Tackling the challenges of today and tomorrow

Wageningen University & Research’s European research collaborations

Our climate is changing dramatically and biodiversity is under severe threat. Huge water quality and quantity problems are prevailing on farms, in cities and in rural areas. And having enough, safe, sustainably produced and affordable food within reach for everyone remains a global and local challenge.

These challenges are addressed with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. Sustainability and food security in times of uncertainty due to geopolitical changes are more topical than ever.

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) addresses these and other challenges, and aims at finding new answers and solutions, often through international collaboration and starting in Europe. This publication presents an overview of recent European projects under WUR coordination or with substantial WUR participation. It illuminates the value of European research collaborations for WUR, for the Netherlands and for Europe.

“Sustainability and food security are more topical than ever”

How can livestock farms produce less methane, and how do we motivate livestock farmers to do so? How can we protect marine ecosystems and, by the same token, use them sustainably and multifunctionally? How should future pandemics be tackled and how do we prepare for that? How can we combat food waste and encourage healthy eating habits? How do we raise awareness and stimulate behavioural change of various stakeholders following the latest insights into soil quality?

These examples of urgent questions and challenges are not limited by national borders, hence making international collaborations essential to investigate and tackle them. Besides, it is impossible for a single university or research institute to have leading expertise in all aspects of science, innovation and implementation. That is why WUR is joining forces with national and international partners in research, policy, business, agriculture and society to find answers together.

This cross-border collaboration is not new. The first Europe-wide framework programme for research was developed almost forty years ago. The current Framework Programme, Horizon Europe (2021-2027), is the ninth programme, with an impressive 95.5 billion euro budget for research and innovation.

“WUR incorporates European research results to innovate the agricultural and food sector”

In the previous EU Framework Programme, Horizon 2020, WUR was involved in over 430 EU research projects that accounted for a total of 256 million euros of European contribution to research efforts. This pattern continues in the new Horizon Europe Framework programme. In the most recent call, WUR was granted 52 projects (and 37.5 million euros) out of its 128 submitted projects in cluster 6, ‘Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment’. In other words, WUR had a success rate of more than 40 percent, while in this call the average success rate is 20-25 percent.

This proves how well WUR is embedded in European projects, and that the Netherlands is a net financial gainer in this research domain. Not all costs in these EU projects are covered by the European Commission contribution; WUR has to invest 30 percent co-funding, mainly from government subsidies. In return, this co-funding investment provides WUR and the Netherlands access to a multitude of research capacity, state of the art knowledge, and innovations from consortium partners all over Europe.

WUR incorporates European research results in its strategic knowledge base, to – among other things – improve policy-supporting research for the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). But also to innovate the agricultural and food sector in the Netherlands through public private partnership projects in the framework of the government’s mission-driven innovation policy. Conducting fundamental research and further developing this in conjunction with European partners remains essential for WUR and for the Netherlands, as was also concluded in the recent visitation of the TO2 institutes. Wageningen Research, part of WUR, belongs to the TO2 Federation, which is a partnership of five Dutch top institutes for applied research.

“Many European and global students and professionals turn to Wageningen”

Involvement and participation of WUR in European projects, discussions and efforts also help to ground and scientifically substantiate the ambitions, agenda and interests of the Dutch government towards the European Union. WUR regularly fulfills a role for the Dutch government in bringing expertise to Brussels and thus helps to articulate the agenda regarding what the Netherlands considers important.

Moreover, results from European research projects have impact at the international level, as well as in the individual European member states. The Horizon Europe programme is the European funding scheme for research and innovation projects to feed into and realise the ambitious European Green Deal targets, with the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity strategies and Pandemic preparedness as important elements. These Green Deal ambitions are very relevant for the Netherlands, but also set a wider global standard.

Last but not least, the European and other research efforts of WUR are well appreciated and widely recognised globally. Many European and global students and professionals turn to Wageningen for their education and training, for work or for collaboration. At the same time around, WUR opportunities arise to start new businesses and create employment opportunities. WUR is the centre of a lively and vibrant ecosystem where companies, start-ups, spin-offs, research institutes, young students, professionals and scientists amalgamate. The European research and innovation efforts contribute to put the Netherlands on the map globally as the centre for research, teaching and innovation in sustainable food and the living environment.

This magazine – that will continuously be updated – shows the benefits of WUR’s involvement in European projects and efforts: for Europe, for the Netherlands and for science. We are proud of our past and current position, efforts and impact in Europe and look forward to continue working with our international colleagues on new challenging European projects and partnerships.

Prof.dr ir. Arthur P.J. Mol Rector Magnificus / Vice president Wageningen University & Research