National Council for Agricultural Research
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NRLO Report no. 98/1E, The Hague, 1998
The future of the agrosector is one of the key themes in the studies undertaken by the National Council for Agricultural Research (NRLO). The agrosector is facing major change, above all in terms of the social role and position of agriculture. It is recognised not only that agribusiness is an important sector in the Netherlands, but that the downside of its economic success is reflected in large-scale problems in such areas as the countryside, environment and animal health. Agribusiness appears to have shielded itself for too long from social developments. In the market, the agrosector is confronted with problems and opportunities arising out of the reversal of chains: customers, consumers who are deciding what products they want. And finally there is the question of how the already highly international agribusiness could develop in the event of the extension of free markets and the dismantling of protectionist policies.
The most important question for the NRLO was what this turbulence in agribusiness and elsewhere could mean in terms of the position and the content of agricultural research. This question is central to NRLO's foresight studies and a great deal of background studies has been carried out in this context. The principal findings of these studies have now been integrated in five reports on the main themes: "Agriculture in society: a new perspective", "Globalisation and agribusiness", "Market strategies and consumer behaviour", "Agriculture and environment" and "Towards healthy animal production".
This report is based on, among other things, four essays written on the subject of "Changing relations between agriculture and society". The report outlines a development prospect for agriculture, examining four dimensions of the socialisation of the sector. It is impossible to say whether the socialisation of agriculture will actually proceed in the way sketched in this report. The future is uncertain. A great deal will depend on the vision and the ambitions of the players involved in the development of agriculture and rural areas, and their ability to strike out on new courses.
The job of the (agricultural) knowledge system is to provide appropriate support for agriculture in the coming decades. It means that this knowledge system will have to change its priorities and the way in which it functions. The report sets out the changes which, in the view of the NRLO, are most needed.
Dr A.P. Verkaik (the member of the Executive Board of the NRLO with responsibility in this area) and N.A. Dijkveld Stol (project manager) played a major role in the formulation of this report. I should like to express my sincere thanks to them, and to the many others who have contributed to the report.
Professor A. Rörsch,
If the aim is the socialisation of agriculture, various dimensions require attention:
We can expect to see a high degree of turbulence in these areas in the decades ahead. People involved in agriculture may perceive the problems arising out of this instability as threats to be resisted. But they can also be viewed as opportunities, as challenges to explore new avenues. The extent to which and the way in which a new social perspective for agriculture is achieved will depend to a significant degree on the vision and ambitions of the players involved in agriculture.
As it appears at present, the various dimensions
of the socialisation of agriculture can best be satisfied if agriculture
opts for transparency, for interaction with customers and society,
and for multiformity in its relations with society, in land use
planning and in developments at farm level. There will be a turnaround
at each of these three levels.
|a. relations with society||Stable, largely inward-looking, coalitions ("the green front").||Numerous open relationships with society; dynamic and temporary.|
|b. spatial conditions||Uniformity in spatial and environmental conditions by means of cultural and technical interventions aimed at agriculture.||Diversity in spatial and environmental conditions in which agriculture has a place in interaction with other functions and in which creative use is made of regional differences.|
|c. operational management||High degree of standardisation as a result of the dominance of the production technology view.||Great diversity as a result of the co-existence of various strategic options for the development of agriculture. 'Both/and' strategies instead of 'either/or' strategies.|
The challenges to the sector present the knowledge system with new questions. A great many of these are covered in other NRLO studies ("market strategies and consumer behaviour", "globalisation and agribusiness", "agriculture and environment", "towards healthy animal production" and "rural areas". The reports deal with various knowledge and innovation themes that have priority over the next few years. They include:
The study "Agriculture in society: a new perspective" looks particularly at the socio-cultural and planning issues as they relate to the changing position of agriculture. Important themes in this context are:
a. Identifying and achieving what groups in society perceive as being of value in relation to agriculture and rural areas
Important aspects are:
b. Improving the quality of the countryside by means of new combinations of agricultural and planning developments
Important aspects are:
c. Facilitating differentiation processes in agriculture
Important aspects are:
The development of a multiform system of agriculture in a turbulent and heterogeneous society makes a variety of demands on the interaction between agriculture and the (agro) knowledge infrastructure. The aspects set out below are particularly important.
a. The multiform practice of science
In order to guide future developments in agriculture and the countryside satisfactorily, it is important to create scope in the Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen URC) for a range of scientific approaches, views and perceptions.
Important tasks in this respect are:
b. External expertise and countervailing power
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries (LNV) should not rely solely on the expertise in Wageningen. This is particularly important because diverse groups of centres of expertise (university groups, research institutions, firms of consultants etc.) often differ in their perceptions of and knowledge of social developments, problems and opportunities, as well as in their approaches and the directions in which they seek solutions that offer prospects. Finding out about and making use of insights and skills that exist outside the agricultural circuit is essential to the socialisation process in agriculture.
c. The customized practice of science
The developments in increasing multiformity and diversity in land use conditions and farming that have been outlined increasingly call for a custom-made approach to finding solutions.
Important tasks for the future are:
Agriculture is in a state of flux and is the focus of attention, as the frequent debates in the media and elsewhere on the social position of agriculture illustrate.
Nowadays, only 15 to 20 percent of the rural economy in the Netherlands depends on agriculture; new and powerful players have emerged in rural areas. Land use is shifting towards non-agricultural functions. Extensive farming (grass and arable) is giving the most ground. The proportion of non-land-related agriculture has risen to more than two-thirds of all agricultural output.
Developments in liberalization and globalisation, the 'greening' of society and the increasing social diversity and individualization are presenting the agrosector with new challenges.
Our prosperous society's growing interest in the quality of life means that society wants to establish clearly what it can expect of agriculture in this regard. The sector is faced with the task of serving the consumer and society. And associated with this is the possibility that society can assess and realign this responsibility. This challenge is one facing not just agriculture, but all sections of the business community.
The Dutch agrosector has traditionally provided its customers and society with an important service through the production of food and agricultural commodities. The importance of this contribution will remain undiminished in the future. And more than that, on the way to the 21st century it will gain added breadth and depth. Socialization will also bring a number of new dimensions in its train (chapter 2).
The future of Dutch agriculture will depend to a significant extent on the degree to which the sector succeeds in giving shape and substance to the various dimensions of socialisation in the years ahead. The relevant strategies are outlined in chapter 3.
Socialization also means new challenges for the knowledge system. Chapters 4 and 5 address this aspect.
Dimensions of socialisation
A number of distinct dimensions can be identified in the socialisation process in agriculture:
It is obvious that satisfying all four dimensions of socialisation will entail conflicts. It is effectively impossible to compete in world markets and at the same time maintain all the rural and cultural history values. Nor is this necessary. A variety of developments in agriculture, which have the right to exist alongside one another, can be conceived of within the social parameters.
Figure 1: Dimensions of the socialisation of agriculture
In the period following the Second World War, agriculture was geared primarily to such issues as production volume, cost price reduction and the export position. The sector was literally and figuratively given all the space it needed to make the contribution required of it. The endeavour to achieve the highest possible yield at the lowest possible cost made the Dutch agriculture industry into one of the most productive and successful in the world.
The value of Dutch agricultural output has grown to more than forty billion guilders, making the Netherlands the world's third largest exporter of agricultural products after the United States and France.
The NRLO study "Market strategies and consumer behaviour" makes it clear that the primary challenges for the future in the agro sector are:
The NRLO study "Globalisation and Agribusiness" points out that the European and global playing field demands an international perspective from business, government and knowledge institutes. And it formulates the following challenges for enterprises in the agribusiness sector:
Globalisation strengthens competition, but it also implies new opportunities for agribusiness to satisfy a wide range of demands from a very heterogeneous customer base.
Running more or less in parallel with the focus on globalisation, the issue of regionalisation has become a subject of debate. The American economist, Krugman, argued years ago that the real economy is to a significant degree local. In addition to the abundance of world products that are available everywhere, there is growing interest in regional and local differentiation with an area's own regional products and processes. It is also important that the demand for "non-tradables" is becoming ever greater: rural area, landscaping, location-related services, a better house with a large garden. The relative importance of non-tradables in the consumption package is growing. As a result, says Krugman, we cannot talk about the internationalisation of our consumption package, only of the tradable part of our package.
The world food situation is a complex question. A major effort is required to provide the population of the world with adequate food in the longer term. The area of land per person is decreasing twice as fast in poor countries as in industrialized countries. Water shortages will increasingly be a limiting factor, and one that will affect many countries throughout the world. By 2010 there will be 1.2 to 1.4 billion more people. The depletion, pollution and waste of natural resources will not stop in the near future. Possible climate changes add a further element of uncertainty. The increase in purchasing power in many countries (particularly Southeast Asia) means that these countries will start consuming more luxury goods. This can lead to an increase in food shortages in poorer countries.
The problem of the world food issue affects not just the technical aspects of food production but also, and above all, the question of how economic and institutional supply and demand can be effectively organised and harmonised.
The expectations and predictions of authoritative institutes with regard to the world food situation in the future differ considerably. This is due in part to a difference between short and long-term expectations, and in part to differences in basic assumptions and in the assessment of potential social and technological developments in analysing the future world food situation. Differences of opinion in respect of the policy that should be pursued and the contributions that should be made by the different countries or blocks of countries are the result. The specific contribution that the Netherlands can make to world food production in the decades ahead must be mapped out in greater detail.
In recent years the agrosector has made various efforts to make its production methods satisfy the boundary conditions relating to the environment, nature and animal welfare.
The business community is currently considering whether the integral philosophy behind the environmental and economic approach in the glasshouse cultivation sector (integral business plan, broadening/improving certification and agricultural eco-mark) could apply to other sectors. The lower arable farming vocational training sector is taking the initiative in developing an environment and quality certificate for arable farms. Tree growers are drawing up an overall plan for the integral linking of environmental and quality components that can be made overseeable by means of a certifiable quality management system.
The transformation process towards more sustainable agricultural practices is in full swing. An interim balance sheet shows, however, that the routes that have been followed so far will not lead quickly enough to the desired reduction of environmental impact. In contrast to the note of technological optimism sounded in recent government policy documents, such as Environment and Economy (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment, 1997), it has to be said that the area of tension between ecology and economics in agriculture cannot be solved entirely by the technological optimisation of farming processes. Radical restructuring of production processes and changes in consumption patterns will be needed in order to develop sustainable agriculture. Solutions for the longer term will have to be sought not just on farms, but above all in the exchange of commodities, waste products and production resources (e.g. land, energy) within sectors of agriculture, between sectors of agriculture and between agro- and non-agrosectors. The NRLO study "Agriculture and Environment" concludes, "The agrosector has already been dogged by environmental problems for more than 25 years. It is probable that this situation will remain unchanged over the next decade unless, in addition to the current approaches, sufficient form and content is given to a number of new routes. This relates to:
Together with concerns about product safety and the environment, the issue of animal welfare (including animal health) is high on the agenda of consumers and the general public. The NRLO study "Towards healthy animal production" looks in particular at the problem of animal health. The report notes: "The Netherlands' good reputation in the area of animal health is being threatened by a combination of factors, which in part are outside the direct sphere of influence of the players most involved. There is a danger that animal health will become the Achilles' heel of Dutch livestock farming. The search for sustainable solutions will be one of the great challenges that will face business, the authorities, social groupings and knowledge institutions until well into the next decade.
It must be possible to fit these solutions into a broader social framework. Real innovations are needed in the knowledge infrastructure across a number of areas." The report lists as desirable innovations:
In a rapidly urbanising society, people expect agriculture, or at least a part of it, to operate as agriculture in the historical sense of the word-in other words as part of the civilisation. What happens in an urbanising society is that things rural become increasingly scarce, and hence increasingly valuable.
The far-reaching industrialisation of farming is accompanied by a growing clamour for more natural production methods. We are also seeing a revival of the appreciation of cultural history characteristics in the Dutch countryside, which generally serve to establish identity and contribute to the quality of the environment for economic activities (business location), living and recreation. A rural area with its own identity also has a direct relation to the image of agricultural production. Possible ways of reinforcing region-specific characteristic identities must be explored. Both historic and newly developed elements play a role here. At the same time a broad range of new social activities in the countryside involving, or in combination with, agriculture is evolving: agricultural nature conservation, recreational facilities, public health facilities, etc. (see "Atlas van het vernieuwend platteland" [The innovating countryside atlas]).
In the near and more distant future it is also possible to conceive of agriculture as a possible source of energy, as a supplier of raw materials for products that are currently obtained by importing them, as a catchment area for water by collecting drinking water, as a producer of environmentally friendly pigments, oils and fibres, and as a source of medicines.
This entails important challenges for the future, which will in part require methods, approaches and expertise other than those currently present in the agricultural research establishment.
The agrosector is faced with the task of reconciling its claims on rural area with the demands made by other players for a whole range of functions. Farmers' claims for rural area are under fire from various quarters. In addition to the claims on rural area for urban functions (living and working in differentiated living and working environments) and the desire to increase the area of natural countryside, rural area is also needed for, among other things, recreation, infrastructure and commercial services. The significance of farmers and market gardeners as the economic support of rural areas has become so slight that it is in their own interests, for the benefit of the quality of life in these same rural areas, to co-operate actively in attracting other residents and other economic activities. It will contribute very little to the future to regard the policy on rural areas as a shift in emphasis or a reinforcement of agricultural policy; the future requires the development of a policy for rural areas as a whole.
To an increasing extent, it is also becoming unprofitable to think in terms of a dichotomy: with the country on one side and urban areas on the other. The interaction between town and country is taking centre stage, and forms of land use that can be described neither as urban nor rural are developing. The interaction between town and country, however, is not served in any way by neglecting the individual identity and qualities of the countryside (peace and quiet, rural area, natural phenomena and processes, authenticity, beauty, a place where various production functions essential to society come into their own). It is, above all, in an urbanising society that we see a growing need to preserve and develop a good quality rural area.
The challenge is to utilise the broadening of scope to improve the quality of the rural area.
The socialisation of agriculture, in the sense of a desire to serve its customers and society, can best be achieved if agriculture opts for transparency, for interaction with customers and society, and for multiformity.
Open and intensive relationships with society are important both to recognise what society regards as being of value, how consumers and the general public view developments and how they perceive problems, and to bring about new developments working jointly with a variety of players. In a turbulent society, in which social structures are crumbling and organisational structures are becoming lighter, we are seeing a need to work together towards a goal in changing alliances. This is not a matter of the formation of networks on a non-committal basis; it entails focused co-operation and binding agreements.
Looking back, we can see that agriculture in the postwar period became increasingly divorced from its environment, from society. The town-dweller had less to do with the farmer. He rarely came on to the land, and there was less for him in a countryside given over to agricultural use.
It is precisely because of this greater distance between the world of farming and the urbanised society that the town-dweller has little idea of what is happening on the farm and the sector is out of touch with developments in society.
This soon causes problems in a sector whose actions have a direct impact on the environment and nature and can pose a risk to human and animal health, particularly since the sector is relatively dependent on the government, and hence on politicians and public opinion. People in the agricultural sector are becoming increasingly aware of this fact. On the initiative of the agricultural business community, a communications offensive to bring farmer and town-dweller closer together is currently being prepared. The primary aim of the initiative is to repair the damage done to agriculture's image by the swine fever epidemic, the slurry problem and the BSE affair, and to highlight the fact that the Netherlands will remain a major agricultural nation in the future.
It is certainly worth while polishing up the tarnished image of the farmer. But a communications offensive is not going to achieve this if the root of the problem is not addressed. Open communication with society will have to be utilised above all to strengthen the orientation towards changes in the environment and to ensure that strong and weak signals from the local people are discussed and thought through, and then translated into changed actions. It is important for agriculture to keep a very broad outlook; in other words, not to confine itself to signals from its familiar environment but to look for signals from other commercial and industrial sectors, politics in general, social groups, other technological domains and other countries. This requires a willingness on the part of agriculture to take part in a different debate and in a different arena from that conducted until well into the nineteen-eighties, and often still conducted today.
Society will only regain its trust in agriculture if it is involved in the discussions about and the developments in the sector. The players concerned will change all the time depending on the problem, the level of government involved, and differences in planning conditions (section 3.2) and farming methods (section 3.3).
In practice, there are incentives for differentiated local or regional networks. This includes the regionalisation of environmental policy and the formation of networks among the farming community, government, and environmental and nature conservation organisations. It is crucial that the formation of networks should not lead to a non-committal attitude; it is essential for the parties to make binding substantive agreements with one another. The government can direct the process and set the frameworks.
Among the forms strategic alliances in rural areas may take are what are known as environmental co-operatives. A progress report on the experiment with environmental co-operatives concludes that an approach of this kind holds out prospects as long as the authorities provide administrative leeway and financial facilities. Part of the extra incentive of NLG 30 million a year for the Groene Hart ('Green Heart') plan (for 13 years starting in 1998) will also be devoted to such initiatives. But it is not just about a bit of cash and leeway from the government; it is also, and above all, about agriculture's willingness to enter into firm commitments.
Forming new strategic alliances is also an issue in a number of other ways. The business community will be concerned in the years ahead not just with co-operation between agricultural and horticultural enterprises, but first and foremost with co-ordinated efforts (partnerships) in a complex network of suppliers, farms, processing industry, service companies, carriers and retailers.
As far as the knowledge institutions are concerned, this involves more than co-operation between institutions in the agricultural circuit, such as Wageningen Agricultural University and the Netherlands Organisation of Agricultural Research (DLO). It also entails contributions to innovation and knowledge generation made by other universities and research institutions such as the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and many others, including commercial R&D organisations.
And as far as the government is concerned, it is not simply the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries (LNV) that is involved; there is also input from other ministries: Education, Culture and Welfare (OC&W), Economic Affairs (EZ), Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM), and Transport, Water Management and Public Works (V&W) and from the European Union.
If we want to bring about sustainable and vital development of the agro-complex and rural areas in the years ahead, we are faced with the task of co-ordinating the efforts of players inside and outside the agricultural sector.
The government's agriculture policy for a large part of the twentieth century can be described as having been focused in the first instance on creating equal opportunities for all farmers, regardless of whether the farm was on poor, sandy soil or rich, fertile clay. By taking general measures, the government tried to improve the external production conditions for farms.
The changing situation in the countryside, the place that other functions have gained in it, make it inconceivable that the planning and use of open countryside will in future be regulated solely from the agricultural perspective. Planning visions will determine the direction of agriculture. New opportunities for agriculture will arise primarily through land use changes that will take place in the countryside in the decades ahead as a result of the implementation of water policy, environmental policy, conservation policy, urbanisation etc.
The challenge for innovative agriculture is to respond to the differentiation this will give rise to, and to make creative use of regional differences. Regional differences occur on the European as well as the Dutch level. In terms of large-scale, land-related agriculture, the opportunities for the Netherlands will lessen in the expanding Europe. Farms are faced with three options: produce high-value crops, perform a number of functions as co-manager of green space, or cease farming.
There is a significant degree of differentiation in the Netherlands in terms of the land use development options open to agriculture. In areas of excessive pressure and in vulnerable areas, agriculture will be judged in terms of the extent to which it can contribute to the quality of the environment. In areas where pressure is lower there is more leeway in the planning conditions, but here agriculture will have to contribute, with other functions, to strengthening the economic base.
It is essential for agriculture to make an active contribution to planning, land use and zoning which will, after all, have a major effect on the future opportunities for agriculture. A great deal is also at stake in terms of the quality of the environment.
Through planning and design, efforts must be made to guide the processes of change so that new, but vital cultural landscape is created or the changes take place in such a way that valued cultural landscapes remain viable. Contrary to a widely held misconception, the landscape is not created by the individual farmer. The quality of future landscape depends largely on the success with which a new symbiosis between planning, land use, zoning and agriculture is brought about.
For more than a hundred years, the development of agriculture in Europe has been characterised by efforts to push up production. This policy leads to scaling up and to the thinning out of the group of people working in the agricultural sector. Standardisation of production methods and products plays an important role in this. The further deregulation of trade and increasing international competition reinforce strategic choices in this direction for some farmers. A section of the agricultural sector will intensify and specialise further, so that scaling up will continue. More and more variants are conceivable, with the emphasis on high quality (whatever that might be) at a reasonable price, or a low price for good basic quality. The consumer of the future's decision to buy particular products and product qualities will be governed very largely by the label that can be attached to this concept of value for money. The emotional significance of a label attached to a particular product or a particular method of production will then be crucial.
The strength of some areas in Europe lies in the output of bulk products, while others concentrate on special products, in other words products with specific qualities. The Netherlands' problem is that the country produces a number of products in bulk whereas the region is becoming increasingly unsuitable for this in economic terms.
In addition to the strategy of scaling up, a strategic direction of diversification has come into being, of sidelines to the agricultural activities. In a highly urbanised society like the Netherlands, the interaction with other functions in rural areas and with urban activities offers ample opportunity for this. A heated debate is going on, at European level too, about the multifunctionality of agriculture and horticulture, or at least a section of it. People are looking for a contribution that farmers can make to the quality of life, among other things in terms of landscape development, maintenance of the countryside, recreation, health care etc. Achieving these possibilities will depend primarily on whether reward systems can be developed for them. Sustainable quality for such functions can only be realised if it is linked to a sustainable economic basis. Diversification can also be achieved by part-time farming in combination with non-farm activities such as a consultancy, taxi company, sandwich bar etc. It is interesting to note that the Netherlands, specifically, has no tradition of this, while according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Blandford) even in Australia and the United States farmers' average non-farm income is higher than the income they derive from farming.
Our society is increasingly offering scope for a great diversity of agricultural methods. Traditional production methods in a natural environment can, for example, fit in well with the higher demands that people are making in terms of the environment in which they live. Industrial production methods in artificial circumstances can fit in well in urbanised environments in densely populated centres in the country. The sale of horticultural products in densely populated urbanised areas is compatible with achieving industrial methods of agricultural production in the surroundings of industrial centres and areas of the town.
Making use of the great diversity of development opportunities for agriculture is therefore one of the great challenges for the sector.
In the previous section we have sketched out an evolutionary development perspective in which splits and breaches blur in a great movement towards the future. It might be possible to get the impression that the socialisation of agriculture could proceed without friction. As everyday practice teaches us, however, this is by no means the case. In the words of the background study "Environmental objectives and agricultural environmental policy in Europe" (NRLO report no. 97/18), in the drastic modification process the question is "what the environment, nature and the countryside can stand, what farmers and growers can stand and what the policy can stand". There are numerous problems and uncertainties involved here. We will mention just some of those referred to in the report.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the relationship between the emission of greenhouse gases worldwide and climate change in the Netherlands. There are major questions about the interaction between the environment's physical capacity and the economic activity of farmers and market gardeners. There are not only ecological toleration limits in the environment, there are also economic and social toleration limits on the part of agricultural producers. Will my farm survive the adjustment process? How do I (we) maintain my (our) competitiveness in responding to social wishes and requirements?
The third factor in the equation, alongside nature and the agricultural sector, is society as a whole, composed of people in their roles as consumers and members of the general public. Consumers have an interest in good, safe and cheap food, the public wants a healthy environment and flourishing nature. The first is a (shared) personal interest, the second a collective interest. There has been only a sketchy analysis of how to strike a balance between personal and collective interests. An extra complication is that current social development is revealing an ever-growing fragmentation of society. Different moral standards are developing within sub-groups, and these standards appear to differ very significantly.
Finally we arrive at the policy pursued by the authorities. This is where the confrontation takes place between the lessening tolerance of the environment, the farmers' survival instinct, and the concerns and feelings of the public and consumers. But the policy has its own momentum too. Politics and policy formulation also have their limits of tolerance and their moments of inertia.
It is therefore far from certain that the socialisation of agriculture in the years ahead will actually happen in accordance with the development perspective outlined in this study. The future is not predetermined. A great deal will depend on the vision and ambitions of the players involved in the development of agriculture and rural areas, their capacity for handling the stresses that occur and their ability to strike out on new paths.
The job of science is to monitor closely the processes that are currently under way and chart their effects. This is important to all players, particularly those players (authorities, social organisations, business) who endeavour to pursue a policy. Perhaps they will be able to take action at crucial moments and thus see to it that the future remains within the perspective outlined in this study.
An agricultural sector in a turbulent society that is judged in terms of multiform values and characterised by a great differentiation in land use and environmental conditions and development strategies, confronts the knowledge system with new questions. A number of these have been discussed in other NRLO reports (including the studies "market strategies and consumer behaviour", "globalisation and agribusiness", "agriculture and environment", "towards healthy animal production" and "green space"). We are confining our attention here to the socio-cultural problem. The following priority themes are of particular importance to social academic and land use research.
a. Identifying and achieving what groups in society perceive as being of value in relation to agriculture and rural areas
Important aspects are:
b. Improving the quality of the countryside by means of new combinations of agricultural and land use developments
Important aspects are:
c. Facilitating differentiation processes in agriculture
Important aspects are:
In the previous sections we have indicated a number of substantive themes for restructuring research. In this section we look at some of the consequences for the functioning of the knowledge infrastructure.
a. The multiform practice of science
In a world in which so much is changing that the unpredictable really is unpredictable, it is particularly interesting to focus attention on defining and understanding what is happening, passing it on and communicating it.
From this perspective it is important to strengthen the ability to be receptive, to be able to observe, to be able to describe, to be able to analyse and to be able to communicate. In fact, this implies a plea for observation and analysis of the empirical, finding out what it means in the various contexts, discovering what it represents in terms of value. Associated with this is the observation that the knowledge system in agriculture has to a significant extent become a business, with its own specialisations, perceptions, working methods and accountability criteria - drawn primarily from the practice of science. It is an agricultural knowledge system that does not respond effectively in a number of areas to what is happening in practice. There is ignorance about developments in the countryside and in agriculture, about the interface between agriculture and the rest of society, and about the relationship between town and country.
The desirable role and working methods of scientists as they are perceived in the positivistic practice of science are consequently put into perspective. Nowadays analytical ability, academic knowledge and objective distance are very highly valued. Sensitivity, creativity, the ability to design and interactivity with social developments should be much more highly prized than is presently the case. In order to foster and guide future developments in agriculture and the countryside appropriately, it is therefore important that in the Wageningen URC that is being set up space should be created for a range of scientific and academic approaches, ideas and views. And time should be allowed for reflection on concepts and paradigms.
b. External expertise and countervailing power
We have pointed out above that the agricultural knowledge system - and, more specifically the Wageningen URC - should be developed into a versatile and well-functioning centre. This does not alter the fact that all the disciplines and expertise relevant to the development of agriculture and rural areas can never be united in the Wageningen URC. Attempts to do so would be counterproductive. And-as the NRLO/Studies Consultative Committee study "Wageningen in Profile" specifically pointed out, are at odds with the Wageningen URC's desire to deliver high quality in selectively chosen core competencies.
It is therefore also desirable that agribusiness and the government should not rely solely on the expertise in Wageningen. This is particularly important because diverse groups of centres of expertise (university groups, research institutes, firms of consultants etc.) often differ in their perceptions and knowledge of social developments, problems and opportunities, as well as in their approaches and the directions in which they seek solutions that offer prospects. Finding out about and making use of insights and skills that exist outside the agricultural circuit is essential to the socialisation process in agriculture.
As the NRLO report "Globalisation and Agribusiness" indicates, we are seeing a trend in which Dutch agribusiness, as it expands internationally, is increasingly making use of a variety of external sources of expertise, including foreign research organisations. It is important that the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries should also pursue a policy that specifically makes use of insights and expertise drawn from outside the Wageningen URC.
c. The customized practice of science
The developments of growing multiformity in land use conditions and management increasingly call for customization in the solutions that are put forward. This demands forms of scientific work that are best suited to the problem.
Questions that have to be asked are:
More generally, the way young people are educated and trained is a key factor in the perceptions they develop with regard to problems and opportunities and in the way they deal with future challenges and other players.