Global climate change
Michiel Veldhuis is looking for answers that our world urgently needs. As an ecologist working on the Liveable Planet interdisciplinary programme, he researches the impact of global climate change on the African savanna.
‘In many places we’re over-exploiting nature to an extreme extent, and creating an enormous problem for ourselves and our children,’ he says. ‘Huge changes are taking place in parts of Africa. Our scientific knowledge can make an important contribution to this massive issue.’
Veldhuis, who was voted Discoverer of the Year 2020, sees Leiden as the ideal university for conducting his research. ‘Leiden has Naturalis, the Institute of Biology Leiden and the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), which makes it the real hotspot for environmental scientists. Our knowledge of Africa’s ecosystems and biodiversity can ensure that prosperity and sustainability are finally combined.
Major consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems
Veldhuis’s research may contribute to sustainable development for a better future – one that isn't at the expense of the environment and biodiversity. In the Netherlands, the nitrogen crisis is already a big challenge, but in Africa, sustainable development is even more complex. ‘That’s because the number of people is growing very fast,’ says Veldhuis. ‘In Tanzania alone, the number of people has increased fivefold in the past 50 years. Imagine 75 million people living in the Netherlands in 50 years’ time. And all these people needing food and access to clean water, energy and medical care.’
It means pressure on land use and consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems. ‘I’m really interested in understanding human-nature interactions and finding solutions to these conflicts,’ says Veldhuis. In large parts of Africa, ecosystems are still intact. The developments that are taking place on that continent are bringing about enormous changes. That’s a huge issue that scientific knowledge can make a significant contribution to. The potential impact of this is an enormous motivation for me.’
Research in a different culture and society
Veldhuis’s research also involves challenges, such as working in a culture, language and society that is not your own. And he often travels to remote areas, such as the Serengeti – a place as large as the Netherlands with no paved roads. To be able to work there, you have to be able to perform maintenance on your LandCruiser and have a good assistant and driver.
The key to future success lies in training and working with local people who will have to take the lead. This makes knowledge transfer a key task for Veldhuis. ‘Training African master’s students, PhDs and postdocs,’ he says. ‘So they can use that knowledge in day-to-day management.’
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Talent alone is not enough. Today, when the world so urgently needs smart, sustainable answers, it is important to give researchers the opportunity to do their work. Leiden has the necessary talent and knowledge to help with finding structural solutions, but without financial support many research projects will not go ahead and questions will remain unanswered. The Leiden University Fund is therefore asking everyone who cares about our University to make the difference together. For today’s talented scholars, so that they can contribute to tomorrow’s world!