About Han Wiskerke

Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) Research domains: rural development, multifunctional agriculture, city-region food systems

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment in academic research and education

Today, Tuesday April 6 2021, is ‘Alarm Day’; a day on which the teaching and research staff, students, administrators and alumni of all 14 Dutch research universities will be congregating to call on the new government to structurally invest 1.1 billion euros in academic research and education. Since 2000 student numbers have doubled, while government funding per student has decreased by 25%. In addition research funding has not kept up with the growth in student numbers and increasingly has to be obtained via competitive research grant applications. Hence, there is a structural lack of time and financial means for high-quality research and high-quality teaching. As a result of underfunding, students no longer receive the education they deserve, while teaching and research staff are struggling to cope. So on Alarm Day we address this situation and propose to work towards a Normal Academic Standard. For more information, please check https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/ (or https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/english for the English version).

One of the activities the organizers of the Alarm Day ask us to undertake is to share our personal stories. That is what I will do in this blog, thereby also expressing my support for today’s Alarm Day and the call for a structural investment in university research and education.

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment

I was appointed as Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University in November 2004. Within our university system, being chair means that you are responsible for the financial situation of your chair group. Due to the way the funding of education has been organized at Wageningen University, our education income does largely keep up with growing student numbers. However, the downside is that there is hardly any funding for research. Annually our chair group gets approximately k€ 330 basic university funding (formally labelled as research funding), yet our costs for accommodation, materials, travel and overheads are equal to or exceed that, hence there is no funding for research. So to make sure that the annual operating result of my group is not negative, there are basically two options: we only teach (and make sure that the revenues from teaching plus basic funding cover the salary costs and other costs) or we obtain external funding for research (including PhD projects). We have continuously focused on the latter option (also because the first option de facto means that the key characteristic of academic education, i.e. the link between research and teaching, ceases to exist) and have been quite successful at that, BUT:

  • Over the years grant schemes have become increasingly competitive, and thus our success rate has gradually declined from approximately 50% 10-15 years ago to less than 25% at present (while the quality, based on evaluation scores, has only improved). This means that an increasing share of our research time is spent on writing proposals that do not get funded.
  • A lot of the grant writing has to be done in the evenings, weekends and holidays, simply because a) a 40 hour working week is not enough to do everything I need or am expected to do, and b) most deadlines for submitting proposals are just after the Christmas and summer holidays.
  • Due to the continuous financial pressure of obtaining external research funding I am almost permanently busy with grant writing and actually do not have enough time for the projects I did manage to get funded. And the time I have available is largely spent on project coordination, not on research;
  • A lot of our research projects are funded by the European Commission. In the EC’s framework programs (e.g. Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe) we see a gradual shift in funding focus from understanding problems and challenges to developing and implementing solutions, in other words from research to innovation and (societal) impact. Funding for curiosity driven and risky research has to come from personal grants (ERC, VENI/VIDI/VICI) or grants for training networks (e.g. Marie Curie Training Networks), and these schemes are even more competitive (with success rates between 2 and 10%).
  • Until recently I was ‘promotor’ (main supervisor) of >25 PhD projects and it is simply impossible to be sufficiently involved in all. Most of the supervision is done by daily supervisors (assistant and associate professors), who all do a great job at this, but for me PhD supervision was way more interesting when I only had a few PhD students. Yet, for financial reasons it is important that within our group we have 4 to 5 PhD graduations per year. Therefore we still have 25 to 30 PhD students, but as a few colleagues have ius promovendi (the right to award a PhD) I no longer have to be the promotor of all. So this helps to reduce my workload a bit, but doesn’t change the perverse incentive that a steady inflow and outflow of PhD students is important for financial reasons.

Will 1.1 billion Euro of structural funding solve all problems?

Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’. It will certainly help to reduce the reliance on external research funding and reduce work pressure if we can appoint more staff members who can carry out their teaching and research tasks and activities within their work week. But we also need to address a few other issues:

  • In addition to this structural investment a large share of the research funding that is now distributed via competitive grant schemes (NWO and EU for example) should go directly to academic staff: so less time wasted on proposals that do not get funded, less work pressure and more funded time for curiosity driven research;
  • A new recognition and reward system that once and for all gets rid of the publish or perish culture (or generally speaking the output performance culture) that has dominated academia in the last 25 years. Especially the current publication and PhD supervision criteria that our Tenure Trackers need to comply with only contribute to more publications and more PhD students to be supervised.
  • The time and energy consuming bureaucracy that we need to work in and which is largely based on institutionalized distrust, as if endless procedures, evaluation rubrics, assessment forms, and checks and balances will help us to become better lecturers and researchers.
  • Related to that is the time that we are spending on writing self-evaluation reports (and to that we add mid-term self-evaluation reports) for peer review committees (peer reviews of our BSc and MSc programs or of our research program). Don’t get me wrong, I really value getting feedback from peers if we can also honestly and openly share our struggles and challenges and then get constructive feedback on how to do things better. However what we are actually asked to do is to write marketing brochures to boast about our excellence, so that university management can show to the outside world how many ‘top programs’ and ‘world leading’ research units it has. And this also means that a negative evaluation (which is basically anything below ‘excellent’) will haunt you until the next peer review.

What have I decided to do to reduce my work pressure?

In addition to keep on addressing the structural causes of work pressure I have decided to do the following:

  • I will not write any project proposal until the current Horizon 2020 project I am coordinating is finished and I have the time and energy to write a new proposal;
  • I will no longer write research grants for financial reasons, but only because I want to (for curiosity reasons, because it allows me to hire PhD candidates and/or postdocs, because it enables me to collaborate with colleagues in other countries, et cetera).
  • I will not accept new PhD students until the number I am responsible has dropped below 10 and that will remain the maximum number.
  • I will publish less and review no more than two papers per paper I have submitted as (co-)author (and review no more than 3 research proposals per proposal I have submitted for review).

I realize that I am in a privileged position (permanent contract, no Tenure Track criteria to comply with and chair of a group that does really well in teaching and research) to take these decisions, but hopefully it is seen as leading by example.

Landbouwbedrijven hebben steeds meer bronnen van inkomsten

Steeds meer agrarische bedrijven halen hun inkomen uit andere dan pure landbouwactiviteiten. Slechts een derde van de Nederlandse agrarische bedrijven legt zich toe op de primaire productie van bijvoorbeeld melk of varkensvlees en richt zich op de wereldmarkt. Zij proberen tegen zo laag mogelijke kosten te produceren. De overige bedrijven hanteren een veelzijdiger strategie om inkomsten te genereren.

Dat blijkt uit een enquête-onderzoek naar bedrijfsstrategie en toekomstperspectief van uitgeverij Agrio en de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen University & Research. De enquête die deze zomer werd gehouden onder ruim 1200 agrarische bedrijven laat een aanzienlijke verbreding van inkomstenbronnen zien ten opzichte van het laatste grootschalig onderzoek midden jaren negentig naar bedrijfsstrategieën in de landbouw. In 1995 combineerde 22% van de bedrijven landbouw met andere bedrijfsactiviteiten, nu is dat 50%.

Agrarische bedrijven hanteren diverse strategieën om inkomen uit hun activiteiten te genereren. De meest oorspronkelijke route is die van de primaire productie van akkerbouwgewassen, zoals tarwe, en veeteelt, met melk, vlees of eieren als producten. In de afgelopen decennia hebben agrariërs naast akkerbouw en veehouderij ook andere inkomstenbronnen gegenereerd. Tegenwoordig is er een heel scala aan activiteiten zoals agro-toerisme, agrarisch natuurbeheer, een zorgboerderij en activiteiten die geen specifieke agrarische link hebben, zoals energieproductie met zonnepanelen of windmolens. Puur en alleen landbouwproductie komt nog maar bij de helft van de bedrijven voor, terwijl dat in 1995 nog op 78% van de bedrijven het geval was.

Han Wiskerke, hoogleraar Rurale sociologie aan Wageningen University & Research, die het onderzoek begeleidde, noemt de toegenomen diversiteit van strategieën binnen de landbouw onderbelicht. „Het beeld in de media werd het afgelopen jaar vooral gedomineerd door de stroming die zich richt op specialisatie en schaalvergroting. Uit ons onderzoek blijkt dit slechts één van de vele stromingen te zijn.”

Arbeidsmarkt gunstig voor extra activiteiten

De bedrijven die zich richten op verbreding en toegevoegde waarde (zoals eigen productverwerking), genereren opmerkelijk meer arbeid. Daarmee leveren ze een bijdrage aan de werkgelegenheid en de leefbaarheid van het platteland. Volgens Wiskerke zou het goed zijn als overheden zich bewust zijn van het feit dat bepaalde vormen van landbouwontwikkeling ook veel werkgelegenheid creëren. „Ik heb de indruk dat beleid gericht op het behouden en creëren van werkgelegenheid op het platteland zich niet op landbouw maar op andere economische sectoren richt.” Wiskerke plaatst daarbij wel een kanttekening. “De activiteiten die potentieel veel werkgelegenheid creëren doen zich vooral voor nabij steden en in toeristische gebieden (met name langs de kust), omdat daar nu eenmaal de meeste mensen wonen of recreëren en daar dus de meeste consumenten en afnemers van die boerendiensten te vinden zijn.”

Ontevreden over inkomen uit landbouw

Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat boeren die zich richten op specialisatie en productie voor de wereldmarkt op veel fronten afwijken ten opzichte van boeren met een andere strategie. Dat neemt niet weg dat voor alle boeren geldt dat ze ontevreden zijn over de inkomsten uit agrarische activiteiten. Bijna de helft is erg ontevreden of behoorlijk ontevreden. Het minst tevreden over het inkomen uit de landbouw zijn boeren met een bedrijfsstrategie waarbij zij zgn. groenblauwe diensten leveren, zoals beheer van sloten, en verbreding, zoals zorglandbouw of agrotoerisme. Daarentegen zijn deze boeren wel het meest tevreden over hun bedrijfsinkomen. Maar ook voor de boeren die zich richten op specialisatie en productie voor de wereldmarkt is het moeilijk om met alleen landbouw rond te komen, constateert prof. Wiskerke. “Puur van landbouw rondkomen is moeilijk.”

Veranderende regelgeving als belemmering

Als grootste belemmering voor bedrijfsontwikkeling staat bij alle bedrijfsstrategieën met stip op één: steeds veranderende regelgeving. 63 procent van de deelnemers kruiste dit aan. Agrariërs hebben behoefte aan een duidelijke langjarige overheidsvisie. “Daarop kunnen zij hun bedrijfsstrategie, waarbij vaak investeringen gemoeid zijn, inrichten,” licht prof. Wiskerke toe.

Kwart van gezinsinkomen afhankelijk van landbouw

Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat van alle bedrijven in de enquête slechts een kwart voor het gezinsinkomen volledig afhankelijk is van de landbouw. Bij de overige 75 procent bestaat het gezinsinkomen uit landbouw plus andere bedrijfsactiviteiten, een baan buiten het bedrijf of een combinatie daarvan. “Dat kan een teken van bittere noodzaak zijn, omdat ondernemers het met alleen landbouw financieel niet redden”, zegt prof. Wiskerke. “Maar het kan ook een uiting zijn van veranderende opvattingen over wat goed of toekomstbestendig agrarisch ondernemerschap is.” Tien jaar geleden gaf 72 procent van de ondernemers van multifunctionele bedrijven aan dat direct contact met burgers en consumenten de belangrijkste drijfveer was voor verbreding. Ook financiële risicospreiding werd toen door de helft genoemd. “En het kan ook een teken zijn van een verdere emancipatie van de boerin / vrouw van de boer, waarbij de nadruk ligt op een eigen carrière en inkomen buiten het bedrijf of een eigen bedrijfsactiviteit voortkomend uit eigen expertise en interesse. Het zijn toch overwegend vrouwen, veelal met werkervaring buiten de landbouw, die de drijvende kracht zijn achter verbredingsactiviteiten.”

Verantwoording onderzoek

Het onderzoek naar agrarische bedrijfsontwikkeling is een initiatief van uitgeverij Agrio en is in samenwerking met de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen University & Research opgezet. Eind juli en begin augustus voerde marktonderzoeksbureau Geelen Consultancy het onderzoek digitaal uit. Aan het onderzoek namen ruim 1200 boeren deel. Het aandeel biologische boeren (6 procent) en veebedrijven is licht oververtegenwoordigd en tuinbouwbedrijven zijn juist ondervertegenwoordigd.


Persbericht Wageningen University & Research, nr 101, 30 oktober 2020

Zie ook: Veehouders willen stikstofruimte inleveren

75th Anniversary: 1) an introduction to a year of celebration events and activities

In September 1946 Evert Willem Hofstee, the founding father of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University, started as Professor and Chair of Social and Economic Geography and Social Statistics.

In the years that followed, the department was reorganized and renamed (e.g. Agrarian Sociology of Western Areas; Sociology) several times, with Rural Sociology being the official name since the late 1990s. Hofstee was also one of the founders and the first President of the European Society for Rural Sociology.

Continue reading

Onderzoek naar kansen en belemmeringen voor agrarische bedrijfsontwikkeling

Vandaag zijn we samen met Agrio een onderzoek gestart naar de factoren die van invloed zijn op de bedrijfsvoering en -ontwikkeling in de landbouw. Tevens proberen we zicht te krijgen op welke uiteenlopende bedrijfsstrategieën en bedrijfstypen er zijn en waar boeren en boerinnen belemmeringen en kansen zien voor een toekomstbestendig bedrijf. De eerste stap in dit onderzoek bestaat uit een korte enquête, die vandaag is verspreid onder ruim 15000 boeren en boerinnen. Dit deel van het onderzoek wordt uitgevoerd in samenwerking met Geelen Consultancy. De uitkomsten van de enquête zullen in het najaar worden gepubliceerd in de vakbladen van Agrio. Later dit jaar willen we, mede op basis van de uitkomsten van deze enquête, een verdiepend onderzoek doen naar de huidige diversiteit in de Nederlandse landbouw, de kansen en belemmeringen voor bedrijfsontwikkeling en perspectieven voor verduurzaming.

New Book: Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

Book cover Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

This collection reviews key recent research on developing urban and peri-urban agriculture. The first part of the book discusses ways of supporting urban agriculture, from policy and planning to building social networks for local food supply chains. The chapters in the second part of the book survey developments in key technologies for urban agriculture, including rooftop systems and vertical farming. The book also assesses challenges and improvements in irrigation, waste management, composting/soil nutrition and pest management. The final group of chapters are case studies on urban farming of particular commodities, including horticultural produce, livestock, and forestry.

The book targets a varied audience: academic researchers in agricultural science, urban planning and environmental science specialising in urban agriculture; urban planners and policy makers in local government; national government and other bodies promoting urban agriculture.

More information about the book can be found at https://shop.bdspublishing.com/store/bds/detail/workgroup/3-190-83836


Door eendrachtige samenwerking: De geschiedenis van de Aardappelveredeling in Nederland, van hobby tot industrie (1888-2018)

Geert Veenhuizen, aardappelkweker die vooropliep met het kruisen van aardappelrassen (1857-1930)

Op woensdag 15 mei om 13.30 uur verdedigt Jan P. van Loon in de Aula van Wageningen Universiteit zijn proefschrift getiteld “Door eendrachtige samenwerking: De geschiedenis van de Aardappelveredeling in Nederland, van hobby tot industrie (1888-2018)”. De promotie is live te volgen via WUR TV en kan ook later worden bekeken. Het proefschrift is digitaal beschikbaar na de openbare verdediging. Voor meer informatie over dit proefschrift, zie het nieuwsbericht op de WUR-website of het artikel in Resource.

Book Launch – Flourishing Foodscapes: Designing City Region Food Systems

On Thursday 27 September 2018 Valiz and the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture will host a programme dedicated to the launch of the book entitled ‘Flourishing Foodscapes – Designing City Region Food Systems’.

About Flourishing Foodscapes

Flourishing Foodscapes is a book about the the social and spatial organization of networks and systems of food provisioning. It explores, highlights and discusses strategies and designs for creating future-proof city region food systems by addressing the social, economic, and ecological vulnerabilities and sustainabilities of current and future foodscapes, as well as how the spatial qualities of the rural and urban landscape and its use need to adapt and change. A key argument in the book is that food not only has to do with nutrition, but that it links up with and influences a multitude of domains; from health to (eating) culture and from employment to climate change. It has a major impact on the city (especially on consumption and distribution, and, to a lesser extent, on production) and on rural areas (mainly production), but also the relations between city and countryside, close by as well as far apart. Thinking about food-related problems and challenges is becoming increasingly important. These issues influence our planet and way of life, but also our everyday existence.

Flourishing Foodscapes transcends the field of bottom-up initiatives and private projects. If we really want to design more sustainable food systems, we will have to think more structurally about changing food provisioning at different levels of scale. Flourishing Foodscapes links research, case studies and spatial design and takes a step towards a more comprehensive approach to food issues, building on inspiring practices, projects and designs from all over the world.

Programme Book Launch

The book presentation will take place on Thursday 27 September 2018, from 17.00 to 19.30 at the Academy of Architecture (Waterlooplein 211-213, Amsterdam). The programme is as follows:

  • 17:00–17:05 Opening by moderator Saskia van Stein (director Bureau Europa)
  • 17:05–17:10 Welcome by Madeleine Maaskant (director Academy of Architecture)
  • 17:10–17:30 Introduction to the book by the editors and main authors Han Wiskerke (Professor of Rural Sociology, Wageningen University) and Saline Verhoeven (landscape architect and researcher)
  • 17:30–18:00 Reactions tot the book by Froukje Idema (Programme Manager Food, municipality Ede); Martin Woestenburg (rural sociologist and journalist); Arnold van der Valk (Professor emeritus of Spatial Planning and co-founder of the Food Council of the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam)
  • 18:00–18:25 Discussion led by Saskia van Stein
  • 18:25–18:30 Presentation of the first copy to Hanneke Kijne (Head of Landscape Architecture at the Academy)
  • 18:30–19:30 Snacks and drinks

This programme is free of charge, but if you plan to attend please register via avb-webredactie@ahk.nl





Organic Times – first edition of the MOAgazine


Recently students of the Master programme Organic Agriculture (MOA) of Wageningen University launched the first edition of the MOAgazine entitled ‘Organic Times’. The magazine (Organic times online) is written and edited by MOA students and provides some insights into the programme, study and student activities and a variety of issues linked to MOA, including book reviews and organic recipes. As chair of the MOA study programme committee I have enjoyed reading the Organic Times and am proud of the time and energy the students invested in developing this magazine. It reflects the enthusiasm and commitment of this great and dedicated group of international students as well as the interdisciplinary character of the MOA programme.

Reminder – Vacancy Assistant Professor in Food Sociology (tenure track)

At the Rural Sociology Group we have a job opening for an Assistant Professor (tenure track position) in Food Sociology. As assistant professor you will undertake independent research and participate in international research projects focusing on the dynamics of food provisioning practices and processes and on the relations between food provisioning and sustainable rural and urban development. You will also teach and coordinate Bachelor and Master courses for the Bachelor and Master program International Development Studies (specialization Sociology of Development), the Master program Food Technology (specialization Gastronomy), and the Master program Organic Agriculture and supervise Master thesis research for these programs. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees. About 45% of your time will be spent on education, 45% on research and the remaining 10% on a variety of activities within and outside the university.

For more information about the position (and the Rural Sociology Group) go to the vacancy page of Wageningen University or contact Prof.dr. Han Wiskerke (han.wiskerke@wur.nl). Candidates can apply for this position onlineThe deadline for application is Thursday 14 September 2017.

Sustaining Dairy – PhD thesis by Georgina Villarreal Herrera

On Monday 26 June 2017 at 13.30 hrs Georgina Villarreal Herrera will defend her PhD thesis entitled ‘Sustaining Dairy’ in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. The ceremony will be live streamed by WURTV but can be viewed later as well.

The full thesis will be available online after the defence ceremony.




Summary of the PhD thesis

Dairy in Europe has undergone many changes in the last few years—the abolition of milk production quotas being a fundamental one. This study explores these changes in relation to the sustained social and environmental viability of the sector and how dairy processors’ sustainability programs are a part of that.

This study traces the evolution of the dairy sectors in the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom since the post-war era, outlining the dominant logic that has guided their development. The analysis shows that the post-war logic based on the increase of scale and intensification of dairying has continued to shape the development of the sector through today. While the visible impacts of intensive dairy have led to adaptations to the dominant rules and practices, these changes have not been fundamental in nature. The analysis of dairy processors and their sustainability programs revealed that these programs can be an additional tool for compliance to legal standards and the alleviation of pressing societal concerns. However, processors address social and environmentally relevant dairy-related challenges when an effective link to profit can be established. These programs have been unable to ensure that the dairy sector operates within established environmental limits and societal expectations, while providing a stable livelihood for farmers.