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wageningen world

Magazine of Wageningen UR about contributing to the quality of life

no.3 2013

Perhaps the world’s most endangered fruit Fungal diseases are wiping out the banana, page 32

You are what you host: gut flora | New hope for the redshank | Unexplored waters off Bonaire Low energy refrigeration | The effects of the new trade policy | Pasturing cows takes skill



You are what you host: gut flora There are more bacteria in our intestines than cells in the human body. They play a role in determining how slim, healthy, and resilient we are – and even how we behave.


Pasturing cows takes skill

On modern farms, putting cows out to pasture is not as simple as it looks. At grazing study days, livestock farmers gain new knowledge. A story of lazy cows, grass height meters and pasture washers.


The banana is under attack The banana is not only the most popular fruit in the world, it may also be the most endangered, due to two devastating fungal diseases. Wageningen researchers are trying to save banana cultivation.

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 Corbis 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.


Bonaire’s uncharted depths Lisa Becking and Erik Meesters of IMARES Wageningen UR explored new waters at depths of more than 300 metres off Bonaire, coming up with some surprising finds.


Freedom of trade The forthcoming changes to the EU’s trade policy could have farreaching implications for the poorest countries.


Hope for the redshank Farm-based nature is to be given another chance in contiguous areas. Professor Frank Berendse visits a successful livestock farmer in the polder.


Impact: refrigeration using less energy Shipping company Maersk is using 65 percent less energy to keep fresh produce cool, thanks to a new control system.

Features 36

15 years of Wageningen UR We have been looking back on the eventful history of Wageningen UR. Part 3 of the series deals with the merger of the university and DLO. The university was especially sceptical at first; 15 years on the directors of the time look back in satisfaction.


Life after Wageningen They came to study Crop Science because they wanted to improve crop yields. Ali Fehmi Soygeniş from Turkey became a sugar beet expert. His fellow student Felix Osae-Danso from Ghana pursued a career in logistics.


Wageningen University Fund On the tenth anniversary of the Wageningen Ambassadors, chair George Lubbe and deputy chair Mariënne Verhoef explain their motives, goals and achievements.


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 Wageningen alumni network.

Agricultural sprawl ‘Today, producing food poses the biggest threat to the planet, with problems ranging from habitat and species loss to water intake and effluent, chemical use and pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. And that is with a world population of 7 billion people. Imagine a planet in 2050 with 9 to 10 billion people, with per capita income 2.9 times what it is today and everyone consuming, on average, twice what we do today. Then imagine a planet where people’s diets have changed – they eat things they couldn’t afford in the past – more animal protein, more fruit and vegetables and more products that cannot be grown where they live. ‘In the next 40 years we will have to produce as much food as we have in the last 8000. As a result of recent economic growth – in 2010 and 2011 more than 100 countries grew at five percent or more per year – WWF has come to realize that if we don’t get where and how we produce food right, we can turn out the lights and go home. We will not be able to achieve our mission to conserve the world’s biodiversity. The biggest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services in most areas on the planet is agricultural sprawl. If we maintain the ‘business as usual’ trajectory, we will be farming most of the planet by 2050. We need to change how we think. We need to produce more with less. ‘Strategies should focus on waste, plant and animal breeding, technology, better practices, consumption, and property rights. Agriculture must become more efficient in terms of all the resources that we use – land, water, soil amendments, and pesticides. Improving efficiency is about more than just yields. But, improving efficiency increases both productivity and profitability. ‘No one individual or institution can do everything that is needed, but everyone can do something. There is no time to waste. What can you do? What can Wageningen do? Think about it.’ Jason Clay, Senior Vice President Market Transformation, WWF US. Clay was a Keynote speaker at the opening of the Academic Year of Wageningen UR on 2 September 2013





Mosquito trap with lure against malaria

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

Since the end of April this year, 50 households on the Kenyan island of Rusinga have been given an environmentally friendly mosquito trap every week. The aim of the operation is to wipe out malaria on this Lake Victoria island in four years without resorting to insecticides. The Suna trap being used contains a substance which is a natural lure. This prevents the mosquitoes from developing resistance to pesticides. Both the substance and the trap were designed by Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. The sustainable mosquito trap does require electricity, though. Because few of the homes on the island have electricity, the trap is supplied together with a solar panel and the household is provided with two lamps and a charging station for mobile phones at the same time. This gives the islanders added motivation to hang one of the traps up at their homes. Info: willemtakken@wur.nl

Wolf Plan for the Netherlands Wolves in Germany are moving steadily closer to the Dutch border. In order to be prepared for the arrival of this predator, researchers from Alterra Wageningen UR are writing a Wolf Plan at the behest of the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs, the Association of Provinces of the Netherlands (IPO) and the Fauna Fund. Events overtook them in July when a wolf was found near the Dutch village of Luttelgeest. ‘We are not used to dealing with large predators anymore in the Netherlands,’ says researcher Geert Groot Bruinderink. For this reason a key component of the Wolf Plan is providing information about human and animal safety, among other things. Info: geert.grootbruinderink@wur.nl fisheries


More fish in the North Sea

The miniscule carbon particles that end up on river and lake beds change the composition of water life. These nanoparticles may also affect the reproduction and life cycle of water creatures. This was the conclusion of PhD student Ilona Velzeboer of Wageningen University and IMARES Wageningen UR after a lengthy field experiment. Her study was published online in Environmental Science & Technology at the end of May. Info: ilona.velzeboer@wur.nl 4


Photo Hollandse Hoogte

Nanoparticles affect water creatures

Thanks to restrictions on fishing, there are more herring, sole, plaice, turbot and cod swimming in the North Sea now than in previous years. For stocks of herring and sole to be managed sustainably, catch restrictions are still needed, and there is still cause for concern about the cod. The plaice, on the other hand, is doing so well that 15 percent larger catches of this fish are being allowed. This is the advice of the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to the European Council of fisheries ministers, based on research done by institutes including IMARES Wageningen UR. Info: tammo.bult@wur.nl


food chains

wageningen ur

Curry to combat food waste

Second best agricultural university In the British QS World University Rankings, Wageningen University ranks second only to the University of California in Davis in the field of agriculture and forestry. For environmental sciences, Wageningen is in the global top ten. Besides considering peer evaluations, publications, international orientation and the student-teacher ratio, these are the only rankings in the world to take the views of employers into account. Wageningen University continues to score well nationally too. Of all Dutch students, those at Wageningen remain the most satisfied with their university. Moreover, 6 of the 26 Master’s programmes – in the fields of soil, water, environment, geo-information systems and bioinformatics – gained the status of top programme from the national student survey and the Keuzegids, a students’ guide to Master’s degree programmes. Info: Edwin.kelhout@wur.nl

Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research went into action against food waste at the end of June with the Damn Food Waste festival in Amsterdam. Five thousand people were served curry made with discarded vegetables. products that were nearing their use-by date. Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, several supermarket branches and a caterer are studying whether it would be viable to process discarded vegetables into soups and sauces on a regular basis. Getting households to keep a waste diary and giving them tips on purchasing, cooking and storage have proven to be effective ways of reducing food waste among consumers. In a trial of these methods called the Food Battle, conducted by Food & Biobased Research in four towns, even waste-conscious households threw out up to 20 percent less food. A new Food Battle is in the pipeline. Info: toine.timmermans @wur.nl

biobased products

Sufficient protein globally

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

It has been calculated that every Dutch person throws out 50 kilos of food each every year. Wageningen UR is working with parties in the production chain, civil society organizations and the general public on ways of cutting down on that food waste. Damn Food Waste is a joint initiative by FoodGuerrilla (NCDO), Wageningen UR’s Nutrition Centre, Youth Food Movement (YFM), Dutch environmental organization Natuur & Milieu and Feeding the 5000/ EU Fusions. Its mission is to urge consumers and (especially) companies and the government to take action against food waste. The Amsterdam festival curry contained vegetables that were not perfectly formed enough to go on the shelves and fresh

Proteins are essential building blocks for humans and animals and are also found in shampoos and biobased materials such as bioplastics and biocoatings. If raw materials are used efficiently, it is still possible to produce enough proteins for food and non-food applications, even for a global population of 9.3 billion people. This is the conclusion of Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research in a survey of proteins available either now or in the future, from soy and grass to algae and waste streams. This does require the right application to be found for each protein: reserving highquality proteins such as soy for food, using low-quality protein sources for animals and assigning proteins or proteincontaining mixes that cannot be used in food to technological applications. Info: wim.mulder@wur.nl Wageningenworld



agricultural economics

ESBL risk no greater in poultry regions

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

The risk of infection with ESBL bacteria is no greater for people living in areas with a large number of meat chicken farms. They are just as likely to host the bacteria, which are resistant to antibiotics, as people in areas with few meat chicken farms. These are the findings of PhD student Patricia Huijbers of Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, in an article in Clinical Microbiology and Infection. It is still unclear whether or how ESBL bacteria are transferred between humans and animals. Info patricia.huijbers@wur.nl

Benin’s rice production doubled

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

Benin’s rice production has doubled in the space of five years. This was mainly through improved market conditions and loan facilities, concludes Wageningen University doctoral student Edmond Totin. This increase means the country is almost self-sufficient in rice. At the same time, the incomes of rice farmers in the three regions Totin studied have risen by a factor of three. After the 2007 food crisis, the government changed policy from investing in production techniques to guaranteeing sales and providing good quality seed and loans. This encouraged farmers to expand production, increase the number of harvests in a year and make better agreements about the use


Field robots go into battle in Prague In late June, six Biosystems Engineering students competed successfully in the Field Robot Event in Prague with their self-built robot Bullseye. The event, which started in Wageningen in 2003, is a design competition for students interested in agriculture and technology. After a few editions, the competition became Europe-wide but it is still coordinated by Wageningen University. Robots and hi-tech solutions are becoming increasingly important for sustainable agriculture and horticulture. The expectation is also that field robots will be collaborating more in future. That is why in the competition the small autonomous vehicles have to navigate a field and tackle weeds, for instance, as well as collaborate with another robot. The Bullseye performed best in this task and finished up in second place. Info: eldert.vanhenten@wur.nl and http://youtu.be/NUfWwLcf79k 6


of irrigation water. Although this approach has been successful, Totin warns that ‘the next government could easily get rid of the grants and loans.’ He thinks a more sustainable solution would be delivery contracts with the processing industry, which local banks could use as the basis for loans to the rice farmers. Totin’s research is funded by Wageningen UR’s Convergence of Sciences programme. He will get his PhD at the end of this year. Info: edmond.totin@wur.nl


greenhouse horticulture

genetics and biodiversitY

Demo greenhouse for LED lighting

Digging for treasure in the herbarium The herbarium is once again a genuine house of treasures now that it is possible to extract genetic material from dried plants thanks to new techniques. Tomato researchers hope to find genes for disease resistance and for improved flavour and aroma in centuries-old tomato plants in the collection. At the end of 2013, Wageningen’s collection of dried plants will be moving to Leiden where it will become part of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands. Info: marc.sosef@wur.nl

A LED Innovation and Demonstration Centre (IDC LED) has been opened at Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk for research into and demonstrations of the potential of LED lighting in horticulture. Greenhouse Horticulture and Philips Horticultural Lighting have taken the initiative to establish a demonstration centre to develop applications further, show them to market gardeners and facilitate research into practical issues. Loek Hermans, the chairman of Greenport Holland, praised the initiators at the opening of the centre: ‘There are innovative developments taking place outside the sector that are worth applying in horticulture as well. The IDC LED shows how such know-how can be adapted for use in horticulture.’ The first market gardeners are already experimenting with LED lighting in their greenhouses. Info: tom.dueck@wur.nl

food security

Pact against invisible hunger

Photo Jan snel

Year-round cultivation is possible in Dutch horticulture thanks to artificial lighting. LED lamps have the advantage that they use less energy and produce less heat, which saves on cooling. Moreover, it is easier to adjust the light colour with LED lamps, which gives even more control over plant growth and development. For example, flowers turn darker with UV light than without UV light, while red light can help keep mildew in check. Varying the colour of the light also enables the study of photosynthesis. Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture has been researching the use of LED lighting in greenhouses with partners in the sector for a number of years. Now Wageningen UR

Wageningen UR is collaborating in the Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition (AIM) to combat invisible hunger in Asia and Africa caused by a shortage of micronutrients such as minerals or vitamins. This hunger causes infant deaths and diseases. The initiative’s research activities include supporting a Dutch company that is breeding locally adapted vegetable varieties, looking for a way to dry vegetables so they can be kept longer, and helping local vegetable growers to sell their produce to supermarkets. Info: inge.brouwer@wur.nl Wageningenworld


entomologY and food security 1.04cm spine for 208pg on 90g eco paper

ISSN 0258-6150





Edible insects

Edible insects Future prospects for food and feed security

Future prospects for food and feed security

Edible insects have always been a part of human diets, and disgust for their consumption. Although the majority of consumed insects are gathered in forest habitats, mass-rearing systems are being developed in many countries. Insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science to improve human food security worldwide. This publication describes the contribution of insects to food security and examines future prospects for raising insects at a commercial scale to improve food and feed

Photo Hollandse Hoogte

production, diversify diets, and support livelihoods in both developing and developed countries. It shows the many traditional and potential new uses of insects for direct human consumption and the opportunities for and constraints to farming them for food and feed. It examines the body of research on issues such as insect nutrition and food safety, the use of insects as animal feed, and the processing and preservation of insects and their products. It highlights the need to develop a regulatory framework to govern the use of insects for food security. And it presents

Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security

but in some societies there remains a degree of disdain

case studies and examples from around the world. Edible insects are a promising alternative to the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use as feedstock. To fully realize this potential, much work needs to be done by a wide range of stakeholders. This publication will boost awareness of the many valuable roles that insects play in sustaining nature and human life, and it will stimulate debate on the expansion of the use of insects as food and feed.

ISBN 978-92-5-107595-1 ISSN 0258-6150

7 8 9 2 5 1

0 7 5 9 5 1 I3253E/1/04.13



Edible Insects book flavour of the month Interest in eating insects is growing around the world. A book on the subject by entomologist Arnold van Huis and the FAO has been downloaded ten million times in the space of a few months.

Western countries. At least 1900 insect species are edible and they are also nutritious, healthy and rich in protein. In comparison with cows and pigs, they need less feed per kilo of meat and they emit fewer greenhouse gases. Eating insects also entails less risk of animal diseases being transferred to humans. This is why large-scale insect breeding is being looked at as an option for feeding the growing global population sustainably. But there is a lot of groundwork to be done first, says entomologist Van Huis. In the areas of automated breeding methods, for instance, the processing and preserving of insect products, and rules and regulations on food safety. To demonstrate the leading role the Netherlands has in the cultivation of insects

In the book Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security, Van Huis, professor at the Laboratory of Entomology at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, and his co-authors discuss the breeding and consumption of insects as food and as feed for fish and livestock. A good two billion people around the world eat insects on a regular basis (mainly beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants), but not in wageningen ur


University wins sustainability prize



Soil processes in a new light The Netherlands Centre for Luminescence Dating opened on the Wageningen campus at the end of April. The Delft laboratory moved to Wageningen with Jacob Wallinga, professor of Soil Geography and Landscape.

PHoto guy ackermans

The sustainability policy of Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, has come out as the best one at a Dutch higher education institution. This conclusion was drawn by the student lobby group Morgen and the Rank a Brand organization, which therefore bestowed the SustainaBul award on the University in June. The University scored especially well on purchasing policy, buildings and the commitment of staff and students. Room for improvement was noted in the areas of water consumption, waste disposal and sustainable eating habits. Info: fennet.vandewetering@wur.nl

and their incorporation in food and feed, the Dutch ambassador in Washington invited Marcel Dicke, also a professor at the Laboratory of Entomology, over in June to give a talk on the usefulness and necessity of eating insects. Last year, Dicke wrote Het Insectenkookboek (the insect cookbook) together with Van Huis and chef Henk van Gurp. An English translation will be appearing in early 2014. Dicke attracted considerable media interest as he worked in the embassy kitchen preparing insect snacks with two American colleagues. In May 2014, the FAO will be organizing the Insects to Feed the World conference jointly with Wageningen UR. Info: arnold.vanhuis@wur.nl

Luminescence dating is used in archaeological and earth science research. The technique makes use of the fact that some minerals – quartz and feldspar – emit weak light signals in sand under the influence of light. The strength of these emissions, known as luminescence, is related to how long the minerals have spent in the soil. That is why the lab research has to be carried out in a darkroom setup. The technique lets scientists ‘look back in time’ for periods ranging from decades to hundreds of thousands of years, enabling them to determine how the landscape has changed over time. Info: jakob.wallinga@wur.nl


behavioural biology


Great tit research helps chickens Research is being carried out at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, on the social behaviour of animals in the wild. This knowledge may enable improvements to the welfare of animals in livestock farming. There is a great tit population flying around with mini-transmitters in a kind of Big Brother wood near Arnhem. Receiver stations record their song and behaviour, where they live, their flight routes and their interaction with other great tits. The idea is that that this should provide new insights into the great tit’s neighbours, their influence on its behaviour and the importance of song in relation to its personality and social contacts. ‘The fundamental knowledge acquired from studies in the wild can be used in research into the welfare of livestock animals,’ says professor Marc Naguib, who gave his inaugural lecture as professor of Behavioural Ecology at Wageningen University earlier this year. As an example, chickens are now also being fitted with

mini-transmitters to get more information about their social behaviour in the hope that this will give hints on how to avoid feather picking and cannibalism. Animals too have individual personalities, which affect how the animal copes socially and consequently affect its welfare, argues Naguib. Information about their personalities also gives a better understanding of how character can be influenced. Studies of birds show that their early development and puberty are key periods. Chicken researcher Bas Rodenburg of the Behavioural Ecology science group found that chicks that grow up with a mother hen under which they can seek shelter behave differently later on to chicks that grow up without a mother. Info marc.naguib@wur.nl

Oats really are gluten free People with gluten intolerance may safely eat oats. It is not the oats themselves that cause the immune system of coeliac patients to react to this grain but contamination of the oats with barley, rye or corn. Gluten from wheat, barley and rye causes chronic inflammation of the small intestine in one to three people in a hundred, resulting in an excessively low uptake of nutrients. Studies of a series of oat varieties show that oats genuinely do not contain gluten proteins, according to a paper in the July issue of Journal of Cereal Science by researchers at Wageningen UR, the Allergy Consortium Wageningen and a Russian colleague. To prevent contamination by other cereals, Wageningen UR researchers have helped develop a supply chain for oats that is guaranteed glutew n free. This supply chain has already resulted in gluten-free breakfast products and oatmeal bread. The scientists are now focusing on better oat varieties for bread. Info: luud.gilissen@wur.nl food chemistry

Organic coffee has its own aroma RIKILT Wageningen UR has demonstrated that coffee aromas are a kind of individual fingerprint. Analysis of the volatile components of 110 brands of ground coffee shows that organic coffees all have a similar aroma pattern, one that differs significantly from that of regular coffee. If this database were to be extended, the aroma method could be used as a test to prevent fraud with organic coffee brands. Info saskia.vanruth@wur.nl Wageningenworld



You are what you host: your gut flora There are more bacteria in our intestines than cells in the human body. They play a role in determining how slim, healthy and resilient we are – and even how we behave. This holds great potential for medical science, says Professor Willem de Vos. ‘A microbiological approach can sometimes work better than medicine.’ Text Nienke Beintema IllustrationS Jenny van Driel


hysiologically speaking, birth is one of the most abrupt events of your life. From a completely sterile, protective environment, you are suddenly thrown into a cold world bursting with bacteria. The switch to pulmonary respiration comes as quite a shock, but there is another change afoot that is at least as significant. Within minutes the first bacteria start to enter the body. Certain species nestle in the intestines where they start a process that will last for months, maybe years: the development of your own unique gut flora – nowadays known among the experts as gut microbiota. It is a veritable ecosystem in there

with different species of bacteria fighting, competing, or even helping each other, and between them producing an assortment of chemical substances. ‘The influence this process has on the host is far greater than anyone could have imagined,’ says Jan Knol, director of Gut Biology and Microbiology at Danone Research. In April 2012 he was made professor (by special appointment) of the Intestinal Microbiology of Early Life in the Microbiology chair group at Wageningen University. He gave his inaugural lecture on 30 May. ‘The gut microbiota help us to digest food and resist diseases,’ Knol

explains, ‘but in recent years it has become clear that their influence stretches far further. Intestinal bacteria turn out to play a role in conditions such as allergies and asthma, as well as diabetes and obesity. There are even indications that they influence our behaviour.’ The complexity of our intestinal ecosystem beggars belief. Each of us is carrying around at least 100 quintillion bacteria in our intestines. Ten times as many as the total number of cells in our body. About one thousand different types have been recorded so far, and the average person’s gut contains roughly a hundred of >



‘Intestinal bacteria have a far greater influence than anyone could ever have imagined’

them. Together, these bacteria weigh about one and a half kilos and contain 150 times more genes than we do. Scientists are hard at work trying to map this so-called ‘meta genome’. As a result, more and more is becoming known about this dynamic system. ‘The Wageningen Microbiology chair group has been a world leader in the field of gut microbiota for years,’ claims Knol, whose chair is funded by his employer. ‘At Danone we apply that knowledge in order to develop baby and medical foods. So for me this is the perfect collaboration.’ Fat because of bacteria The Microbiology research group has a long tradition of researching gut intestinal bacteria. Some of the most remarkable discoveries in the field in recent years have been made in the Wageningen lab, which is led by Professor Willem de Vos. ‘In early 2011, for instance, our article on enterotypes was published in the journal Nature,’ says de Vos. ‘Enterotypes are the three main groups into which we classify gut microbiota. Every human has a specific combination of bacteria, but we can identify three general categories. Apparently our intestines can only support a limited number of stable ecosystems.’ Further research revealed the existence of certain sub-enterotypes, and showed that some of these correlate with a heightened risk of diseases of affluence such as obesity and diabetes. The next question, of course, is which is the cause and which the result. After all, the host’s state of health could be causing certain microbiota to appear in the gut. Or a person’s health and the composition of their intestinal bacteria could be influenced by the same underlying factor. De Vos: ‘But by now we know from research



on mice that the gut microbiota certainly can be the cause of certain diseases. If you feed sterile mice, which have no intestinal bacteria of their own, the microbiota of a fat mouse they gain more weight than if you give them bacteria from a thin mouse.’ Flushing with faeces These findings were published in Nature by American colleagues in 2006, but De Vos and his colleagues, including some at the Amsterdam Medical Centre (AMC) have since convincingly proven that the same principle applies to humans. In January of this year, they published their findings in the influential New England Journal of Medicine. Some people suffer from chronic bowel infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile, the professor explains. They are often elderly, or suffer from a weakened immune system. Such infections are accompanied by severe stomach pain and bloody diarrhoea, and in some cases they can even be fatal. The standard treatment is successive courses of antibiotics. ‘We looked into what happened if, instead, you first cleanse the intestines and then flush them with diluted faeces from a healthy donor,’ says De Vos. ‘The patient essentially receives new intestinal bacteria. Of the people who received this treatment, 95 percent were cured, while only 30 percent of those in the antibiotics group recovered. The difference was so great that the medical ethics committee stopped the experiment prematurely because it was deemed unethical to deny the control group a faecal transplant.’ Together with their AMC colleagues, the Wageningen researchers carried out a similar experiment with people suffering from metabolic syndrome: a combination

of obesity, high blood pressure, and heightened cholesterol levels. These people are less sensitive to insulin, which often leads to their developing diabetes. ‘If you give these people a stool transplant using the intestinal bacteria of a slim donor,’ says De Vos, ‘their sensitivity to insulin returns to normal levels. Of course, this is a fantastic discovery. Such cases show that a microbiological approach can sometimes work better than medicine.’ The microbiologists now want to further explore these results. For instance, they want to know exactly which bacteria are responsible for the efficacy of such treatments, how you can optimize the treatment, and whether it can be used to combat other diseases. ‘We mustn’t over-interpret this,’ De Vos warns. ‘I’m not saying that it will help cure every disease. But it is clear that gut microbiota influence our health in all sorts of ways.’ Bacteria in breast milk The ‘transplant experiments’ in Wageningen are shedding more and more light on the functions of gut flora amongst adults, but very little is known about the intestinal bacteria of babies and small children, says professor by special appointment Jan Knol. ‘For instance, we don’t yet know how exactly the intestines are colonized. One thing we do know is that newborn babies pick up a lot of their mothers’ bacteria during birth,’ he explains. ‘In the last few years we have discovered that bacteria in breast milk also play a role, but we don’t yet know quite how they end up there.’ It is clear, though, that the events of this early stage of life have a long-term influence: ‘The symbiosis with the intestinal bacteria develops in the first few months of life. The


INTESTINAL BACTERIA AS AN ECOSYSTEM Human intestinal bacteria form an extensive, complex and dynamic ecosystem made up of a selection of the c. 1000 identified species, with a different mix of species for every individual. Number of bacteria in intestines: 100 quintillion (for comparison: there are 10 quintillion cells in the human body)

Number of species of bacteria in the human intestines: c. 100 species

The composition of the gut flora varies from person to person, but can be divided into a few main types with specific characteristics.

This is a sample of the c. 1000 identified species

Together, these intestinal bacteria weigh 1,5 kilos

The ‘metagenome’ of the intestinal bacteria contains 150x more different genes than the human genome.

immune system needs to mature and we now know that the gut microbiota play an important role in that process.’ It makes a difference, the professor explains, whether babies are born naturally or by Caesarean. Only in the former case does the baby come into immediate contact with the mother’s gut and vaginal bacteria, which, it is now clear, are beneficial to the baby. In the case of a Caesarean section, other bacteria are first to reach the baby’s stomach, including potentially damaging bacteria from the hospital environment. In any case, babies born by C-section tend to have a different set of intestinal bacteria in their first few months than babies who have a natural birth. ‘We don’t yet know what the consequences might be for the immune system, the metabolism, and even the brain,’ says Knol. ‘That’s the kind of thing we want to research.’ The percentage of Caesarean sections is on the rise worldwide, he says. ‘In some countries it is over 50 percent. Besides, antibiotics are increasingly being given to children in their first year. We know that antibiotics can cause long term disturbances of gut microbiota amongst adults, but we don’t yet know their influence on the colonization of the intestines during the first year of life. That’s another thing we want to research in Wageningen.’ Treatment of babies Knol has no trouble naming a number of potential applications for such knowledge. For instance, medical baby food containing proteins that are beneficial for certain types of intestinal bacteria. Perhaps even procedures for administering certain bacteria directly to babies’ intestines. Very positive results have already been >



RESTORING HEALTH WITH NEW GUT BACTERIA The composition of the intestinal ecosystem, made up of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria which collaborate or compete with each other, appears to have an impact on human health, weight and even behaviour. These aspects can be influenced by adjusting the gut bacteria using a faecal transplant.

Replacing gut bacteria

Recovery from Clostridium difficile intestinal infection

Restoration of insulin sensitivity

Less anxious

Following treatment with antibiotics 30% recovery.

People with a reduced sensitivity to insulin suffer from overweight, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels.

Mice that do not dare cross a bridge will do so after a transplant of intestinal bacteria from bold mice.

Following transplant of intestinal bacteria from healthy person 95% recovery.



Following transplant of intestinal bacteria from slim donor, insulin sensitivity returns to normal.

achieved by adding so-called prebiotic fibre to baby formula, according to Knol. This is dietary fibre such as oligosaccharide, which stimulates the growth of certain types of ‘good’ intestinal bacteria. ‘But if we want to develop a medical application, we first need to understand how the development of gut microbiota progresses in healthy babies,’ he adds. ‘To achieve this, we want to do research into the differences in intestinal bacteria between healthy babies and, for example, premature babies, babies with infantile colic, and babies with allergies or metabolic disorders. We want to track groups of children over several years in order to see whether the ones who develop obesity already have different microbiota in the first weeks of their life. I suspect they do. I expect to find that there’s a window of time within which your intestinal bacteria start to develop in a positive – or less positive – direction.’ Knol emphasizes that he doesn’t just want to describe how the intestinal bacteria differ between those different groups of children. He wants to research how and why certain bacteria have an effect on our health. ‘Which metabolic transformations do these bacteria facilitate?’ he wonders. ‘Which molecules do they have on their surface, and how do they communicate with the host’s immune system? We want to understand these systems at the level of molecules and the transmission of signals. Only once you have that knowledge can you start to look into potential applications.’ Mice less timid Willem de Vos too would like to understand these underlying mechanisms. He works on them not only in Wageningen but also in Helsinki, where he leads another research


‘How is it possible for these bacteria to influence our behaviour?’

team. ‘To me, one of the most intriguing questions is: how is it possible that these bacteria influence our behaviour?’ Very interesting experiments have been carried out, he says, in which researchers were able to change the behaviour of mice by giving them different gut microbiota. For example, mice that were initially too scared to cross a bridge across a bowl of water were willing to cross the water after receiving a faecal transplant containing bacteria from ‘brave’ mice. And mice that were administered certain probiotic bacteria became less sensitive to fear and depression. How it is possible for the intestines to influence the brain has not yet been clarified. It is clear, however, that the vagus nerve, a long nerve which extends from the brain into the entire body in-

cluding the intestine, plays a role. ‘So there is a concrete brain-gut-axis,’ says De Vos, ‘but how bacteria are able to send signals to the nerve ends is still a mystery.’ Communication mystery A recent discovery has brought us one step closer to a solution to this ‘communication mystery’. De Vos and his colleagues were the first to notice that the lactic acid bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus has small protrusions on its surface with which it can latch on to things – the intestinal wall, for instance. ‘These protrusions consist of chains of proteins,’ explains De Vos, ‘including a special mucus-binding protein with which the bacteria can latch on to our intestinal wall very firmly. In the lab we saw

that these protrusions are able to interact with the receptors on the outside of the intestinal wall cells which play a role in the immune system. In this way it’s possible to imagine them influencing certain immune reactions.’ The outside world often wants to know immediately when this research is going to lead to treatments, according to De Vos. ‘But that’s still a long way off,’ he says. ‘We scientists are already very happy with the progress we’ve made so far, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. We are now targeting a couple of beneficial bacteria, such as Akkermansia, but there are still hundreds that we’ve never looked at.’ W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/obesity

Roughly half of all intestinal bacteria live off the food in the intestines. The other half eat the mucus that is produced by the intestinal walls. One of these is Akkermansia muciniphila, a bacterium that was discovered ten years ago in Wageningen. It was named after Anton Akkermans, former leader of the Molecular Ecology team in Willem de Vos’s Microbiology chair group. ‘This bacterium is a very dominant presence,’ says De Vos. ‘It covers the intestinal wall and produces certain fatty acids which benefit us as well as other bacteria.’ Akkermansia soon proved to be something of a wonder bacterium. It is more prevalent in the intestines of slim people than in those of overweight people. Animal experiments proved that this was a causal relationship. If you feed mice a fat-rich diet they get fat and develop all sorts of infections in their intestines. If you feed them Akkermansia bacteria along with the fatty diet, they become less fat than the mice on just the high-fat diet and their blood shows fewer indicators of infection. Their intestinal wall also functions as a better barrier, which is beneficial for the immune system. ‘These mice stayed healthy despite their fatty diet,’ summarizes De Vos. ‘It’s almost like magic.’

PHoto Muriel Derrien

THE magic bacterium AKKERMANSIA



Down to uncharted depths

‘Very little is known about the coral reef below 50 metres’ Erik Meesters and Lisa Becking in the submarine off Bonaire.

marine ecologY

An underwater expedition to more than 300 metres deep in unexplored waters around the island of Bonaire produced information about biodiversity in the Dutch Caribbean: a new shrimp, unknown sponges and a strange carpet of cyanobacteria. Not a comfortable experience though. ‘You lie side by side on your stomachs for six hours, staring out.’ Text Rik Nijland PhotograPhy Barry brown


ctually, Lisa Becking and Erik Meesters are still exploring the ocean around Bonaire, only now they are doing it on their computer screens at IMARES Wageningen UR. ‘Just look at all these little worms. There is a sponge and that transparent thing is a sea squirt’, says Meesters, pointing at his laptop. ‘But what is that over there? Is it a brittle star? What do you think?’ ‘We are continuously noticing new details on the photos and videos,’ explains Becking. ‘In the sub you don’t always know exactly what to look out for.’ Last spring the tropical marine ecologists of IMARES were given a unique opportunity to explore the coral reef at Bonaire by submarine, going deeper than they normally go as experienced divers. The idea of these excursions to more than 300 metres under the sea came from the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs, which is responsible for Dutch nature areas, including those off Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. ‘The Netherlands has signed treaties on the conservation of biodiversity. One of the consequences of that is that you should find out what kinds of organisms live there. Very little is known about the deep reef, below 50 metres,’ says Meesters. The first explorations were possible because one of the world’s few research submarines is stationed on Curacao. Because the owner, businessman Adriaan ‘Dutch’ Schrier, is crazy about underwater life, he financed the transfer of the vessel to Bonaire, and the ministry of Economic Affairs funded the diving. dripping The researchers were not scared in the submarine but Becking does have vivid memories of the discomforts of life on board. In shallow waters it was stiflingly hot, and the deeper it went the colder it became, with condensation starting to drip from the steel walls. ‘And you lie side by side on your stomachs for six hours, staring through the porthole. It’s tough. You can’t just

nip out for a pee either.’ There was very little room for manoeuvre, adds Meesters. ‘It is a mini-sub: there were the two of us, the pilot, the technician and a passenger, all on a surface area not much bigger than this desk.’ The deeper they went down the reef, the thinner the coral became, for lack of light. They came to a sandy patch broken up by bits of old reef from periods when the sea level was much lower. These formed a kind of oasis full of life. There was a surprise to come though. ‘On all three of the dives we ran into a zone at a depth of 50 to 100 metres where the seabed is covered with a layer of cyanobacteria. We are familiar with these from the coral reef, where they are a sign of disturbance, but this might be their proper place in the system,’ says Meesters. The submarine is equipped with two strong lamps and the equipment needed for taking samples: a gripper, a net to collect the booty in, a chisel to work stubborn sponges loose and two tubes – one for giving a fish a small dose of poison and another for vacuuming up the drugged victim. The researchers brought about 80 finds to the surface, including about 50 sponges and a shrimp that clung for dear life to its ‘own’ sponge. A new species, revealed research at Naturalis natural history museum in Leiden, where most of the identification is done. Science has probably gained a couple of new species of sponge from the exercise, not to mention a possible stream of new micro-organisms that live symbiotically on the sponges. These results provide no more than a first impression of the biodiversity in these waters, the researchers stress. ‘We would love, for instance, to take a look to the north of the island as well. The slope is steeper there and probably even more interesting, but we need a sponsor before we can investigate that. W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/dutchantilles



Pasturing cows takes skill On modern farms, putting cows out to pasture is not as simple as it looks. At grazing study days, livestock farmers gain new knowledge. A story of lazy cows, grass height meters and pasture washers. TeXT & PHotograPHY Hans Wolkers


hich plot of grass would you graze your cows on?’ asks Bert Philipsen, researcher at Wageningen UR Livestock Research. He points to two rectangular areas of grass. A group of dairy farmers are listening attentively. They are at a grazing study day at the Dairy Campus in Leeuwarden, the dairy farming innovation centre in which Wageningen UR is one of the participants. The grass on one of the plots is 20 centime-



tres high whereas the grass on the other plot is only half that high. ‘I think that tall grass is fine,’ says one farmer. ‘But it has become overgrown,’ says another, ‘and that means its feed value is less.’ A third farmer adds, ‘I would give my cows a bit of maize as an extra if I was grazing them here.’ A lively discussion develops, with Philipsen asking the occasional challenging question to set the group thinking. It is not easy for farmers to put cows out to

pasture, mainly because farms have more livestock and less space for grazing close to the barn. The use of automatic milking systems also necessitates a different approach to grazing. This is why a growing number of farmers are keeping their cows indoors all year round: the proportion has grown from 10 to 30 per cent in the space of 10 years. But consumers prefer their milk to come from cows that graze in fields rather than cows kept in barns. Dairy companies


Bert Philipsen and participants in the grazing study days assess the quality of the grass.

are responding with ads showing cows grazing in typical Dutch countryside and by encouraging farmers to put their cows out to pasture. Dairy farmers themselves also think grazing in fields is ‘healthy for the cow’ and ‘more natural’. And if done properly, it is also cheaper than keeping cows in barns. From the environmental perspective there are both positive and negative effects from grazing, explains Philipsen. ‘On the one hand, having cows graze outside re-

duces ammonia emissions as the urine doesn’t come into contact with the cow pats. But on the other hand, the nutrients are more likely to wash away into the groundwater. There was quite a debate about this for a number of years. The decision whether to keep your cows in a field or a barn is primarily the personal choice of the dairy farmer, based on commercial and physical labour considerations as well as social and personal values. Our current ed-

ucational programmes are mainly aimed at supporting farmers who decide to put their cows out to pasture.’ Lazy cows Researchers at Wageningen UR do a lot of research on the relationship between grassland, farming practices and milk quality. They then pass their knowledge on to dairy farmers, for example during the grazing study days. During the excursions, farmers >



Bert Philipsen and participants in the grazing study days study the quality of the grass.

get practical lessons in how to deal with lazy cows, how best to manage the grassland and how to deal with the weather. ‘We want to help farmers improve their grazing knowhow and skills so they can get more out of their grassland,’ explains grazing expert Philipsen. Farmers often stick to fixed patterns of behaviour without realizing it and have insufficient expertise. Philipsen is convinced they are not getting the most out of their grassland as a result. He thinks there would be big potential gains if farmers knew more about grass and about cows. ‘There has been too little research and not enough effort put into spreading knowledge, resulting in a lack of innovation in grazing practices.’ Wageningen UR heads the Dynamic Grazing network; along with a large number of partners, it has started up educational activities that now take place six times a year. They include the grazing study days and practical training in grazing, mainly at the Dairy Campus or the Zegveld and De Marke experimental farms. A significant disadvantage to grazing for livestock farmers is that they have less control over feed intake. When



cows are kept in barns, farmers know exactly what they are eating: grass silage, maize and concentrates of known quality. That gives a sense of security. When cows graze outdoors, unpredictable factors such as the weather affect the quality and quantity of the grass. If the grass is poor, cows eat less of it and milk production falls. Even tasty grass can become less appealing after a period of bad weather. ‘If farmers then start giving the animals extra food, you get lazy cows,’ says Philipsen. ‘Cows that stand next to the fence, can’t be bothered to graze and complain until they get a convenient feed snack.’ Standing water The farmers are also taught that good grassland management starts early in the year when they need to assess the winter damage caused by moles or standing water in the field, for instance. That damage has a big influence on the quality and quantity of grass later in the year. Early spring is the time for plans and decisions. When can the cows go outside? Which fields should I mow and which should I leave as pasture? How much fertilizer should I apply and where?

In the summer they need to know about grass varieties and growth stages to decide whether the grass is ‘good’. For example, grass that is flowering tastes poorer and is more difficult to digest. Too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold: a skilled farmer needs to take all these factors into account. Autumn is a tricky period for livestock farmers; the cows don’t find the grass so tasty and its nutritional value decreases. In addition, there is also often a lot of manure on the land after a season of grazing, which also stops the cows eating as much. The farmer has to provide extra food now, but not too much. He has to find the right balance, without spoiling the cows. Grazing requires knowledge not just of grassland but also of bovine behaviour. ‘Cows have autistic tendencies,’ says Philipsen. ‘They prefer regular patterns and routine, so livestock farmers need to take advantage of that.’ If farmers combine grazing with an automatic milking system, they need to direct the cows in such a way that they go out to graze of their own accord and still return for milking. For instance, a farmer can have a strip of fresh grass available every


‘We want to help farmers get more out of their grassland’ morning to tempt the animals outside. When this has been eaten, the cows can be taught that they can only find a new strip by going via the milking robot. It is important for the cows to graze as much as possible because every mouthful of the relatively cheap fresh grass means more revenue, by reducing the need for extra, relatively expensive feed. Grass height meter As farms have become more intensive and larger in scale, more cows have to graze on the same area of pasture and so innovation has become essential for good grassland management. This requires a solid scientific basis. That is why Wageningen UR wants to focus more over the next few years on fundamental questions relating to grazing. How does grass grow? How do cows graze and what is the interaction between grass and cow? These results will form the basis for new grazing practices. At the same time, in the Amazing Grace project, Wageningen UR is focusing on developing and applying new techniques. For instance, a grass height meter tells you how much grass there is in a field, helping the farmer decide whether it would be better to mow the field or use it as pasture. Regular measurements also give information on how much grass the cows are consuming. Livestock farmers can use that information to determine how much extra feed to give. Another novelty is the ‘pasture washer’. This piece of equipment is under development and should in future be able to spread or wash away the cow pats in a field. This will increase grass yields and make the field more attractive again for grazing cows.

After a programme full of theoretical and practical lessons, the grazing study day finishes with a Farm Walk. ‘Farmers should do a tour of their farm once a week to assess the state of their fields,’ explains Philipsen. ‘What do I see, what are the measurements and what should I do?’ The group walks through a field where the grass has been cut. ‘What do you see?’ asks Philipsen. He points to the clipped grass. ‘A tough bit of turf,’ says one farmer. With some difficulty, Philipsen digs up a robust clump of grass. ‘This is English ryegrass. For good grassland, you need more than three quarters of the grass to be of this variety,’ he says. ‘It has tough roots and a purplish lower stalk.’

Philipsen is convinced that farmers who do the Farm Walk will become more aware and better at managing their grassland, with more efficient grazing as a result. Costs will fall and consumers will be pleased as they will be getting milk from cows put out to pasture. Course participant Van Essen from Marssum says he has learnt some ‘very useful’ things. He has changed the way he grazes his cows. ‘I always pick up things about grass and how it grows during the grazing study days,’ he says. ‘Now I don’t let my cows graze as long in one field; I move them around more so that the grass remains tasty and nutritional for longer.’ W Info: www.amazinggrazing.eu/en


90% 10%

Non-grazing dairy cows

2001 2011

70% 30%

According to farm size Number of dairy cows

< 40 160 > Source: CBS

Grazing dairy cows


93% 7%

Non-grazing dairy cows

42% 58%



eu trade policy affects vulnerable countries

Freedom of Trade

The forthcoming changes to the European Union’s trade policy could have far-reaching consequences for the very poorest countries, which will now be required to open their borders to products from the EU. ‘The EU should make sure the economies of these countries are not disrupted.’


Text René Didde Illustration Rhonald Blommestijn

fter ten years of negotiations, the overhauled European Union Trade Policy comes into force on 1 January 2014. Following instructions from the World Trade Organization (WTO) the EU will from now on be aiming at a globally operating market with as few protectionist measures as possible. But the WTO also stipulates that world trade should not hamper the economies of developing countries. Several developing countries will lose their current advantage on the European market, says development economist Siemen van Berkum of LEI Wageningen UR in The Hague. He explains the trade policy, which is incomprehensible to the uninitiated. ‘Normally countries pay import duty to the tune of, let’s say, 10 percent in order to be allowed to import their goods into the EU. The ‘general system of preferences’ (GSP) gives developing countries a discount on this, so they only have to pay, say, 5 percent import duty.’



On top of this, countries which can prove that they have paid extra attention to human rights, labour relations or environmental protection gain an additional advantage. Van Berkum: ‘These GSP+ countries, as they are called, pay only 2.5 percent import duty.’ He hastens to add that these percentages are pure fabrications and that the real figures also vary from product to product. Not to mention the inevitable long list of exceptions. ‘Bananas from Cuba, for instance, come under the 2.5 percent rate, but cane sugar doesn’t because that is a sensitive and strategic agricultural product for the EU.’ No arms Then there are the world’s poorest countries to consider. There are 49 of these ‘EBA countries’. ‘They pay zero percent import duty and there are no financial restrictions on their sales of goods – with the exception >

economics and policy

of arms – on the European market,’ explains Van Berkum. The lists of countries in all these categories are being pruned. Countries such as Russia, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and oil states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Brunei, have developing country status and come under the GSP ruling. ‘The EU is now saying – not without justification – that in 2013 these countries are fully-fledged players on the world market. In the interests of a level playing field, they should pay EU import duty in full from now on.’ Other adjustments are of a more bureaucratic nature. Some countries such as Nicaragua come under more than one category. Nicaragua is an EBA country, paying zero percent duty, but the EU has also made a free trade agreement with it, says Van Berkum. This kind of duplication is going to be eliminated. ‘That is also going to happen for the ‘overseas territories’ of EU countries such as France (with a whole bunch of islands such as Martinique), UK (Gibraltar) or the Netherlands (the former Dutch Antilles), which already have access to the EU anyway through their ‘mother country’.’ Opening up borders The rationalizing of lists and elimination of duplicate privileges is more than just a logical update to keep up with the times. There is a catch to it, says LEI expert Van Berkum. The EU has proposed to the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries that they need not pay duty anymore, but in exchange for this they are expected to stop charging duty on EU products crossing their borders too. ‘A lot of the poor countries were former colonies of an EU member state and were therefore already in the zero percent category,’ says Van Berkum. So as far as exports are concerned, these countries do not stand to gain anything from the proposal, as they already had access to Europe, while now they have to open their borders to super-efficiently produced goods from Europe without gaining anything in import duty.’ For consumers in most of these ACP countries, such as Surinam, the new measure will probably not work out too badly at first, Van Berkum thinks. ‘After all, there will be more choice on the market, including new products. The increase in competition with local products will probably lead to lower prices and better quality.’ However, Van Berkum hastens to add that the new regulations pose great dangers as well. ‘Local producers



might as well give up in the face of their European competitors, who are much better equipped. Take frozen meat products such as chicken, for example, long-life dairy products or milk powder, and even non-perishable consumer goods such as coffee cups, plastic crates or matches. All in all, the economies of these already vulnerable countries could be seriously disrupted.’ Technical aid The LEI economist advises the EU to keep a close eye on how this pans out. ‘The EU announced that the introduction of the new trade policy would be combined with technical aid to help the countries make production more efficient.’ But he wonders whether this will be enough. ‘Something else the EU could do would be to make investment loans available so that countries can make big technical advances. Or they could help improve the provision of technical and ag-

economics and policy

‘The EU wants developing countries to open up their borders’

ricultural education.’ It is even more important, in Van Berkum’s view, to put these countries in a position to start exporting too. ‘In view of their zero rating for EU duties they ought to be capable of that already. However there are plenty of other rules and regulations besides the duties. An example would be the stipulation that tomatoes exported to the EU are not allowed to contain certain pesticides, while meat is not allowed to have been treated with certain hormones or antibiotics. Then there are rules about not infringing human rights and about minimum requirements for labour conditions. In themselves these are all highly praiseworthy goals but they do stand in the way of developing countries seeking access to the European market. Europe should help these countries to meet these standards.’ Frozen drumsticks Political scientist Bertram Zagema at Oxfam Novib is following the EU trade policy from a distance. ‘The new policy could certainly have a disruptive effect,’ he says in support of Van Berkum’s argument. ‘One of the things you see is that frozen drumsticks and chicken wings from Europe are going to Africa for next to nothing. A European trader can make a bit from them and in Africa a distribution network grows up around the importer. That has advantages for the importer but local chicken producers will suffer as a result.’ The worst of it is, says Zagema, that the local producers cannot appeal to their government to protect local production with import duties, since it has signed a trade agreement with Europe. Zagema points out two more significant disadvantages. ‘If the EU gets duty free access to African markets, for instance, then those countries no longer get import duty revenues from EU exporters. And there goes a major

source of income for the country. What is more, Zagema predicts that the new trade policy will create tensions between countries, especially in Africa. Economically more powerful countries such as Kenya stand to gain from a new treaty because they will no longer have to pay EU import duties. But Kenya’s weaker neighbours, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, were already able to export their goods duty-free under the EBA and have nothing to gain from a new treaty. The consequences of this should not be underestimated, says Zagema. ‘It has always been an aim of the EU and indeed of the WTO to stimulate budding regional collaboration, which helps strengthen the economies of developing countries. At the same time this ambition is undermined by the access European countries are gaining to that market and the regional tensions this creates.’ The admission of EU goods to our markets has already been a bone of contention between the EU and our countries for ten years, sighs Josephine Latu-Sanft, spokesperson for the secretariat of the ACP countries in Brussels. ‘The main point is that we want trade with the EU to be good for the economic development of the poorest countries and not to harm the economy and turn us into a branch of the rich countries,’ says Latu-Sanft. She too subscribes to Zagema’s view that regional bottlenecks and tensions could arise in Africa. ‘The EU negotiates with seven different blocs of ACP countries. Few countries are in favour of it. Some are considering interim agreements and most are dead against it.’ Latu-Sanft shares the fear that many countries will lose an important source of income through the loss of import duties. ‘In some cases we are talking about 40 percent of all government revenues.’ W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/cap



Agricultural nature management on a large scale

Hope for the redshank 26


nature management

State secretary Dijksma has announced a major reform of agricultural nature management which provides for new opportunities for nature on the farm – in large, contiguous areas. Professor Frank Berendse, one of the founding fathers of the new policy, pays a visit to a successful livestock farmer in the Arkemheen polder. ‘This gives me a good feeling’. Text RENÉ DIDDE PhotograPhy Marcel van den Bergh


ook, you can still see the bits of eggshell. It’s very satisfying to see that a nest has hatched.’ Dairy farmer Kees van ’t Klooster enthusiastically points out an empty godwit nest marked by simple steel railings. A month ago, Van ’t Klooster placed protection around the meadow-bird nests on his land. He found the nests by spending hours observing the birds’ behaviour from his tractor. ‘Some farmers and volunteers from the agricultural nature management society like to ramble through the fields but I’d rather use the tractor as a birdwatching hide. Then I can monitor four different fields at once and after a few hours I can fence off several nests.’ The nest protection not only enables the person operating the mower to avoid the nests of vulnerable meadow birds, it also ensures grazing cows keep out of their way. Only frisky young cattle such as heifers will occasionally investigate a field bird nest, curious to see the source of the chirping and scratching.

Frank Berendse and Kees and Ans van ’t Klooster in the Arkemheen polder.

Nature’s Imperative The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure concluded in its advisory report Nature’s Imperative published last spring that agricultural nature management has had little effect in the Netherlands. Sharon Dijksma, state secretary of Economic Affairs, has taken nearly all its recommendations on board as the basis for a new nature policy. One of the report’s main authors was Frank Berendse, professor of Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. >



Now Berendse is standing with Kees and Ans van ’t Klooster on the old Zuiderzee dyke north of Nijkerk. The professor and the farming couple have never met before. The discussion is animated: Berendse is an outspoken critic of agricultural nature management in the Netherlands while the Van ’t Kloosters are proud of what it has let them achieve for the meadow birds.

‘I use the tractor as a birdwatching hide’

Godwit chicks running Redshanks have taken up position on a number of fence posts and are observing the visitors while a skylark sings up above. The Arkemheen polder stretching out in front of the visitors is a mix of different shades of green. Some irregular plots with sheep grazing are rough, dark green and full of sorrel, with flowering rush in the ditches. Other fields, littered with cowpats, are coloured lighter green while the fields mown last week are paler still. This variation in the grassland offers advantages to the meadow birds. ‘Sometimes we see godwit chicks running. Then we help them avoid the mower and run into a rougher field,’ explains Ans van ’t Klooster. This polder was reclaimed in around 1350 and was never affected by the statutory land consolidation which involved reallocating land. Winding creeks and zigzagging ditches reflect the old water courses through the windblown sand from the Gelderse Vallei to the former Zuiderzee bay. The polder borders the ArkemheenEemland National Landscape, run by nature management agency Staatsbosbeheer and the society for nature conservation Natuurmonumenten. Opportunities for ruffs Mr and Mrs Van ’t Klooster have been running a dairy farm since 1981 and switched to organic farming in 1997. In partnership with several other farmers, they now farm 95 hectares, more than enough for grazing their 85 dairy cows and 45 young animals. But nature plays a key role here too. ‘Over there, by the old steam pumping station,’ says Van ’t Klooster, ‘the groundwater level is due to be raised by 30 centimetres.’ Frank Berendse sees that as a very important move. ‘This is a big step in the right direction. That will provide new opportunities for ruffs and snipes,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘Soon you’ll see the fields turning pink again with all the ragged robins growing.’ The efforts to give nature a boost made by the Van ’t Kloosters come under the category of agricultural nature management. Arable farmers do it too, for example by sowing the edges of their fields with grasses and flowers. And hedge banks and brushwood are being preserved and restored all over the Netherlands to provide conditions more conducive to the development of birds of prey and



Nest protection in the meadow.

nature management

other fauna. The farmers in question conclude a management agreement with the government and receive a grant to compensate for the loss of income. But a few hedgerows here and ditch banks there is not the way to go about it, says the Council in its recent advisory report. Agricultural nature management is only successful if applied across large areas and in places with strong potential near nature reserves. Forty pairs of godwits Berendse had looked up the figures for 2011 in preparation for this meeting. The family’s nest protection has delivered results: ‘Last year there were 40 pairs of godwits, 40 pairs of redshanks and 40 pairs of peewits on the close to 100 hectares, a density as good as what you would find in a nature reserve.’ The Wageningen professor says this dairy farm is a good example of how it should and could be done. ‘Agricultural nature management will really get results if the farmland is part of a contiguous area where nature conservation measures are in place, preferably with a nature reserve in the vicinity, like the Arkemheen and Eemland meadow bird reserve here. Variations in mowing, grazing, fertilization and groundwater levels are clearly successful in a grassland area like this. This gives me a good feeling.’ These are strikingly positive words for an outspoken critic. Ten years back, Berendse showed that agricultural nature management had virtually no effect, in a study that made it into the journal Nature. ‘Farmers with a management agreement for nature management had hardly any more meadow birds on their land than farmers without such an agreement,’ explains Berendse. Follow-up studies by Wageningen researchers confirmed this. Taking 100 randomly chosen sites across the Netherlands, there was hardly any difference in the nature results between 2000 and 2010 achieved by farmers who received grants for agricultural nature management and farmers without such grants. Despite all the measures and grants, the population of godwits, the symbol of grassland areas, has fallen from 125 thousand in the 1970s to 35 thousand now. Skylarks are down to only five per cent of their former levels. ‘The 40 million euros spent every year on grants are not justified in terms of the restoration of biodiversity in farmland,’ argues Berendse. Sometimes things go wrong According to Berendse, Arkemheen is evidence that a diverse bird population can develop if the preconditions of a sufficiently large area, sufficient clean water and sufficient variation in groundwater levels are met.

‘Sometimes that may not directly benefit godwits or skylarks but instead you may see great egrets or spoonbills alongside the ditches or little bluethroats in the brushwood,’ says Berendse. Sometimes you can make all the plans you want but the circumstances will dictate a different outcome. And sometimes things go wrong. For example, the downside to nest protection is that predators such as foxes, stoats and weasels are able to find the nests, as are crows and harriers. That became clear a few years ago during camera surveillance of the Van ’t Klooster family’s fields. ‘We had a fox’s den close by. That might explain why we had a really bad godwit year,’ explains Kees Van ’t Klooster. ‘In the end, Staatsbosbeheer had seven foxes shot and things have improved since then.’ A redshank calls the alarm. ‘There may still be chicks around,’ says the farmer. A little later, he picks up a peewit egg. ‘Look, the last peewit egg, that’s special too,’ he says with a smile, referring to the Dutch traditions surrounding the first peewit egg. ‘Will you be visiting again?’ ask Kees and Ans van ’t Klooster at the end of the walk. Berendse promises he will. ‘We need to be more explicit about the preconditions for successful nature on each farm and specify the types of nature that offer most potential for particular farm types. As Wageningen UR, we could also help farmers develop a long-term view for the nature on their farm and their farm income sources. That means we ecologists need to collaborate more with agricultural economists.’ W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/agri-environment-schemes

New nature policy in the Netherlands In the Nature’s Imperative report, which appeared last spring, the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure advocates setting longterm targets for nature policy and sticking to them. If adverse economic conditions mean there is less money available, alter the speed but not the goal: a sustainable future for nature in the Netherlands. The Council also wants to put an end to the technocratic set of instruments consisting of nature target categories and various other qualitative and quantitative details. Don’t fix the required number of godwits or ragged robins per hectare, instead make sure the basic conditions have been met, such as a large enough area with the right environmental quality and water. Then Nature will sort itself out. A striking feature is the low priority the Council gives to expensive measures such as ecoducts. It is much more important to expand and improve existing nature areas and create regional nature networks: clusters of nature areas with farming areas applying agricultural nature management as buffer zones.



Refrigeration on much less energy




The shipping company Maersk is using 65 percent less energy to keep fresh produce cool, thanks to a new control system for keeping sea containers at the right temperature.

‘Quest keeps the quality at a satisfactory level for longer’

TEXT Alexandra Branderhorst Photography maersk and hollandse hoogte


very day, the vessels of shipping company Maersk transport more than 240,000 refrigerated sea containers carrying fruit, vegetables, meat, plants and flower bulbs. Maersk is now using 65 per cent less energy to do this, thanks to Quest II, a new control system for refrigerating containers developed by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research. The corresponding CO2 emissions have also fallen by 65 per cent, a drop of around 350,000 tons of CO2 a year. ‘That is a major achievement and signifies substantial savings. Everyone gains from this,’ says Henrik Lindhardt, head of container innovation at Maersk Line. The new control method adjusts the internal air circulation and the activity of the refrigeration compressor according to the product’s cooling requirements and the heat load (which depends on the difference between the ambient temperature and the desired temperature). ‘In the past, the air was pumped round continuously as fast as possible to minimize the temperature differences in the cargo. But that is inefficient,’ says Leo Lukasse at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. ‘Sometimes the temperature outside is 20 degrees and the container is supposed to be at 20 degrees as well. Then you don’t need to do anything.’ ‘Instead of having the refrigerated container’s energy-guzzling compressor running non-stop, Quest II enables controlled tem-

perature fluctuations. That way, the compressor is either running at the most efficient speed or it’s turned off,’ explains Lukasse. He sees potential for the use of Quest II in road transport and chilled storage as well. Hundreds of tests The software’s predecessor, Quest I, had already reduced the energy consumption of refrigerated containers by 50 percent. Quest II has added another 15 per cent to that achievement. The researchers started on the development of Quest II in 2009, in collaboration with Maersk Line and Carrier Transicold, a manufacturer of refrigeration equipment. Then hundreds of tests were carried out. In some cases, the products are actually fresher on arrival with the new software than they were in the past. ‘Quest keeps the quality at a satisfactory level for longer,’ says Lindhardt. ‘Especially if the cargo is warm when it is loaded into the refrigerated container. Take bananas: we usually get them delivered at 30 degrees Celsius but they have to be transported at 13.5 degrees. The faster and more efficiently we can cool them down, the better.’ Quest II haws now been installed in most of the Maersk fleet. ‘Another advantage is that we can now load more refrigerated containers onto the same ship because they use less energy,’ says Lindhardt. W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/quest



The banana is under attack The banana is not just the most popular fruit in the world, it is also the most endangered, due to two devastating fungal diseases. Wageningen researchers are trying to save banana cultivation. text Marion de boo Photography CIAT Illustration schwandt infographics


he banana plants in the greenhouse in Wageningen look well-watered and gleaming with health. ‘Aren’t they gorgeous plants?’ asks researcher Gert Kema, who leads the banana research project at Plant Research International, part of Wageningen UR. ‘They are now about six months old and just starting to flower. Look, we know that this specimen is resistant to Panama disease. Now we are working hard to find the resistance gene.’ Compared with any other major crop, the breeding of bananas is years behind, according to Kema. ‘In spite of a crying need for innovation in order to protect harvests and food security.’ Banana plants are very susceptible to fungal diseases. Spraying can help sometimes but infected plantations often have to be abandoned. The biggest culprits are two devastating fungal diseases, Black Sigatoka and Panama disease. Commercial banana plantations are increasingly sprayed with fungicides against Black Sigatoka – up to 50 to 70 times a year, with all the known risks to human health and environment that this entails. And once Panama disease sets in the soil can remain infected for 30 years. Up to now the only answer was to abandon the infected plantation and plough up a new tract



of rain forest. Wagningen researchers are working hard to find solutions for the banana cultivation sector, such as new, resistant species. Kema: ‘The problem with the banana is that it is sterile. That makes breeding very difficult.’ Wild bananas are inedible because they are bursting with seeds. Cultivated bananas are seedless and sterile. They are good to eat but are not easy to cross-breed because they are triploid, with all their chromosomes occurring in threes. This means that the set of chromosomes cannot easily be split into two, which hinders reproduction. This sterility has an impact on banana cultivation too, with an endless monoculture of one banana clone, the Cavendish variety, in evidence on banana plantations around the world. It is as if they were all cuttings from the same mother plant and they are highly vulnerable to fungal diseases. Sweeter bananas For more than 400 million people in tropical countries, the banana (Musa acuminata) is not a luxury snack but a staple food. After wheat, rice and maize, bananas are the world’s fourth biggest food crop, with 100 million tons produced every year.

plant health science

About 15 percent of those bananas find their way to supermarkets in the US and Europe. The five biggest banana exporters are Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Philippines and Panama. There are also millions of small farmers in over a hundred countries growing bananas for home consumption and the local market. Until halfway through the last century a different banana was on sale in the shops, the sweeter and creamier Gros Michel. This variety was wiped out by Panama disease, which

spread from Central America. Banana cultivation in Latin America collapsed, with massive unemployment as a result. Panama disease is spread by the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum, which worms its way into the plant through its roots. Infected plants die off and the soil remains infected for decades. If the farmer plants a new banana plant there it will die within two months. The successor to the Gros Michel on plantations around the world was the

Cavendish variety. This banana is less flavoursome, more perishable and prone to damage in transit, but it is resistant to Panama disease. The whole transport chain had to be overhauled: while Gros Michel bananas were shipped by train or boat in 50 kilo bunches, Cavendish bananas need refrigerated containers and specially stabilized pallets in refrigerator ships. The sector was dealt a fresh blow in the nineteen nineties when the Cavendish banana succumbed to a new strain of Panama >

The same banana clones are growing on plantations all around the world

BANANA TRADE UNDER THREAT The banana is a major food crop. Fungal diseases are posing a serious threat. Global production

Banana (Musa acuminata)

After wheat, rice and maize, the banana is the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fourth biggest food crop, at a production rate of 100 million tons per year.

Additionally, millions of small farmers in more than 100 countries (Africa, South-east Asia) grow bananas for the local market.

Biggest producers Biggest banana exporters

About 15 percent is for export to the US and Europe. Costa Rica Panama Equador

India Colombia





China Philippines Indonesia

Threats Black Sigatoka

Panama Disease

Fruit ripens too fast, therefore not fit for export.

Plant dies off. Soil fungus Fusarium oxysporum penetrates the plant through the roots. The soil remains infected for up to 30 years.

Fungal spores Mycosphaerella fijiensis Airborne, penetrate the plant through the leaves. Remedy: spraying c. 60 times per year (on commercial plantations). Cost: c. 400 million dollars per year.

Remedy: no pesticide. Abandoning infected plantation and digging up new tract of rainforest.

Research Difficult to breed resistant varieties. Global cultivation of monocultures of the same clone (mainly the Cavendish variety).

Cultivated bananas: sterile and seedless, cannot be cross-bred.



Wild bananas (inedible due to seeds)

Resistance genes against Black Sigatoka taken from tomatoes are built into the banana plant.

Cisgenesis: in future, researchers want to transfer species-specific resistance genes for these diseases from wild bananas into cultivated bananas.

plant health science

disease, which spread rapidly through south-east Asia and parts of Australia. Its arrival in Africa and South America can only be a matter of time. And the Cavendish is not the only banana that is susceptible to Panama disease; the same goes for cooking bananas and many other local varieties. Faster ripening The fungal disease known as Black Sigatoka is on the march too. This leaf spot disease caused by the Mycosphaerella fijiensis emerged in the nineteen twenties in the Sigatoka Valley on the Fiji islands. The fungal spores are spread through the air and germinate in damp weather on the leaf, penetrating the plant through the stoma and spreading throughout it in fine threads of fungus. A plant infected with Black Sigatoka ripens fast and the bananas can be harvested but not exported because they are already too ripe and will be rotten by the time they reach the shop. This fungal disease has now spread around the world. Large banana producers often use planes to spray their plantations, spending about 400 million dollars a year on fungicides. Kema: ‘This intensive spraying is tragic for an ecotourism paradise such as Costa Rica. The fungicides spread into the environment through the waterways. What is more, the frequent spraying makes the fungus resistant to the substances that are used. Big producers are spraying more and more frequently, making things go from bad to worse. Small farmers have an even harder time because their bananas are just as susceptible but they usually cannot afford to spray them.’

Bananas are a staple food for more than 400 million people

The topics Kema’s research group is looking into include exactly how the fungus species attack the bananas, what makes some bananas resistant, how the fungi spread and how Mycosphaerella fungus populations on plantations react to being sprayed. There are soil scientists involved in the Wageningen banana research too. They are investigating the influence of soil quality on the disease. Meanwhile, social scientists are looking at the relations between large and small-scale banana growers, in order to be able to draw up good plans for managing Panama disease at regional and national levels. all over the world Kema ended up in banana research pretty much by coincidence. He already had 20 years’ experience in research on a related Mycosphaerella fungus, which causes a leaf spot disease in wheat, when he was approached by Corbana, Costa Rica’s national banana cooperative, through a Wageningen soil scientist who had done doctoral research in Costa Rica. Since then he has been travelling all over the world trying to interest governments, research institutes, banana cooperatives and multinationals in banana research. ‘Bananas hold an imaginative appeal but research on them is still in its infancy.’ Two of the first sponsors are the Dioraphte foundation and the Groenen Woudt foundation. Kema recently started four large-scale international research projects involving millions of euros worth of grants. Eight researchers, about 15 PhD students and two postdocs are now at work in Wageningen, collaborating with global partners on finding solutions for large and small banana growers. One of the projects aims at identifying resistance genes in wild bananas and unraveling the resistance mechanisms in these plants. Three years ago, Kema’s group already presented a fast DNA test for tracking down infection with Panama disease in plant material in a couple of hours instead of four months. Now the results can be obtained in a few minutes even. This technology is now being launched on the market in the Philippines. At the same time, research is ongoing together with

Indonesian researchers to see whether it is possible to manage micro-level life in the soil so as to suppress the fungus that causes Panama disease. Work is also being done on biological soil disinfection, following the example of what has been done in the asparagus sector. Genome published In a further effort to counter the threat to the banana, Kema and an Australian professor have joined forces to launch a company called Musaradix. The company’s mission is to improve banana varieties by building resistance genes from wild bananas into them using genetic modification. Research funding from Musaradix is being used for work by Plant Research International in Wageningen. ‘I am one of the initiators of the genome project for bananas,’ explains Kema. In the wake of the publication in Nature of the complete genome of the banana plant by a French-led international consortium last year, genes for such characteristics as disease resistance and fruit quality are easier to locate. One highly promising discovery is that a resistance gene in tomatoes recognized the fungus that causes Black Sigatoka in bananas. This gene is now being built into the banana plant. ‘We wanted to put resistance genes against Black Sigatoka and Panama disease from wild bananas into cultivated bananas too,’ says Kema. ‘That is called Cisgenesis: the researcher takes a species-specific gene, exactly the way breeders have been doing for hundreds of years, and puts it into an established market variety.’ ‘Resistance is the main aim, but characteristics such as taste and shelf life are interesting as well, of course. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, my Australian partner is working on enriching bananas with vitamin A in order to combat blindness in the Third World. I think that’s a wonderful approach. We work on the principle that resistant material should be made freely available to non-exporting banana countries. By doing that we can help small farmers too.’ W Info: www.wageningenur.nl/banana-cultivation



1989 Kees van Ast, Cees Veerman and Cees Karssen were given cardboard ears to help them listen better.


p until the start of the nineteen nineties, the DLO institutes and the agricultural university were no more than neighbours. There was no need for mediation, but the relationship was not exactly close. The university was responsible for fundamental research and teaching while the institutes (most of which were also based in Wageningen) gave the Ministry of Agriculture advice and did applied research for the private sector. There was the occasional border dispute but on the whole the two coexisted peaceably without much interaction. Until 1996, when the Minister of Agriculture, Jozias van Aartsen, ordered them to set up house together. Insiders say nobody disputed at the time that something needed to be done with Wageningen. DLO and the university were each too small to continue as independent entities, let alone build up an international reputation. The institutes were running at a loss but it was the university that gave the most cause for concern. The intake was getting smaller every year. The number of students fell from 6700 in 1987 to 3800 in 1997. In 1996, the board of Utrecht University even sent a letter proposing



an ‘alliance’, noting pointedly that their Veterinary Science faculty rejected as many students in any one year as enrolled in Wageningen overall. flirting Five years ago, Van Aartsen told the Wageningen university magazine Resource in an interview that at the time the Ministry of Education had been in favour of a takeover by Utrecht. Jo Ritzen, the Education minister, repeatedly brought up the subject of the falling student numbers in cabinet meetings. His staff had long been exasperated by the fact that agricultural education was outside the scope of his ministry. They found this arrangement illogical and expensive. But Van Aartsen, helped by the minister of Economic Affairs Hans Wijers, would not budge so Ritzen gave up. He probably also assumed the university’s position was so hopeless that it would end up in the arms of Utrecht anyway. When things eventually turned out differently and Wageningen started flirting with DLO, Utrecht even sent an angry letter. The Utrecht board accused the university in Wageningen of being too ‘standoffish’, as a result of which ‘the agricultural uni-

wageningen ur jubileE

95 years of Wageningen University history

A fruitful marriage of convenience Fifteen years ago it was chiefly the university that was sceptical about the prospect of close collaboration with the agricultural research institutes. Former rector Cees Karssen was given a rough ride by angry professors. ‘I think you can see now that we didn’t make bad choices,’ says ex-director Kees van Ast in part three of the series on 95 years of Wageningen UR history.

Text Korné Versluis Photography apa foto

versity was running the risk of becoming too unattractive a prospect in the marriage market’. In 1995, in a restaurant near The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen told the agricultural university directors that he would be asking the politician Bram Peper to advise on what to do with the agricultural university, DLO, the experimental stations and the agricultural universities of applied science. But Van Aartsen did not put forward a detailed proposal. ‘He was much too smart for that,’ says former rector Cees Karssen now. A concrete proposal generates more resistance than an exploratory study. selling the merger Cees Karssen used the threat from Utrecht to sell the merger with DLO to sceptical professors, who feared Wageningen would no longer be a real university if it had to merge with the institutes. ‘I was not afraid of that. I thought Wageningen’s added value lay in making the connection between fundamental research and specific applications. When I was a professor of plant physiology, I used to visit the seed companies to find out

what their problems were because I thought that was Wageningen’s raison d’être.’ Anyway, the choice was clear in Karssen’s opinion. If the university was not prepared to join up with DLO, the only other option was Utrecht and there would not be much left of the university then. DLO had very different worries in the mid-nineties. The institutes, which included LEI, Rikilt and the institutes that went on to become Alterra and Plant Research International, were part of the Ministry of Agriculture. But they were now to become autonomous: no more drip-feeding with public money, instead they would have to bring in more funds themselves with contract research for the private sector. The impending autonomy had been talked about for a long time but now Van Aartsen decided the time had come for action. Senior civil servant Kees van Ast had been tasked with making DLO self-financing. When it turned out that the institutes would also have to merge with the university, Van Ast simply treated that as a given. ‘No, I never considered alternatives. Not doing this just wasn’t an option.’ >




PHoto gelderland bibliotheek


PHoto gelderland bibliotheek

1876 The founding of the

National agricultural testing centre,

National Higher Education College of

agricultural college

the forerunner of today’s institutes.

Agriculture becomes an academic institution

In the end Bram Peper recommended appointing one board for both DLO and the university. That board would be responsible for arranging a merger between the two organizations in short order. The identity of two of the members of the new board was soon clear. Karssen was the only university board member still in office, the other two having retired while Peper was working on his plan, without being replaced. ‘So then it was just me.’ The two-man DLO board was also down to one man since the illness of the director Mannes Heuver, so Van Ast became the second member of the new board. After six months of uncertainty, Cees Veerman was appointed chairman of the team, which now became known informally as ‘the three Keeses’. Veerman not only had an arable farm, he had already managed a merger operation at The Greenery, an auction house, he was a professor holding an endowed chair at Tilburg and he was adviser to a number of companies. Karssen: ‘I don’t think anyone else would have managed it. Veerman had just the right network among politicians, universities and agricultural organizations. I didn’t know anyone in the farming community.’ Never any arguments Veerman caused a wave of culture shock by immediately getting rid of two institute directors and telling the university staff that while he was prepared to attend their



consultation meetings, he had no intention of making any major changes to his plans. They were not used to this at the democratically run university. So while Veerman was clearly not a man to avoid conflict, the board members hardly ever fell out on anything, say Van Ast and Karssen. ‘I’ve never worked in such an effective and pleasant team in my entire career as when we were the three Keeses,’ says Karssen. ‘We never got in each other’s way’. Van Ast: ‘Veerman said when he was appointed that he wasn’t a details man; someone else would have to take on that job. So that’s what I did.’ The university remained sceptical about the plans for some time, says Karssen. ‘Many people were afraid fundamental research would suffer. Lots of the professors thought ‘applied’ was a word to be avoided if at all possible.’ The atmosphere at DLO was more accommodating. ‘It was the director of the animal sciences institute ID-

‘I talked until I was blue in the face but there was no support’



Ministry forms Agricultural

Higher Education College

DLO and University merge to form

Science Services (DLO)

of Agriculture becomes

Wageningen UR

PHoto gaw/hans pijkstra


PHoto spaarnestad photo

wageningen ur jubileE

Agricultural University

Lelystad who insisted we include the word ‘university’ in the name. So the working title of Wageningen Knowledge Centre eventually became Wageningen University & Research centre, normally shortened nowadays to Wageningen UR. budget cut The new board had its first big setback in 1998. In the negotiations for the new Purple II coalition government (in which the left-wing ‘red’ social democrats formed a coalition with the right-wing ‘blue’ liberals), it was agreed that the university should have its budget cut by more than 20 million guilders. This was after the three Keeses had sold the merger to the mistrustful university staff by explaining that there really was no secret agenda behind the merger plans and all efficiency savings from the partnership would be ploughed back into teaching and research. In the end, Karssen had to call on 25 professors and tell them they would be losing their chairs. ‘A miserable period,’ he says looking back. ‘It was just before Christmas and we went from one department to the next telling them the bad news. Awful.’ Van Ast: ‘We were furious. The ministry had always promised us we would be able to invest the efficiency benefits in new developments. But that promise was obviously of no use now. We reviewed the situation and decided there was

no other option than to accept it and go on with the plan.’ The cutbacks only served to increase the feeling of discontent among the staff already, says Karssen. ‘There was no support at all. I talked until I was blue in the face, explaining we didn’t have a choice and this was what the minister had decided but I don’t think I convinced anyone at the time.’ Van Ast: ‘Cees Karssen had a tough time of it. He did have doubts whether we were on the right course but he soldiered on.’ Fifteen years on, Van Ast, who is now vice chairman of the University of Twente, and Karssen, who is retired, look back on those eventful initial years with satisfaction. The university has more students than ever – there were 7500 enrolled on 1 October 2012 – and the former board members say Wageningen UR benefits from the integration of fundamental and applied research when bidding for research funding. Van Ast: ‘I can remember us sitting in the Junushoff with enormous cardboard ears that protesting students had put on our heads. One group after another came to tell us how stupid we were. I think you can see now that we didn’t make bad choices. The basic structure we came up with then is still in place and Wageningen is attracting more students. And I don’t think academic freedom has suffered.’ Karssen: ‘If we hadn’t done this then, the university would no longer exist.’ W



Crop scientists 23 years on

Growing sugar beets and transporting spare parts They both came to study Crop Science at Wageningen because they wanted to improve crop yields. Ali Fehmi Soygeni from Turkey became an international sugar beet expert. His classmate Felix Osae-Danso from Ghana lives in the Netherlands and made an international career in logistics. But he still dreams of improving food security back home. TeXt ALEXANDRA BRANDERHORST PHotograPHY josje deekens and anadolu/lineair


he Turkish economy is booming and the population is growing, so we will need more food. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors, but it needs more technical development,’ says Ali Fehmi Soygeni over the phone from Ankara. He came to Wageningen in 1990 for the Master’s programme in Crop Science and then went on to a career as a sugar beet expert. ‘Sugar beet is a major crop in Turkey. Three out of a thousand people grow sugar beet and the fields are usually small. Only 10 percent of the sugar beet crops here are harvested by combine harvester. Most of the harvesting is still done by hand,’ Soygeni explains. His family has a history in the sugar industry. ‘That is why I got diabetes; sugar is in my blood,’ Soygeni laughs. Born and raised as a city boy in Ankara, a degree in agriculture was not the most obvious choice for the young Soygeni . ‘I had never been on a farm, but I was interested in the business



sector and I recognized that agriculture was very important.’ So he went off to Atatürk University in Erzurum in 1975 to do a Bachelor’s degree in Field Crops. After graduating, Soygeni got a job as an agrotechnical consultant for sugar beet growers. ‘I was working in small villages, advising farmers on how to improve the yield,’ he remembers. After ten years on the job, he got the opportunity to study in Wageningen, thanks to an agreement on technical education between the Dutch and Turkish governments. Soygeni arrived in Wageningen in 1990 and was joined a few months later by his wife and firstborn child. He still keeps in touch with the Dutch family that helped them find their way around in Wageningen. ‘By now I have visited 33 countries and Dutch people are among the best in Europe. They are very helpful and communicative. The Netherlands is my second homeland.’ He acquired many new skills at Wageningen, such as how to give presentations and how

to forecast yields with the aid of computer programs. ‘Studying at Wageningen contributed to my analytical approach and capacity to evaluate agricultural matters.’ Assembling boxes Soygeni ’s Wageningen classmate Felix Osae-Danso from Ghana had completed a Bachelor’s in Crop Science at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. His family does not have a farming background either. But if you grow up in the developing world, you can easily relate to things that have an impact on people’s lives, OsaeDanso says. ‘Crop science appealed to me because I wanted to be able to contribute to improving crop yields.’ Shortly before the start of his studies at Wageningen, Osae-Danso met his future wife, who was studying Aquatic Ecology in Nijmegen. They got married and have two children, he tells me in their home in Ede, close to Wageningen. During his Master’s course, Osae-Danso >

Life after wageningen

‘You have to keep learning smarter ways of doing things’

Felix Osae-Danso Age: 50 Studied: MSc Crop Science 1991 – 1992 Work: Regional Freight Manager for Europe and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States: former Soviet Republics) at Sandvik Mining & Construction

‘My studies contributed to my analytical approach’

Ali Fehmi Soygeni Age: 56 Studied: MSc Crop Science 1991 – 1992 Work: Agrotechnical representative and consultant on seeds, herbicides and pesticides for sugar beet crops in Turkey and surrounding countries

Life after wageningen

Where do crop scientists end up? Between 1989 and 2003, 206 people graduated with an MSc in Crop Sciences. We know what 77 of those graduates are doing now. One third of them work at a university and another one fifth at a research institute, while one tenth are employed by an agricultural or breeding company. Almost 10 percent work for a foreign government and 7 percent for an international development organization. Source: KLV Wageningen Alumni Network

specialized in entomology. After graduating he wanted to proceed to a PhD, but there was no funding for the project he had his eyes on. Osae-Danso: ‘If anybody had told me then that I would not work as a crop scientist, I would have been very angry.’ Tired of waiting for project funding, he got a temporary job in production at a warehouse in Ede. There he was assembling boxes and filling them with Styrofoam padding for Apple computers. ‘I was just happy to have work and do something useful.’ Osae-Danso made the most of his work as a temp and climbed up the ladder from the bottom rung. After the company was relocated, he got the chance to help build up the production line and became supervisor of the laser printer production line. ‘I was responsible for forty people. When it expanded and I became supervisor of six production lines, it became a serious thing.’ Through in-house training Osae-Danso gained more theoretical background in manufacturing and supply chain management and made a shift to people and process management. In 1997 he found a job as customer service manager at the fast growing network equipment company Cisco. ‘It was the time of the internet boom; I could really grow there.’ He ended up as logistics manager. ‘A lot of common sense goes into logistics,’ explains Osae-Danso. ‘You have to keep learning smarter ways of doing things. There are a lot of parties in the chain, getting things picked, packed and delivered. Somebody has to be in control and keep an overview.’ In the years to come Osae-Danso worked as a logistics manager for a series of companies including DSM Food Specialties and Nokia. ‘Transporting food ingredients that

need special storage facilities and have to be kept on dry ice, for example, is completely different from transporting computers or mobile phones.’ Breaking a monopoly For Soygeni , unlike his classmate, his Wageningen Master’s degree proved crucial to his career. When he returned to Turkey he became a researcher, planner and chief engineer at Turkish Sugar Factories Co in Ankara. At the same time he was working on his PhD research at Ankara University. In 1999 he got a job as department manager sugar beet at Syngenta Seeds. ‘Without my course at Wageningen University, I would not have had any chance of working for an international company.’ His new employer, Syngenta Seeds, had no market share in Turkey. First Soygeni had to break the 50-year monopoly of the statesupported supplier of sugar beet seeds. ‘It was not easy. We brought it to the national competition board, and in the end they got fined. Today, there are eight international sugar beet seed companies on the market. As a result growers can purchase high quality varieties. The Turkish sugar sector and economy are profiting a lot from these changes.’ Subsequently, Soygeni succeeded in enlarging the market share of Syngenta from zero to 50 percent in 12 years. ‘It was one of the most remarkable successes during my career.’ He travelled a lot too, because the area he covered included countries like Azerbaijan, Syria, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. ‘To be successful you have to know the crop itself, the agricultural system in the country, the customers and their mentality, the problems and the competitors.’ Unfortunately the hard work took its toll. In

2011 Soygeni suffered a heart attack and retired from his job at Syngenta. Now he works as an independent consultant on sugar beet crops. He also represents another international sugar beet seed company in Turkey and Azerbaijan as well as a company that manufactures herbicides and pesticides. ‘I am still enjoying myself, but I would like to work for a company again. I need a regular income in order to support my family.’ His daughter is an economist and his son wants to become a diplomat, so the family tradition of working in the sugar industry will now at last be broken. Help people Since March this year, Osae-Danso works for Sandvik Mining & Construction, a leading global supplier of equipment and technical solutions for the mining and construction industries. He is responsible for transporting and delivering spare parts in Europe. ‘A spare part can be as small as a coin or as big as a tank,’ he says, with illustrative gestures. ‘We have to find the safest and most cost-effective means of transport.’ For the last twelve years Osae-Danso has been home to his birth country on vacation every year, and he sees a lot of progress and development. ‘In the past Ghana had only three universities. Now there are tons of universities. More and more people are getting educated.’ He dreams of setting up a food processing company in Ghana. ‘There is a lot of waste versus a lot of scarcity. In a good season, for example, there are tomatoes and maize in abundance, but storage facilities are inadequate.’ In the future Osae-Danso wants to set up a factory to store and process products and sell them in the dry season when there are food shortages. ‘If you can level out those peaks, you can help the people.’ W



Growing international Throughout 2013, events are being held around the world to celebrate the 95th anniversary of Wageningen University. In Ethiopia and Chile the alumni meetings resulted in the formation of new alumni circles. Debates in other countries will follow. â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;It made me feel like I am still part of Wageningen University.â&#x20AC;&#x2122;

Text alexandra branderhorst Illustration jenny van driel

AGENDA 2013 | Events worldwide to celebrate the 95th anniversary of Wageningen University

Washington D.C., United States October/November Alumni event and debate on Climate Smart Agriculture Davis,California, United States, 7 November Alumni event and debate on Innovations in Nutrition and Health

Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Beijing, China 27 September Alumni Event and Debate on Nutrition Security Brussels, Belgium, 31 October Alumni event and debate on Climate Smart Agriculture

Holambra, Brazil 7 November Alumni event and debate on Waste in Horticulture

Santiago de Chile, Chile, 31 May Alumni events and debates about the Chilean and Dutch agrifood sector



Jakarta, Indonesia 11 October Alumni event and debate on The Green Economy

Accra, Ghana 13 December Alumni event and debate on Curriculum Development

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 25 September Debate on Nutrition Security

alumni relations

alumni community ‘I

t was a great opportunity to meet each other in Chile. We learned about new trends in the field of research and development and about the projects being run by Wageningen UR at the moment,’ recalls Tatiana Mateluna, a Wageningen alumna who attended the reunion in Chile on 31 May. The reunion took place during ‘Wageningen Week,’ which also marked the first anniversary of the Wageningen UR Chile office in Santiago de Chile. The week started with a symposium about the Chilean and Dutch agrifood sector, which was attended by 200 people. It was followed two days later by a symposium about biomass and the alumni meeting with speeches, a debate about the role of Chile in the biobased economy and an informal buffet. The meeting attracted 30 alumni. ‘Due to relatively long distances and busy agendas, the alumni in Chile had never met before,’ emails Mateluna, who helped organize the event. She completed the MSc in Ecological Agriculture in 2002 and works as an independent consultant on fair trade, social corporate responsibility and organic farming. ‘This was an opportunity to reunite all the alumni and to create more links between Chile and Holland, to generate new ideas, to exchange knowledge and create new collaborative projects,’ Mateluna states. That is why she is now helping to set up an alumni group in Chile. The network also aims to motivate new Chilean students to study in Wageningen, she adds. Exciting meeting Chile is not the only country where alumni have established a new alumni circle. Ethiopian alumni took the same step after the alumni meeting in Addis Ababa on 26

March. ‘We want to form a strong formal network among the Ethiopian Wageningen alumni, to enhance cooperation and networking,’ explains Tessema form Ethiopia. He did an MSc and a PhD in Agricultural Economics and Marketing in Wageningen and works as an assistant professor at Haramaya University. The meeting in Ethiopia, which was about the reduction of post-harvest food losses, was attended by 30 alumni. Tessema: ‘The theme and the further discussions in the presence of rector magnificus Martin Kropff were very exciting. The meeting made me feel like I am still part of Wageningen University.’ Important positions Following the success of these two events, Asia is next in line. In China, home to almost 500 registered alumni, an event is planned in Beijing on 27 September. The theme of the debate in China, organized with the help of Friesland Campina and the Dutch embassy, is Nutrition Security. ‘Problems with nutrition security are not as visible as those with food security, but it is a growing issue in China. A good diet means not just sufficient amounts of food, but also all the right nutrients. Children can be obese and suffer from malnutrition at the same time,’ explains Xiaoyong Zhang. She did a degree and a PhD in Consumer Behaviour in Wageningen and now works at Wageningen International as business development manager in China. She is therefore helping to organize the Wageningen anniversary celebration in Beijing. Informal alumni networks already exist in China, says Zhang. ‘But this meeting is much bigger and more formal. Some people who will come already have important positions and play an important role in de-

fining the future of agricultural development in China.’ Green gold Further alumni events will be held this year in Indonesia, Brazil, the US, Belgium and Ghana. A debate entitled 'The Green Economy: Capitalizing on green gold' will take place in Jakarta on 11 October. ‘The economy will increasingly be based on sustainable and renewable resources. The biobased economy is about the efficient use of resources,’ explains Huub Löffler, director of Wageningen International. He will be one of the keynote speakers and is helping to prepare the ground for the debate. ‘Biomass can be called green gold, as it contains many high quality pharmaceutical elements, for example. It is a waste to just burn that as biofuel.’ The technological, social and economic potential of biomass will be discussed at the meeting, Löffler adds. ‘We will discuss how it can be used as efficiently as possible, how scientific knowledge can be put into practice and how it can be used for the economic development of society and of Indonesia in particular.’ W More information at: www.wageningenur.nl/en/ Alumni/Areas-of-expertise/Anniversary/Debateworldwide.htm

‘An opportunity to generate new ideas and collaborative projects’ Wageningenworld


Wageningen in the world!

Greetings from Mongolia! Caroline la Chappelle is reading Wageningen World in front of her ger in Mongolia. She graduated in Land and Water Management in 1997, after studying for her degree part time. She visits Mongolia six times a year as project director of Euroconsult Mott Macdonald, which monitors the projects of the Millennium Challenge Account, a United States bilateral development programme. ‘We make sure the projects meet international standards in terms of environment, safety and social aspects,’ emails La Chapelle. The projects include the building of 176 kilometres of road, the renovation of hospitals and schools, the updating of power stations, and agricultural development. ‘Also, the stoves used in the gers, the tents the Mongolians live in, are being replaced. The new stoves burn briquettes of compressed wood. They are much cleaner than the coal that is generally used at the moment, while they provide the same amount of heat.’ Are you reading this magazine far from Wageningen too? Send the evidence to wageningen.world@wur.nl

alumni portal

Personal touch on the alumni portal A personal profile on the alumni portal now makes it possible to find and to keep track of fellow students of old. The alumni portal is part of the new Wageningen UR website, www.wageningenur.nl. The portal provides news and information about activities for graduates of Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. It is also possible to create a ‘profile’ where you can log in to change your personal details and make them visible. It is easy to trace old university friends through the portal and to link up on the social media. Alumni can also use their profiles to sign up for alumni gatherings in the Netherlands or abroad, or for newsletters

from Wageningen UR institutes or departments. This issue of Wageningen World is accompanied by a letter giving a brief guide to creating a profile. Info: www.wageningenur.nl/en/alumni

alumni online

Ten thousand alumni on LinkeIn and Pinterest The Wageningen University Alumni group on the business networking website LinkedIn already has more than 10,000 members. Participants in this interactive group receive news about the university and advance notice of regional meetings. Under the heading ‘promotion’, alumni can place their own announcements about training course, conferences and publications. More substantial questions and calls can be posted under ‘discussions’. Vacancies are announced as well.

Another web page worth visiting is the new Pinterest page http://pinterest.come/ wageningenuni. Here there are photos and videos of the campus, of open days, of other events and of students and researchers. There are historic photos too. Under ‘alumni and ambassadors’ you will find photos and videos of reunions and alumni meetings. The collection of images on Pinterest is sure to grow! If you happen to have a photo of historic interest, email alumni@wur.nl


World lecture on cooperatives Are cooperative the business model for 2020? This is the subject of the World Lecture (in Dutch) on Thursday 3 October in Wageningen. Over the past 10 years many cooperatives have been set up in the healthcare and agriculture sectors as well as in new forms such as energy collectives. The success of this kind of collaborative will be explained by agricultural economist Ruud Huirne, director of Food&Agri Nederland Rabobank and 46


professor of Cooperative Entrepreneurship at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, and by historian Tine de Moor, professor of Institutions for Collective Action in Historical Perspective at Utrecht University. The World Lecture at hotel De Wereld on Thursday 3 October is organized by KLV and Wageningen Ambassadors. Free entrance: sign up at www.wereldlezingen.nl Language: Dutch.


Jubileum wageningen UR

Brief return to Wageningen The campus took a bit of getting used to for some alumni, but fond memories dominated during the reunion organized by Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. ‘Fantastic to get this invitation; I’ve already spotted a lot of familiar faces.’ text yvonne de hilster

meeting up ‘The university has moved with the times,’ says a group of former KSV members wandering around campus. The group have used the reunion as an opportunity to meet up. The bond between them is strong enough that they do not need old buildings to bring back memories: ‘If I close my eyes and just listen to their voices, it takes me right back,’ says René Bastiaansen (enrolled 1981). Other people walking around campus initially feel more as if they are on a visit rather than returning to their roots. ‘It’s a nice campus but it could just as easily have been Utrecht,’ is how Cornelie Hemmes (enrolled 1984) describes her feelings. She can still remember all that cycling from building to building. ‘And if you saw people you knew outside a cafe, you would end up stopping there,’ she laughs. Richard Mentink (enrolled 1964) still has a souvenir that serves as a daily reminder of

The Orion lecture theatre during Welcome Back to Wageningen.

Photo’s guy ackermans

Some had come to meet up with their old flatmates, others were curious to see what the university was like now. On Friday 14 June, more than 700 alumni gathered in Orion, the newest education building on Wageningen Campus, for ‘Welcome Back to Wageningen’, a reunion as part of the celebrations to mark the university’s 95th anniversary and 750 years since the town was granted city rights. Chairman of the Board Aalt Dijkhuizen gave the returning alumni a glimpse of Wageningen’s current situation, including the forecast further growth in student numbers from eight to ten thousand. This was followed by a programme in which alumni could choose from lectures, a guided tour of the campus or a visit to the town centre.

his student years – a stool he saved from a skip outside Duivendaal 1 when ‘his’ department moved. ‘It’s fantastic to get this invitation, with a great programme of lectures and a tour of the campus. I’ve already spotted a lot of familiar faces.’ The extensive buffet dinner in the Hof van Wageningen hotel to end the day gave plenty of opportunity for catching up. The alumni

raised 2450 euros by attending and paying for the buffet. A cheque for that sum was handed over by Dijkhuizen to the Anne van den Ban Fund. The university also surprised former Rural Extension professor Anne van den Ban with a Silver Medal of Honour, granted in recognition of his exceptional, lifelong contribution to the mission of Wageningen University. Wageningenworld


Personalia Ruud Barth MSc, Radboud University Nijmegen Artificial Intelligence 2011, a computer vision researcher at Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture, has won the EMVA (European Machine Vision Association) Young Professional Award for his work on detecting broccoli ready for harvest in the field. 25 May 2013. Gonne Beekman MSc, WU International Development Studies 2009, was awarded an incentive prize by the Izaak Korteweg and Anna Ida Overwater Fund for experimental research on the effects of rural development programmes. 13 May 2013.

cial appointment of Plant Metabolomics at Wageningen University. 1 June 2013. Jan Helder MSc, WU Zootechnics 1975, has been appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau. 25 May 2013. Ms W.A. Jongbloed MSc, WU Horticulture 1959, has been appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau. 19 June 2013.

Lidi Remmelzwaal MSc, WU Human Nutrition 1975, has been appointed Dutch Ambassador in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 1 September 2013

Prof. Jusuck Koh, Seoul National University Architecture, professor in the Landscape Architecture science group at Wageningen University, has retired. 30 May 2013.

Evan Spruijt MSc PhD, WU Molecular Sciences 2008, has won the Challa Polymer Award for his doctoral thesis on the attraction forces in complex coacervates. 18 March 2013.

Robert Hall PhD, University of Edinburgh Plant Biology 1980, professor at the Laboratory of Plant Physiology at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, and Bioscience director at Plant Research International, part of Wageningen UR, has been appointed professor by spe-

Photo Lex Draijer

Maria Cuaresma Franco PhD, WU PhD 2011, was awarded an incentive prize by the Izaak Korteweg and Anna Ida Overwater Fund for her doctoral research on how to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis by microalgae. 13 May 2013. Anton Franken PhD MBA, WU Phytopathology 1984, member of the board of KLV Wageningen Alumni Network, has been appointed a member of the executive board of HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. 1 September 2013

and Rural Innovation, has won the Multifunctional Agriculture Study Prize for his Masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s thesis on on nature conservation and development in South Africa and the Ooij polder. 28 May 2013.

Anne Koning

Anne Koning MSc, WU Forestry 1994, has taken up office as a member of the Upper House of the Dutch Parliament on behalf of the PvdA (Dutch labour party). 18 June 2013. Thijs Pasmans BSc, WU Biology 2010 and Masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s student WU Development

Johan Stapel PhD, Radboud University Nijmegen Biology 1991, researcher at IMARES Wageningen UR, has been appointed director of the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI), part of the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. 16 May 2013. Prof. Roel Veerkamp, WU Zootechnics 1991 and working at Wageningen UR Livestock Research, has been awarded the honorary title of Visiting Professor in Numerical Genetics by the Scottish organization for agricultural research SRUC. 5 July 2013. Arnold van Vliet PhD, WU Biology 1996, has been awarded the Gilded Wageningen Honorary Silver Medal. 13 June 2013.

In memoriam J.A. Baarspul MSc, WU Tropical Rural Economics 1962, passed away at the age of 77. 4 March 2013. G.L.A.M. de Bont MSc, WU Human Nutrition 1978, has passed away. A.W.J. Bosman MSc, WU Forestry 1968, passed away at the age of 71. 30 April 2013. A.H.L. Geerards MSc, WU Horticulture 1969, passed away at the age of 69. 7 May 2012. N.H.A. Greve MSc, WU Land Development



1954, passed away at the age of 86. 23 January 2013. J.W. Lackamp PhD, WU Agricultural Plant Breeding 1942, passed away at the age of 95. 15 July 2013. P. Loos MSc, WU Land Development 1965, passed away at the age of 73. 3 February 2013. J.P. van Male MSc, WU Agricultural Plant Breeding 1954, passed away at the age of 85. 10 June 2013. Paul Rooijakkers, BSc student WU Tourism,

passed away at the age of 19. 18 April 2013. J. van Selm MSc, WU Land Development 1958, passed away at the age of 83. 20 June 2013. A.H.J. Siepman MSc, WU Horticulture 1956, passed away at the age of 87. 2 July 2013. J.H.M. Temmink PhD, WU Phytopathology 1966, passed away at the age of 74. 19 April 2012. H. Timmer MSc, WU Tropical Rural Economics 1961, has passed away.




Silver medal for Anne van den Ban

On 23 July 2013, the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded Veni grants of up to 250,000 euros for innovative research to eight scientists at Wageningen University who recently gained their doctorates:

Introduction to Extension was translated into 13 languages and is considered a standard work. After 1983, Van den Ban worked for Unesco as an advisor on sustainable development. He was also co-founder and board member of the Anne van den Ban fund, which has been enabling promising Masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s students from developing countries to study in Wageningen since its inception 1992.

PHoto guy ackermans

Ex-professor of Agricultural Extension Anne van den Ban received the Silver Medal on 14 June for his valuable services to Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. Van den Ban (WU Economics 1953) played a crucial role in the development of agricultural extension. Between 1964 and 1983 he was professor of Extension Studies at Wageningen, and his book

VENI grants

Anne van den Ban (l) receives the silver medal from Aalt Dijkhuizen.


Storm-van der Chijs stipends

VIDI grants

On 18 April 2013, three stipends and one honourable distinction were awarded to four talented female PhD students at Wageningen University.

On 21 May 2013, the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded Vidi grants of up to 800,000 euros for the development of their own line of research to:

PHoto guy ackermans

Nora Sutton MSc, Utrecht University Environmental Chemistry 2008 Natalie Theeuwes MSc, WU Meteorology and Air Quality 2010 Anne van Loon MSc, WU Soil, Water and Atmosphere 2006 Susan Boonman-Berson MSc, WU Forestry 2002 (honourable mention).

Christina Ankjaergaard PhD, University of Copenhagen Solid State and Radiation Physics 2006, working in the Soil Geography and Landscape science group at Wageningen University, Marian Bemer PhD, Radboud University Nijmegen Biology 2003, working at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Wageningen University, Klaas Bouwmeester PhD, WU Biotechnology 2002, working at the Laboratory of Phytopathology at Wageningen University, Colette Broekgaarden PhD, WU PhD 2008, working at the Laboratory of Plant Breeding, Mireille van Damme PhD, WU Plant Breeding and Crop Protection 1999, working at the Laboratory of Phytopathology at Wageningen University, Kathleen Neumann PhD, WU PhD 2010, working in the Geo-information Science and Remote Sensing science group, Eveline Verhulst PhD, University of Groningen Molecular Biology 2006, working at the Laboratory of Genetics, Niels Verhulst PhD, WU Plant Breeding and Crop Protection 2003, working at the Laboratory of Entomology.

Leonie Bentsink PhD, WU PhD 2002 and working at the Laboratory of Plant Physiology at Wageningen University Rinke Stienstra PhD, WU Nutrition and Health 2002 and working in the Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University Wageningenworld


ALUMNI ASSOCIATION IN 2020 Moving from being interesting towards taking an interest People have always formed groups and done things together. But how they do this is changing. KLV is busy setting up a strategy for the future. How can we as an alumni association meet the wishes and requirements of different generations of graduates in a rapidly changing society? And is an alumni association still relevant? Yes it most certainly is thinks Marike Kuperus, who works on issues affecting the association. But then in a different form. “Previously an association’s primary task was to be interesting and now it needs to take an interest.” Which trends do you see? “People no longer join a group as a matter of course. Associations have noticed that for many years in their membership databases. This does not mean that people no longer want to group together. Nothing could be further from the truth. However they group in a far more fragmented manner based on a wide range of partial identities in which self-interest plays a particularly important role. ‘Me me’ is my term for this. People are proud of who they are and profile their own identity as a means of finding people with whom they have something in common. The are quite willing to do something for higher values or purposes but they want to determine what these are and give these a personal touch. Take for example Alpe d’HuZes:

Marike Kuperus. Photo: Martin Rudolph people take part in that because it is tough, to show how much sponsor money they have collected, from a sense of personal commitment but also from the feeling that they are doing something for cancer research.” Opportunity or threat? “Of course this personalisation forms a risk for traditional associations. The automatic connection is lost; the message ‘you should become a member, that’s the done thing’ no longer works. Yet it is also an opportunity if you manage to find the right groups as an association and give the impression: we need you and we are doing your thing. It might sound a bit

negative but people will only find you interesting if you respond to their needs. You need to see this as an exchange. If you attract the right people then they in turn will be happy to make their energy, passion and network available to the association. You can only develop such a personal relationship with your supporter base if you know your target groups really well. I expect that such an exchange can be realised in Wageningen circles. And if you have the feeling that you are failing to attract a certain target group then start by asking twenty people what attracts them and what puts them off. If you engage in their interests then they will be interested in you.”


KLV and the future

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

KLV is thinking about its future as the alumni association of Wageningen. What does the alumnus of the future need and what is KLV’s role in this? And also: what is the relationship between KLV and Wageningen UR? We put these questions to Delia de Vreeze, head of the Department for Alumni Relations & Funds and director of the Wageningen University Fund.

16 September Young KLV – Course - CV writing 19 September Young KLV – Masterclass – Speed reading 100 % smart 24 September Young KLV – Workshop – Presentation skills

Association moving towards 2020’. Further information: kuperusenco.nl

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).

8 October Young KLV – Workshop – Negotiating skills 10 October Young KLV – Workshop – Networking and personal branding 11 October Kennisnetwerk Milieu - Lectures - Veterinary pharmaceuticals and anti-microbial resistance Part of Lecture Series ‘Hot topics in environmental quality’ More info: kennisnetwerkmilieu.nl 15 October Young KLV – Work Search Cafe - for starters & young professionals


the lecture ‘New generations, new networks,

3 October VWI – King’s Castle: debate with leading men on female talent at Wageningen UR Following the evening with Leading Ladies a the Queen’s Palace, a group of Leading Lords will shine their light on the barriers and careers of women at Wageningen UR.


In the autumn of 2012, Marike Kuperus gave

3 October Young KLV – Workshop – Debating skills

Go TO to BE klv CO .n M l/m E em A be ME rs M hip B

processing. How they make links is often more story based than theory based. In doing this they do not look for traditions but for authenticity, for ‘genuine’ stories. You can see that associations are responding to this by digging up their stories; they are drawing upon their histories and responding to the desire for attributes such as community, warmth and familiarity. And that story immediately forms a bridge between the different generations.”


What is KLV’s added value? “Nowadays you do not need an association to come into contact with people: LinkedIn and Google can do that for you. As an association you should no longer try to pull people in but instead you should reach out and be active in those activities your target groups are engaged in. For example, that means being actively involved in discussions on LinkedIn and responding to new needs and new target groups, such as the self-employed. Or in the present crisis thinking about people who have lost their job or have just graduated and cannot find a job. Why not link such people to an experienced mentor from a sector rich in opportunities? There is plenty of willingness to help; in general people are quite happy to provide an introduction or to act as a mentor but you do need to approach them directly about this on an individual basis. However, the up-and-coming generation of twenty something (sometimes referred to as the ‘reset generation’) have a completely different approach to information

27 September Kennisnetwerk Milieu – Lectures - DNA in the Dutch delta Part of Lecture Series ‘Hot topics in environmental quality’. More info: kennisnetwerkmilieu.nl


“Which role I see for KLV? An active and healthy alumni association helps shape the ‘Wageningen feeling’. It superbly compliments the alumni policy of Wageningen UR. If alumni translate their connection with the university into a membership of an alumni association then added value is created because they will participate in a social and business network of like-minded people. Meeting each other and learning from each other is important for both the university and the alumnus. Therefore over the next few months we will be working on a stronger link between the alumni association and the alumni policy of Wageningen UR.”

25 September Vereniging Tropische Bossen – People first in tropical forests? Are we on the right track? The focus of this seminar is on sustainable forestry development approaches that are rooted in real life situations, perspectives and potentials of people and their forests in situ. More info: tropischebossen.nl


Delia de Vreeze. Photo: Bart de Gouw

Photo huub schepers

Wageningen in the world

Transferring potato knowledge in Argentina Applied Plant Research (PPO), part of Wageningen UR, is very involved in the potato sector in Argentina. The involvement started five years ago with support for farmers, for example in the fight against Phytophthora. ‘We showed that during dry spells you do not have to spray against the disease every week,’ says Huub Schepers of PPO. ‘That is a step towards more sustainable potato farming.’ By now PPO is collaborating with Dutch

companies in the field to demonstrate the profitability of the Dutch approach to growing seed potatoes and of new harvesting and storage methods. ‘We expect this collaboration, Gitah Papa, to lead to a win-win situation. Farming and processing in Argentina are flourishing and the better established our Dutch knowledge is, the more orders will come in for our businesses.’ At the beginning of September, eight

Argentinians came to the Netherlands to spend three weeks acquiring knowledge about growing potatoes. ‘After that they will go back to their country to develop knowledge networks there so that Dutch know-how on potatoes can spread like an oil slick,’ says Schepers. ‘We are working on this with the PTC+ training centre in Dronten and with funding from the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs.’ Info: huub.schepers@wur.nl

Profile for Wageningen University & Research

03-2013 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...

03-2013 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...