More than 650 agricultural economists from around the world participated in the triennial congress of the European Association of Agricultural Economists (EAAE). LEI and the Department of Social Sciences were well represented at the congress, at which various researchers presented their scientific research. The international appreciation for LEI was evident in the appointment of our managing director Laan van Staalduinen as Secretary General.
Laan van Staalduinen says, "The EAAE stimulates the exchange of scientific knowledge and is a market of ideas and innovation. It is a platform for advancing the field together with our fellow economists. I see my appointment as a call to draw attention to critical issues which will further promote international scientific cooperation and which will ultimately help us to address the grand challenges of our time with the right knowledge."
This year, noticeable attention was paid to the topics of climate change and economic models. Regarding climate change, more emphasis is being placed on adapting agriculture to the effects of climate change (adaptation) rather than on reducing the effects of climate change (mitigation). Economic modelling is becoming more advanced. It is becoming increasingly easy to integrate models with one another; and models contain more data input, are multidisciplinary and generate increasingly better visual output. LEI is already thoroughly involved in these developments and is continuing them by searching for connections in the economic models, between micro and macro and between economics, technology, biology and ecology.
In the research domain of international trade, it was clear that economists agree that international trade promotes prosperity, but also that it is necessary to have good rules of interaction. It continues to be important to enter into multilateral agreements, despite the failure of the negotiations in Bali. There are limits and negative effects to free trade, and these require management.
Consumer dietary habits were also a topic of discussion during the congress, particularly in relation to nudge theory. The general opinion seemed to be that this method of influencing behaviour by making one choice more appealing or easier to make than another should not be seen as a carte blanche for governments to enforce their food policy on people's private lives.
Following on from this, the proposition was raised that if food companies were to apply policy that focuses on taking small steps to stimulate healthy eating habits, this would be more effective than focusing on major changes in people's patterns of consumption. Companies that remove sugar, salt or fats from their products in small increments would achieve more than the mere fact of trying to stimulate consumers to eat more fruit or vegetables.