Online learning brings new perspectives on food waste

Two full weeks in Wageningen, together with other professionals, learning everything there is to know about food waste. With this in mind, Soesila Udit-Ramautar and Lusine Tadevosyan enrolled in the Lost Harvests and Wasted Food course. Covid-19 turned Wageningen University and Research (WUR) into an online experience for them. This had advantages and disadvantages, but the knowledge they gained was no less valuable.

Whether physically or online, Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI), part of WUR, is the place to be for food systems professionals
Lusine Tadevosyan

Both ladies are determined to reduce food waste: Soesila Udit-Ramautar’s motivation comes from her role as a researcher and trainer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Suriname. And Lusine Tadevosyan’s from her role as professor and Research Director at the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education in Armenia.

Facilitating online learning

Tadevosyan had previously taken a course at WCDI. She was impressed by the in-depth knowledge and experience of the course coordinators, and by the way in which the courses team facilitates learning. "There are many institutes that offer courses on this subject - certainly online - but that is often little more than self-study: mainly learning theories. It’s more interesting to learn how to apply them - hearing what works in practice and what doesn't. That's what the WCDI courses are all about. Course leaders stimulate knowledge exchange between professionals from different countries and coach them intensively.”

Do-It-Yourself harvesting

During the course, Udit-Ramautar was introduced to a beautiful initiative from the Netherlands: citizens doing their ‘own’ harvesting instead of the farmer. Udit-Ramautar: "Sometimes the price of fruit and vegetables is so low that the farmer cannot afford to incur harvesting costs. By allowing citizens to reap what he has sown, the crop is not wasted and the farmer still earns something from it. I would like to roll out such a concept in Suriname, with a focus more appropriate to our culture.”

A new perspective on food waste

But, according to Udit-Ramautar, it goes much further than finding inspiring solutions. "This course has given me a completely new perspective on food waste. I learned that wastage mostly occurs in the post-harvest phase and with the consumer. And just how big those particular waste hotspots are. You need to know this before you can say anything about the cost of this waste and the impacts on the climate. This knowledge is fundamental to creating effective policies.”

Without the group discussions, which covered so many different perspectives and solutions, I wouldn't have got this far. You don't learn this from any book.
Soesila Udit-Ramautar

Networking and field visits

The group discussions were as useful and effective online as they would be during a physical course.

We seemed to concentrate more online. You get to the point faster and, after a group session, everyone moved on to other appointments, because their normal working days also continued.
Lusine Tadevosyan

What she did miss online was enough opportunity to network and, especially, making field visits together with other students. "This strengthens the mutual exchange of knowledge. Sharing ideas, experiences and impressions is so much easier when you know each other. The last time I followed a course in Wageningen, after two weeks the group seemed like one big family. Now it’s much harder to get to know people outside of your working group. During such field visits, we all did the practical stuff together, which significantly improved the discourse. We also did ‘field visits’ online, but actually they were an expert telling us about his company. These are instructive, but it is much more instructive to walk around a company, looking at how processes are managed and talking to different employees".

Blended learning

Although they enrolled for a physical course in Wageningen, Udit-Ramautar and Tadevosyan look back on the online version with great satisfaction. Tadevosyan: "I've learned a lot, and I think it's great how the course coordinators bonded with everyone online. As far as I'm concerned, the only online learning issues needing attention are networking and field visits. Perhaps a mix of physical and online could be a solution.

That is also what the WCDI ultimately wants to achieve - after Covid-19. Then, for example, you will come together for field visits and the final presentations, with lots of time for extensive networking. The rest you do online.”

Learn more about the Course Lost Harvest and Wasted Food