Speech 2008 by Gerda Verburg

This speech was given during the Dies Natalis ceremony in 2008: 'The agenda for bio-based agrofood and fuel chains 1: Policy'.

Gerda Verburg
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would have much preferred to be with you in person today but I was called to the Council of Ministers, which had to come first.

I am however glad I can talk to you in this way. I consider it an honour to congratulate you, Wageningen University, on your ninetieth anniversary.The world has seen many changes over the past ninety years. Agriculture, Nature and Food have become knowledge-intensive sectors in every respect, with the need for innovation and sustainability posing major challenges. Wageningen University has played key roles in all this and still does.

  1. A key role in training tens of thousands of people in agriculture, nature and food quality;
  2. A key role in furthering the understanding of the processes involved in food production and nature development, nutrition and food and changes in society;
  3. A key role in developing and improving production processes.
And Wageningen University can rightly be proud of this.

Over these ninety years the University has provided answers to many of the issues facing society. These answers have been practical and easily accessible. For this is the hallmark of Wageningen University: it provides what is known as SCIENCE FOR IMPACT.

Take today’s theme for example – the bio-based economy. The production of energy crops is very topical. The debate focuses on the competition between raw materials for food and raw materials for energy and the chemical industry. We need to ask ourselves: should we produce for food or for fuel or for both? My position is clear. In times of scarcity we must produce food. 

It would of course be even better if this dilemma did not arise. If we could quickly make the conversion to second-generation fuels. Or if we could use green fuels for the manufacture of chemicals, energy and transport. But this still requires much more research and the application of breakthrough technologies like ICT, nanotechnology and biotechnology. Wageningen can and must play an important role in this, in partnership with international consortiums of businesses and financial institutes.

The theme chosen for today shows how Wageningen University is at the heart of society. It does not produce science from an ivory tower but tries to connect the dynamics of science with society. And I wholeheartedly support this.

But creating SCIENCE FOR IMPACT also brings its responsibilities. New technologies may change society, but are we ready for these changes and do we want them? Do scientists fully realise the potential consequences of their work? Scientists must never lose sight of this facet. These questions are all part and parcel of the University’s package of standards and values, as the University’s Vice-Chancellor pointed out last year.

You have a very fascinating day ahead of you with many interesting speakers. I am a little envious of you.

I would like to wish you all a very good time and for all the people of Wageningen many congratulations on this wonderful anniversary.Thank you