STIAS Fellow Paul Vlek, a world-renowned soil scientist from Bonn University, was recently awarded the 2014 World Agriculture Prize during ceremonies in Nanjing, Jiangsu province of China.
The prize is awarded jointly by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences and Nanjing Agriculture University and in 2014 recognised “Paul Vlek’s remarkable success in developing global collaborative partnerships and being an inspiration to generations of students and researchers in Germany and worldwide.” Special mention is made of the fact that “[an] interdisciplinary research approach has been a hallmark of Paul Vlek’s career working in Africa, Uzbekistan and elsewhere to ensure that research outcomes lead to innovation and adopted new practice.”
A technique to prevent nitrogen losses by deep-placement of urea in flooded rice developed by Vlek is now utilized in more than 2 million hectares of rice fields. His experience in this instance of the long delay between discovery and adoption of the technology compelled him to draw attention “to the all too often delays between invention of new agricultural practice and adoption which can run into decades. New approaches in agricultural research are needed to avoid such time lapses by engaging and integrating all stakeholders in the innovation process from the onset of research”.
Vlek was appointed to the UNESCO chair of Education for Sustainable Development at Urgench State University, Uzbekistan in 2011; in West Africa he set up a climate service center to help 10 countries cope with climate change.
At STIAS Paul Vlek is a member of a research group lead by Richard Sikora (INRES, Bonn) engaged in one of the STIAS longer term theme projects dealing with sustainable agro-ecosystems. The current focus is on the impact of sustainable intensification of food production on environment and human well-being which will also be the topic for the February 2014 annual STIAS–Wallenberg Round Table meeting.
In his acceptance speech Vlek highlighted that “agriculture is a complex socio-ecological endeavour with many trade-offs. To better guide our land-stewards (farmers) and policymakers, the next generation of agricultural scientists must be trained in the modern tools of complexity science and be able to work across disciplines and with multiple partners and stakeholders.”