He wants to create the agricultural systems of the future
Many Danish farmers do not have much respect for clever researcher types, who use words like sustainabile development, climate change mitigation and environmental impacts. They represent rules, restrictions and limitations that most farmers prefer to avoid.
But this is now the reality that Professor in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen finds himself in, although he admits that he doesn’t always approach the farmers in the field or on their farms as much as he would actually like. But when he is out there, where research meets reality, the prejudices of both parties are often dispelled:
"We experience enormous openness and courtesy from the farmers when we tell them that we actually want to hear about the challenges they face and learn from their experiences. Many of them feel misunderstood and misjudged, but we have been able to meet them constructively with respect for their practical understanding and business conditions, without displaying condescension or prejudice towards them. We have also encountered resistance and uncertainty regarding what kind of agenda we have, but we have always managed to explain why we are also interested in, for example, soil fertility, robust cropping systems according to climatic change extreme events and sustainable development within urban-rural interactions” says Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen.
Mutual respect is the key
His agenda is to contribute to increased sustainability and good environmental conditions in agriculture, while simultaneously exploiting the opportunities that agriculture actually has to remedy according to some of the environmental impacts that come from cities, such as renewable energy solutions, counteracting climate change and increasing the recirculation of important renewable nutrients reducing the need for artificial fertilizers. The key element of all this is that it should occur in cooperation with all actors involved, including the actual farmers:
"I have realized that, if we are to achieve changes, it makes no sense to only introduce technical solutions. We must also acknowledge the experts, by that I mean the farmers, who go out into the fields every single day to observe, evaluate and learn; and who also have a point when they say that they are not always listened to. There are plenty of experts who come and impose a lot of narratives on the sector, possibly without involving the sector itself” is his assessment.
That’s why Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen would rather spend his time in the field than in his university office, because he believes he has a unique position to facilitative positive transitions having RUC as an employer:
"The problem in Denmark is that we do not have the necessary level of mutual respect between the research community and agriculture that is essential for good cooperation. And this is a divide that is apparently growing wider. If we are smart at RUC, we can enter a sphere that sometimes resembles a hornets’ nest, and still remain relatively impartial bridging across interest groups. If we play our cards right, we can contribute positively to change and make the difference that is necessary to create more coherence and cooperation across the traditional interests. I feel that I am welcomed in a very constructive manner when I arrive in my RUC car."
RUC on the European map
Focusing on actor-driven innovation and the desire for sustainable development, Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen began two new projects this year, both funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, where, as he formulates it himself, is intends to “investigate the capacity of alternative solutions to create a space in opposition to the dominant paradigm in agriculture”.
One of the projects, ReMIX, will explore the possibility of growing several crops in the same field in order to increase diversity and benefit more from nature's own regulatory mechanisms, thereby reducing the need for inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. This must be done in close dialogue with local farmers in order to ensure the relevance of, and commitment to such new transitions required.
The second project is named LEGVALUE and will investigate the possibilities of increasing the use of leguminous crops, such as cloves, beans, lupins and peas in agriculture in order to fix more atmospheric N2 to feed agricultural cropping systems and reduce the need for protein imports. These crops were an important part of agriculture in the past, before fossilisation of family farming structures - but they are only grown on a limited area of arable land today. The research will also take place in close cooperation with frontrunner farmers, taking the same philosophy of co-ownership to the field and, above all, in joint collaboration see specific benefits from the research that is being launched.
"When it is explained to them that their insights and suggestions for improvement are appreciated, then we only meet open doors in a traditional sector that may sometimes is pictured as being opposed to the rest of the society, and sometimes the research communities as well", explains Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen:
"Agriculture is a business that is very difficult to change, and that's fair enough too, because farmers work with long process time for e.g. soil fertility building and rather big investments for potential transitions – by nature it takes a long time to provide a return on investment, so they are naturally cautious. That's why I want to make it attractive for all actors to contribute. It makes no sense for me to work, unless the actors involved find it relevant and are being listened to. They have some knowledge that we need, so do we – and we have to challenge our respective attitudes to key barriers for successful transitions” he says.
Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen is a professor at the Department of People and Technology at RUC and teaches subjects such as food, sustainability and climate at the Bachelor Programme in Natural Sciences and the Bachelor Programme in Humanities and Technology, as well as the Master Programme in Technology and Social Sciences “TekSam - environmental planning”.
Interdisciplinarity creates bridge building to agriculture
"At Roskilde University, we can become an instrument for greater mutual understanding, because we can both embrace the rationales of the urban population, but also visit the individual producer and understand their reality and the issues that need to be addressed there" says Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen.
This bridge-builder function is something that Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen believes has been strengthened after he arrived at RUC, where he has been employed since 2014. He was previously employed at the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. The new colleagues and areas of work that came with the position, mean that he can see great benefits from his efforts to build bridges to the agricultural sector:
"I have plenty of skills in the technical field from my previous work experiences, but I do need to develop more in the direction of social sciences. I can do this at RUC. The combination of social science and technical science is the right model for the solutions that society needs. That is what is being requested, and that's also what we are trying to deliver” he says, pointing out that this relationship is clearly becoming evident around the scientific community:
"People really listen when we talk about the socio-technical approach in the scientific environments. Also among colleagues in Europe. Many of our colleagues in the traditional natural science institutions are extremely eager to get involved and learn more about our socio-technical system analysis."