This year, the Outstanding Alumnus Award of the Wageningen University Fund has been awarded to Niels Louwaars, Director of Plantum, the trade association for businesses in the plant reproduction material sector. The award was presented to Louwaars on Wednesday 9 March during the 98th Dies Natalis of Wageningen University.
The Wageningen University Fund aims to promote the growth and prosperity of Wageningen University. This is why the Fund awards a specific prize each year during the university’s Dies Natalis. Once every three years this specific prize is the Outstanding Alumnus Award, for an alumnus who is in the middle of his or her career, and through knowledge gained at Wageningen is making a contribution to the quality of life within the Life Sciences.
The jury describes Louwaars as a role model for professionals and researchers in the seed sector, and especially praises the way in which he has managed to connect the different stakeholders in this sector, which is so crucial to the Netherlands. “Niels Louwaars is a bridge builder,” says the jury. “He knows how to forge partnerships between governments, businesses and knowledge institutes.” He also creates substantive connections: between world problems such as poverty, food security, climate change and the private seed sector, between research, business and society, and between formal and informal seed systems. At the international level, Louwaars draws attention to the role of the seed sector in global sustainable development and fights to ensure more balanced intellectual property of plant material.
Dr Niels Louwaars (1958) studied Plant Breeding in Wageningen (graduated 1982). After a short period at the Wageningen Institute for Greenhouse Horticulture, Louwaars went abroad. He spent long periods working in Sri Lanka and Uganda, and short periods in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Yemen. During this period, Louwaars was involved in plant breeding and seed legislation. It was during that time that he first experienced the importance of bringing stakeholders together: farmers, governments and the business community.
Louwaars returned to his alma mater in the mid-nineties. At the Centre for Genetic Resources Netherlands, where he worked between 2003 and 2011, his focus shifted to intellectual property and sharing access to and profits from genetic sources. In 2007, he obtained his PhD for his work on the impact of policy on seed systems. Since 2011, Louwaars has been the director of trade association Plantum. Since 2013, he has also chaired the board of the Top Sector Horticulture and Starting Materials.
Louwaars received the award, a certificate and the sculpture ‘Freedom’ by Doorwerth-based sculptor Marian Spekreijse on 9 March from jury member Jannemarie de Jonge, board member of the KLV engineering association.