I started working for Wageningen University in 1970. Teaching soil physics and restructuring the soil physical practical for the benefit of Dutch and international students. Since then I have lectured myself, supervised a large number of lecturing staff and contributed to curriculum development all over the world. From 1985-1989 I worked at the Brawijaya University of Malang, Indonesia to start an MSc in Soil & Water. In 1991 I became full professor (chair with a research group) in Land and Water Management of Rainfed Agriculture at Wageningen University. This was the start of a contineous flow of PhD students. About 60 PhD students, from all over the world, obtained their PhD under my supervision and I still supervise 8 PhD-students. The list of alumni is here.
All my PhD projects involved field measurements (for empirical evidence, Picture 1) often in combination with modelling (for theory development, scenario analysis, etc).
Recently a number pf PhD graduations took place in Cotonou (Benin) and Accra (Ghana), see picture 2.
Part of the capacity building through PhD students is their Training and Supervision Plan (TSP) that describes their course work and a variety of practical trainings, like the attendance of an international conference (Picture 3) where they have to present their results and establish their professional network.
During my 4 years stay in Indonesia I have copied the Wageningen MSc course Soil & Water. I also advised on curricula development in The Philippines (Cebu), Rwanda, Uganda and Benin.
In December 2013 a curriculum workshop was organized at the University of Legon, Ghana. Based on a study of curricula at various universities in West Africa one concluded that present curriculatarget to much on government jobs that are no longer available. Instead, currucla should target the fast grow of commercial enterprises.
In addition to the above activities I also try to stimuate universities and research institutes to be critical (ref. 1).
Ref.1 Agricultural Development in Africa: Myths and Challenges
Keynote at the First Biennial RAB Conference on Agricultural Research and Extension Outputs. Theme: Confronting challenges of food insecurity and poverty in the era of climate change and variability. A conference of public and private sector organizations sharing agricultural technology development, adoption and delivery pathways. Kigali, Rwanda, 21st to 23rd August 2013 by the RWANDA AGRICULTURAL BOARD (RAB).
During my career my research philosophy evaluated (Picture 1) from techno-centric ( reductionism + objectivism), via eco-centric (objectivism + holism) into holo-centric (holism + constructivism). This implies more room for a diversity of opinions and ‘truths’ among stakeholders in the development process.
In Benin we practiced a search for water conservation practices in upland rice in a participatory process (Ref. 1 and picture 2). Especially women (Picture 3) and young boys (Picture 4) are eager to learn new technology.
In my farewell address (May 2012) I state that ‘Sustainable development is only possible with full participation of farmers’ is a myth. Participatory approaches in the development arena are still popular. I have always worked with farmers and have asked them many questions, but it is my experience that their answers must be considered with great care. In many cases farmers give the answers which they assume that the interviewer wants to hear, or an answer that provides some benefits for the farmer. The only way to get insight into what farmers do and why is to obtain trust. This takes time; two of my PhD students lived for a full year in a village before they asked their first content question. In general, research with farmers in developing countries should be done by local researchers, not by us westerners.
Participation of farmers and other stakeholders is indeed important for identifying problems, technical solutions and new rules of the game. But that’s easier said than done: the gap between a poor illiterate farmer and the other stakeholders is often too large. Fortunately Role Playing Games and Serious Gaming are promising new tools to bridge this gap.
Participatory approaches are often based on the idea that ‘the farmer pays’. However, small scale farmers in developing countries are seldom able or willing to do that. How can we think that this would work? Have a look at The Netherlands: the farming infrastructure is the result of many rounds of ‘ruilverkaveling’ (allotments and re-allotments) for which a lot of public money was used. Realistic mitigation of land degradation needs public investment.
And this has, in my opinion, consequences for the participatory process. In The Netherlands, with a focus on the environment, we often use the saying ‘the polluter pays’. Mitigation of land degradation will only be realistic if we accept that ‘the payer determines’. In other words, public money is needed but public concerns then also co-determine what measures should be taken: this is the cross-compliance idea widely used by the EU. The work on co-vestments that we did in Zimbabwe (Picture 5) and Ethiopia (Ref. 2) is an example of this approach.
In conclusion: Full participation, with the mitigation bill in the farmers’ lap will not work (Ref 1). Participation is a must in the initial stages. But, once there is agreement on a development path and public money is involved the new rules of the game should be enforced to mitigate mistrust and corruption.
Ref 1: Mulching upland rice for efficient water management: A collaborative approach in Benin. Totin, E. ; Stroosnijder, L. ; Agbossou, E.K. (2013). Agricultural Water Management 125 . - p. 71 - 80.
Ref 2: Exploring co-investments in sustainable land management in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Adimassu Teferi, Z. ; Kessler, A. ; Stroosnijder, L. (2013). International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 20 (1). - p. 32 - 44.