HAS University of Applied Sciences works on regional development of the Southwest Delta

News 22 October 2019
HAS University of Applied Sciences

In the Southwest Delta HAS University of Applied Sciences is seated in the Suikerlab in Bergen op Zoom, which has recently been given the official name ‘Delta Agrifood Business’. Last summer, the building was substantially rebuilt: there’s a classroom, laboratories, workstations, project areas, a canteen and even a climate chamber.

There’s a positive buzz in the Dutch Southwest Delta when it comes to agri, food and the natural habitat. The members of the HAS University of Applied Sciences team developing activities in the region - Godfried Hijl, Marie-Jeanne Groffen, Susanne Wierckx, Rob Bakker and Marjet Overmars - feel it on a daily basis in their contacts with local organisations. “When we started here a couple of years ago, it was different,” Godfried says on behalf of the team. “The penny has dropped regarding how important the green domain is to the development of the Southwest Delta and we are seeing that companies, institutions and development agencies are eager to get to work.” The region is characterised by its strong plant-based production. This offers lots of opportunities in this current time of protein transition.

Patience

But the team has had to be patient. Godfried: “If you want to gain a foothold as an organisation in a new region, you have to deal with a long incubation period. Even if, like us, you’ve been asked by the sector to actively contribute to regional development. We really tried to pave the way. And it’s now starting to bear fruit. For a year and a half, we’ve noticed that agrifood has become a real spearhead, both for the government and for the business community. Networks are being formed. Activities developed. Projects started. There’s an increasing buzz.”

Project line

All the members of the team agree that the assignment in the Southwest Delta turned out to be more complicated than expected. “The initial plan was to develop a new study programme for the activities for 3rd and 4th year students. However, these now have to be incorporated in projects within the existing curricula, which has been quite a challenge. The different areas within the Southwest Delta (the provinces of Zeeland and West-Brabant) also differ considerably from each other. They have different issues, different networks. We’re also taking this into account.”

Motivating all students

This new approach has one major advantage: the team will have the opportunity to encourage all students from HAS University of Applied Sciences to work on projects in the Southwest Delta, not just students from the region. “Many young people are moving away from the Southwest Delta, particularly from Zeeland, and with these projects we’re trying to encourage them to return, and at the same time to encourage new students to come here. The Southwest Delta has many advantages: there’s a big demand for highly qualified personnel, it’s a safe region and you can still live there relatively cheaply. There is also a direct connection to the Randstad and the Antwerp region. The projects have enabled the region to further develop. This is an upward trend, which we’ll be focusing on in the coming years.”

Pioneering

What are the greatest challenges for the coming period? “Within HAS University of Applied Sciences, we focus on creating awareness: sharing success stories, making colleagues enthusiastic. Outside HAS University of Applied Sciences, the main challenge is to get people to come to the Southwest Delta. The distance is sometimes literally a barrier. We’re also focusing on getting to know the regional networks and participating in them. It's really pioneering what we’re doing. It’s hard work, but this approach also makes it a lot of fun.”

Some concrete results from the past year

- HAS University of Applied Sciences has become an important partner in the West and Central Brabant Regional Valley: an investment initiative in the economic vitality of regions by the Dutch government
- A strategic alliance has been established with Royal Cosun, Rijk Zwaan, Lamb Weston Meijer, CZAV, Rabobank and ZLTO
- HAS University of Applied Sciences has become a partner in Food Delta Zeeland: the agrifood network in Zeeland
- Together with HZ University of Applied Sciences, among others, we have taken on various projects on Schouwen-Duiveland
- Students from the minor ‘The value of a plant-based future’ made a great contribution leading the discussion during the Proefmei Collegetour on 24 May 2019
- Students from the minor ‘Biobased Economy’ talked to Ed Nijpels during the Proefmei Collegetour of 13 September 2019