Traveling the rocky road from lofty global goals to local implementation


Johan Bouma, soil science
Wageningen University, the Netherlands

The first person objecting to sustainable development has yet to be discovered. Even though much energy has been spent on defining targets and indicators for the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, a numbers game will not define procedures to be followed.

Overall, we have to acknowledge that much- all too often disciplinary- knowledge and expertise is already available to reach for the goals but is too often not applied. Interdisciplinarity, let alone transdisciplinarity, are widely embraced concepts but the ever more commercialized research environment impedes their realization. On top of this, the information society creates a new social environment with outspoken citizens informed or misinformed by internet and social media.

The overall solution may follow the old adagium: "What is good for the environment is good for business" as will be illustrated briefly with three case studies. Technology driven circular farming systems, precision farming and irrigation, genetic modification of crops and enhancing biodiversity are beneficial not primarily in terms of increasing yields but in cutting costs, leading to a positive bottom line. This will require new research based on identifying gaps in existing expertise.

Working with stakeholders as partners rather than as recipients of top down advice is essential to achieve practical results. This should all be seen and promoted as part of the entire production chain, including consumption.