"This was the most successful Brazilian alumni meeting ever", spoke the President of the Brazilian alumni association, Paco van der Louw, at the end of the alumni event in Holambra on Thursday 7th November.
The event in Brazil was part of the international debate series with alumni to celebrate Wageningen University’s 95th Anniversary this year. The event was held in the afternoon at the Veiling in Holambra and was part of a seminar organised by the Veiling Holambra, Incotec Brazil and Wageningen UR on the theme 'Innovations in Horticulture in Holland and Brazil'.
Most of the alumni present had also attended the seminar in the morning and welcomed the chance to discuss specific aspects of this topic further with specialists from Wageningen and their fellow alumni. There were also several participants from the seminar present who were eager to learn more about life in Wageningen.
The alumni debate concentrated on 'Waste in Horticulture', which is currently an important issue in Brazil. Food production is growing rapidly, production techniques are improving but with these developments comes the risk of increased waste in the food chain.
Aalt Dijkhuizen, President of Wageningen UR, opened the meeting with a presentation on the latest developments in Wageningen. He emphasized the fact that Wageningen is a research university in a worldwide domain with students from more than 100 countries. "Our domain is very much at the top of the world agenda at the moment, which is attracting a lot of young enthusiastic new students and successful alumni. The number of Brazilian students coming to Wageningen is increasing rapidly and the role of Brazil in the world is important and will become even more important in the coming years", said Dijkhuizen.
Theo Breg, alumnus from Wageningen University and former president of the Veiling in Holambra, sketched the history of the Cooperative Veiling in Holambra from its beginnings as a wholesale system to a large, successful, fully digitalized auction today. The first verbal auction was held in 1989 and the first analogical clock was introduced in 1991. In 1995 the old cooperative broke down which was disastrous for the local growers. However, the Veiling continued and in 1997 the first digital clock was introduced. Nowadays, 30% of the building is for the cooperative and the rest is for the clients. This means that shipping costs are cheap, the logistics are simpler and the relationship with the clients is stronger. An auction traditionally deals in perishable products such as flowers, but the current technology for keeping products fresh and in good condition for longer periods of time means that many products which used to be sold at auction are now sold via other channels. The Veiling in Holambra is now also becoming a centre of horticulture helping the local growers and working with universities such as Wageningen to increase knowledge development.
Marisa Regitano d’Arce, Vice Director of Esalq, then spoke about food waste and food losses in fruits. In the current world there are great contrasts – riches and poverty, large excesses and severe deprivation. The demand for food, water and energy will grow in the coming years by 35%, 40% and 50% respectively which means that the need to reduce the waste food footprint will become more and more important. Food quality starts in the field and pre-harvest factors, harvest losses, and post-harvest losses are important factors in improving food quality and reducing waste in the food chain. Improving food quality and reducing the losses during the chain brings extra costs but her main message was that improving awareness of the need for this is imperative. Using a wonderful selection of photo’s and data from all over the world, Marisa highlighted the current problems and encouraged participants to think more about how they can do something to reduce their own food wastage.
The third and final speaker was Sjaak Bakker, Manager of Greenhouse Horticulture at Wageningen UR, who concentrated on the two main aspects of waste in horticulture, in particular in the field of vegetables: improving the primary production of food and reduction of waste and losses in the food chain. In the coming years the major challenge will be to feed twice as many people with half the amount of input. The demands of the consumer are also increasing which means that the benefits of protected horticulture are becoming more and more important. This field offers great potential for increasing the production of food thanks to resource efficiency. One example of this was changing the greenhouse conditions from clear glass to diffused light which gives a significant increase in production levels and is relatively cheap and simple to implement. Other areas which can offer reduction in waste are improvements in the supply chain, improvements in storage and transportation, and packaging. Awareness at retail level is also extremely important as strict cosmetic demands lead to unnecessary and increased waste.
During the animated discussion, led by Peter Zuurbier and Theo Breg, the focus was on the possibilities for the horticultural sector in Brazil. It was emphasized that the sector should be demand driven and economically viable but the problems of financing such changes were raised. There is financial support available in Brazil but the growers need to organise themselves and work together in order to access these funds. Whilst investment and improvements in infrastructure, sustainable production development and storage capacity are required, it was agreed that training and educating the consumer on their role in this process is paramount.
The relaxed atmosphere during this event continued into the early evening as the alumni traded memories and ideas during an informal drinks party. Three young alumni also enthusiastically asked to join the board of the alumni association, an initiative that was welcomed by everybody present and will ensure a lively social and virtual network for alumni in Brazil in the coming years!