningen University, having reached retirement age. 28 February 2013.

Laboratory of Entomology at Wageningen University, has been appointed Visiting Professor at Cornell University in the USA. 1 July 2013.

Anastasia Georgiadi

Anastasia Georgiadi PhD, WU Nutrition and Health 2007, has received a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The grant is intended to enable promising scientists gain research experience abroad, in this case at the Karolinska institute in Sweden. 11 April 2013. Jasper van der Gucht PhD, WU Molecular Sciences 1999, has been appointed professor of Physical Chemistry and Colloid Science at Wageningen University. 1 May 2013. Prof. Petra Hellegers, WU Economics of Agriculture and the Environment 1993, has been appointed professor of Water Resources Management at Wageningen University. 1 February 2013.

Prof. Anke Niehof has retired as Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households at Wageningen University. 18 April 2013. Prizewinners

Nature activists Three people from Wageningen and one from VHL came up with the best ideas for doubling the natural flora and fauna of the Netherlands by 2030. On 18 April, they won a competition organized by Staatsbosbeheer and the WWF. They were handed their prize (a trip to the Rewilding Europe project in the Danube delta) by Princess Irene. The prize went to the ‘adopt an animal’ idea for Dutch towns of the VHL student Iris de Boer’s, in combination with a film and the online platform of WU student Merijn Biemans and alumni Stefan Sand and Christoph Janzing. www.natuurdoeners.nl

Prof. Ruud Huirne, WU Agrarian Economics 1986, has been appointed professor by special appointment to the NCR chair in Cooperative Entrepreneurship at Wageningen University. 1 March 2013. Esther Kampman-van de Hoek MSc, WU Animal Sciences 2008, PhD student in the Animal Nutrition and Livestock Research group at Wageningen University, has been awarded the 2013 NZV Travel

Photo Maarten hartman

Kees van Ast MSc, WU Horticulture 1975, has been appointed Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau. 14 March 2013.

Iris de Boer, Stefan Sand, Christoph Janzing, Merijn Biemans and Princess Irene.


In memoriam Monique van Oers PhD, WU PhD 1994, has been appointed professor of Virology at Wageningen University. 1 February 2013. Elmar Theune PhD, WU Environmental Sciences 1982, has been appointed as the alderman responsible for Sports, Health and Welfare in the municipality of Wageningen. Ms Theune is also a policy worker at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. 18 March 2013. Bart Thomma MSc, WU Phytopathology 1996, has been appointed professor of Phytopathology at Wageningen University. 1 February 2013. Co Verdaas PhD, Radboud University Nijmegen Town and Country Planning, has been appointed director of the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) at Wageningen UR. 1 May 2013.

Photo Staatsbosbeheer


Sylvo Thijsen

Sylvo Thijsen director of the national forestry agency Wageningen alumnus Sylvo Thijsen, WU Landscape Architecture 1985, has been appointed director of Staatsbosbeheer (the national forestry agency) with effect from 1 April 2013. Thijsen started his career at Grontmij, where he held various management and board positions, ending as the chairman of the executive board. He was nominated for the position with Staatsbosbeheer by the cabinet on the recommendation of Mr Kamp, the minister for Economic Affairs. Thijsen is a member of the Advisory Council of Wageningen UR’s Environmental Sciences Group and is also an active Wageningen Ambassador.

W.G. Blauwhof MSc, WU Zootechnics 1949, passed away at the age of 92. 11 April 2012. H.O.G. Boerma MSc, WU Rural Economics 1974, passed away at the age of 65. 15 March 2013. W.S. Bos MSc, WU Phytopathology 1973, passed away at the age of 66. 15 January 2013. W. Bosman MSc, WU Food Technology 1971, passed away at the age of 69. 15 April 2013. F.J. van Brussel MSc, WU Zootechnics 1989, passed away at the age of 48. 9 May 2012. A.A. Copolla-Steegen MSc, WU Home Economics 1974, passed away at the age of 63. 3 February 2013. K.M. Dekker MSc, WU Rural Economics 1958, passed away at the age of 80. 23 January 2013. G.E. van Dijk PhD, WU Agricultural Plant Breeding 1951, passed away at the age of 88. 31 December 2012. A. T. van der Geest MSc, WU Forestry 1973, has passed away. B.B. Glerum MSc, WU Tropical Forestry 1954, passed away at the age of 84. 8 July 2008. J. Groenendijk MSc, WU Tropical Rural Economics 1951, passed away at the age of 87. March 2013. A. Hanenburg, WU MSc student Environmental Sciences, passed away at the age of 29. 5 February 2013. D. Hubrechsen MSc, WU Plant Breeding 1990, passed away at the age of 47. 24 November 2012. J.A. Jobsen MSc, WU Phytopathology 1966, passed away at the age of 72. 21 February 2013. F.J. Kailola MSc, WU Forestry 1956, passed away at the age of 89. 14 March 2013. M. Koops, WU MSc Student International Development Studies, passed away at the age of 24. 23 February 2013. A.W.G. Koppejan PhD, WU Agricultural Plant Breeding 1941, passed away at the age of 94. 27 March 2013.

M.C. de Lange MSc, WU Rural Sociology of the Non-Western Regions 1983, passed away at the age of 54. 2 June 2010. G. Lems MSc, WU Horticulture 1956, passed away at the age of 79. 26 May 2009. Ms J.E. Mooij PhD, WU Human Nutrition 1987, passed away at the age of 53. 28 February 2013. J. T. Moormans MSc, WU Forestry 1959, passed away at the age of 80. 5 April 2012. W.H. Nieuwenhuijs MSc, WU Tropical Rural Economics 1951, passed away at the age of 91. 16 February 2013. D.G. Obermeijer-Van der Scheer MSc, WU Human Nutrition 1993, passed away at the age of 45. 9 January 2013. H.T. Oosterhuis MSc, WU Tropical Forestry 1953, passed away at the age of 87. 25 April 2013. H. den Ouden MSc, WU Agricultural Plant Breeding 1951, passed away at the age of 87. 19 February 2013. P.J. van Rijn MSc, WU Tropical Land Development 1958, passed away at the age of 83. 11 February 2013. M.J.M. Schretlen MSc, WU Rural Economics 1959, passed away at the age of 82. 20 June 2011. A.W. Sleeking MSc, WU Land Development B 1975, passed away at the age of 65. 10 February 2013. S. Stamhuis MSc, WU Zootechnics 1989, passed away at the age of 47. 2 January 2013. D. Stroo MSc, WU Agricultural Economics 1976, passed away at the age of 64. 18 January 2013. G.F. Tielrooy MSc, WU Tropical Forestry 1951, passed away at the age of 61. 7 January 2013. Ms H.P.J. Timmers MSc, WU Food Technology 1982, passed away at the age of 54. 18 August 2012.



‘WaGeninGen DebatinG’ Gets the Discussion GoinG new debating club focuses on form and content A debating society; almost every university has one. Except Wageningen that is. That has recently changed, however, thanks to Lara Minnaard, third-year student of Animal Sciences and an active ‘debater’ since her high school days. With the support of KLV she set up ‘Wageningen Debating’. “It’s more than a hobby,” she says. “You learn speaking skills that are really useful during your study and throughout the rest of your career.” How did it come about? “Debating has been my hobby for the past eight years. And then of all things I end up at the only university in the Netherlands without a debating society. People regularly asked me: ‘Why don’t you set it up yourself?’ This question became more serious and tangible when KLV organised a training course in debating last year together with an old acquaintance of mine: Gijs Weenink from the DebatAcademie. He and Paul den Besten from KLV saw that Wageningen needed a debating society and they approached me. They said they would support me if I was prepared to take the lead. Then the ball started rolling: with a series of workshops last October for 10 students, and taking part

in championships and tournaments. It is an awful lot of work but also a lot of fun.” Wageningen does not have a debating culture. Why? “Wageningen is of course a young, small university that has little exchange with other universities in the Netherlands. Furthermore, it does not offer degree programmes in subjects such as law where the

art of rhetoric and persuasion is naturally covered. Plus debating is not a natural part of the culture here: Wageningen students –to put it bluntly – tend to be interested purely in the facts and much less in the packaging. And unfortunately debating has still not shaken off its image of being snooty. However, that image is changing as debating is becoming more popular at high schools. And rightly so because you learn

Debate in the Hof van Wageningen, with Gijs Weenink (DebatAcademie), a most welcome guest in Wageningen.

basic skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life. For example, listening carefully, quickly dissecting a line of argument, building up a case, but also speaking in public, improvising, estimating responses and daring to fall flat on your face.”

Lara Minnaard in action. Photo: own archive

17 June Young KLV - Course - CV writing Personal feedback on your CV with at most seven participants.

KLV supports debate in Wageningen

3 October Young KLV - Course - CV writing

Paul den Besten, director of KLV: “Wageningen does not have a strongly developed debating culture. That is something that we would like to encourage more as KLV. Wageningen students tend to be very content driven. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you want to achieve something then you not only need to be right, but you also need to convince others of that. Debating can be useful in this respect. In effect, it is a presentation technique: a good exercise in learning to convince others. And that is a positive attribute in whatever career you choose.

You can read more KLV news in KLV Update, the journal for KLV members. From now on, KLV update will also be appearing in English. If you would like a sample copy, send an e mail to secretariaat.klv@wur.nl (while stocks last).


KLV has been trying for several years to encourage a debating culture in Wageningen. For example, we have set up debating competitions between student associations and in collaboration with Gijs Weenink from DebatAcademie we have offered training courses in debating. Young KLV has organised short debating workshops and we are also supporting the initiative ‘Wageningen Debating’. And these efforts are bearing fruit. Slowly but surely debate is becoming part of the culture in Wageningen.”


Go to to b bi ec t.l y/ om m em e be a m rs e hip m KL be V r

Want to know more or to take part? See the Facebook page of Wageningen Debating.

14 June Reunion Wageningen Alumni 2013 2013 is a jubilee year for Wageningen University (95 years)! To celebrate this, Wageningen University is offering its alumni a programme of events throughout the year in Wageningen, the Netherlands and worldwide.


What’s next? “First of all we want to become an official association with ten to twenty enthusiastic members. And we want to organise Wageningen’s first debating tournament. I hope that in one or two years’ time we will have built up a name for ourselves so that we no longer have to explain at each tournament where we come from!”

Info: klv.nl/en (unless indicated otherwise)


What is the aim? “Most debating societies have just one aim: mastering the technique and taking part in competitions. Right now our members are also mainly focusing on acquiring basic skills by training for debating competitions. But ultimately we must do more: not just the form but also the content. That suits Wageningen. After all a lot of applied research is done here that is very relevant to society and clearly affects people. Examples are food security, sustainable energy, factory farming, or development cooperation. As Wageningen Debating we want to use our skills to provide more structure and content in the public debate. For example, by joining in specific debates that are organised by others like a recent debate about the circular economy with Louise Vet. Such a subject is not so suitable for a discussion between proponents and opponents as it is a concept you can scarcely oppose. Instead we focus on why this circular economy is difficult to get off the ground by posing questions about interests and the role of politics and by polarising things. In the future we also want to put our own subjects on the agenda, for example in collaboration with Studium Generale.”


Photo Nienke Bilo

Wageningen in the world

Coping with climate change in Bangladesh ‘With funding from Nuffic we are supporting water and environmental experts from the civil engineering university DUET in Bangladesh,’ says Catharien Terwisscha van Scheltinga, director of the Wageningen UR Project Office Dhaka. ‘Besides building up knowledge about climate change, they are also working on a cultural switch. Their students not only have to learn calculation and design skills but also the skills needed to analyse problems in the field and con-

sult local residents about them.’ To this end, Terwisscha van Scheltinga organized a mini-conference in April, with speakers including two Wageningen students, Nienke Bilo and Hein Gevers. ‘They did research in Bangladesh with alumnus and NGO director Anowar Kamal, and one of the issues they looked at was how poor women deal with flood risks (photo). They showed how they use knowledge about development problems, food security and climate change

to describe the perspective of farmers and poor women. During the discussion afterwards, I noticed that there was a lot in interest in this integral Wageningen approach.’ Besides supporting DUET university, the Project Office Dhaka is also working on several projects in the areas of water management, climate change and food security, among them an exploratory study for a delta plan in Bangladesh. Info: catharien.terwisscha@wur.nl

Profile for Wageningen University & Research

02-2013 Wageningen World (in English)  

Wageningen World is the quarterly magazine for associates and alumni of Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) and members of KLV , th...

02-2013 Wageningen World (in English)  

Wageningen World is the quarterly magazine for associates and alumni of Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) and members of KLV , th...