By Anke van den Hurk, Senior Adviser at Plantum NL and an APSA EC Member from 2010-2016
Why are you keen to work in agriculture? This was often the first question people asked
me in job interviews.
I was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My father’s vegetable garden was the first trigger for my interest in agriculture. The second was the genetics lessons in biology classes during secondary school.
I combined these two inspirations to go on to study plant breeding at the University of Wageningen.
During my studies, it soon became clear that I had an interest in interfacing with elements of plant breeding, people and foreign culture. I pursued this interest through agricultural development project opportunities abroad. With CIMMYT, I took a six-month trip to Mexico where I worked with Dr. S. Rajaram on a wheat breeding project, which was the first of many valuable learning experiences abroad that followed.
In Turkey and Syria I furthered my wheat breeding field study at CIMMYT Turkey and the headquarters of ICARDA, where I gained valuable insight into the importance of understanding the farming fields for which we are breeding. For example, wheat of about half-a-metre high from the fertile soils of ICARDA only turned out to grow 15-20 centimetres in the farmers’ fields, while parent-lines of about a metre high, almost valueless at the station, turned out to be an appropriate and healthy crop in the farmers’ fields. In other words, what constitutes a healthy crop in a farmer’s field is unique to that particular field.
Studying on plant breeding does not make one a practical breeder – this became clear in my first job at Nunhems Zaden, the Netherlands, where I really learned the daily practices of breeding, selection and seed production for several
types of vegetable crops.
When the opportunity arose to become an agriculture teacher in Ethiopia, I strapped on a backpack and jumped on a plane to Mekele
for a new adventure at a new university, starting from scratch with limited resources. Aside from teaching, I was actively involved in a survey on a Global 2000 project developed by Dr. Norman Borlaug (Nobel Laureate), Ryoichi Sasakawa (Nippon Foundation) and the former US President Jimmy Carter.
I learned a lot about Ethiopian culture and really enjoyed my interactions with farmers, as well as getting to understand their experiences with the programme and their needs to improve yield and quality.
My interest in ‘ownership’ of genetic resources and plant varieties was raised during my work for Bioversity, an international organisation dealing with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. In Rome I looked into training modules on the optimisation of conservation, while in Colombia I focused more on practical examples of optimal conservation systems for cassava.
In 2001, my path brought me to Plantum, the Dutch Seed Association, where I was able to really bring together all the elements that give me energy: plant breeding, a beautiful and very innovative sector, an international sector with a wide range of people, and the possibility to further specialise myself in biodiversity legislation. Initially focusing on the Netherlands, I would later go on to represent the Dutch breeding sector at various international forums.
Being an APSA EC member for the last six years was an interesting experience. Highlights include the well-attended annual meetings, the finalisation of the new constitution, and the improvement of technical and legal matters of the association, the latter of which I contributed to a great deal.
Though my tenure as an EC Member is through now, I will continue to work closely with APSA through Plantum, offering support to further professionalise the seed sector within the region.
In my opinion, our goals can only be reached if a reasonable set of rules and regulations are developed, allowing sufficient freedom for all types of seed companies to operate – be they national or international, small or big – while respecting and valuing the work done by others. Solidarity in the sector is therefore important.
This article initially was published in Asian Seed, Volume 23, Issue 1 (January & February 2017). Click to download the issue.