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Louise Fresco    

President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research Centre; Dutch Artist, Scientist and Scholar

In secondary school Ms. Fresco became interested in questions of development and inequity, and decided to study tropical agriculture and extension, an unusual choice given her family background (her father was a classical scholar and philosopher). She did her MSc research in Zambia and immediately upon graduation left for more than two years in Papua New Guinea as a UN Volunteer. Further extensive periods in developing countries, often in very remote areas, would follow: over four years in Zaire, then to the Central African Republic, various countries in West Africa, and extensive periods in Central and Latin America, including the Amazon, in the early 1990s. She was the recipient of a Rockefeller grant to collect colonial data on from the British Museum and other sources.

She returned to her alma mater, Wageningen University, with a wealth of field experience and the conviction that issues of food, nutrition, environment and economic development needed to be tackled in a comprehensive manner. She obtained her PhD cum laude (the first woman to obtain a PhD in tropical agronomy at Wageningen) and moved quickly in the university hierarchy to become full professor and chair of the Wageningen department of agronomy at the age of 39. She was also instrumental in the renewal of the Wageningen curriculum, introducing many interdisciplinary course elements - she was, for example, one of the leaders of highly acclaimed interdisciplinary field work on land use changes for international students in Spain. During the same period in the Netherlands, she became increasingly involved in bridging the gap between academia and policy, chairing the National Council for Environmental and Nature Research and participating in many national committees on science and education policy (e.g. committee on Life Long Learning).

She was a member of several boards and evaluation teams of the centers of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, and notably promoted the West African Rice Development Association's (WARDA) innovative research on indigenous rice varieties which led to a major breakthrough (Nerica rice). She served two terms on the Board of the Asia Vegetable Research Development Center in Taiwan and Thailand and represented the Netherlands in many international meetings on rural development and research. She was also a member of the scientific council of CIRAD and served on various evaluation committee of research institutions in France.

In the 1990s, she developed an additional interest in global change and the effects of climate change on vegetation and land use. This led to an entire new field of modelling; she was a reviewer of the first IPPC report, and chaired the first IGBP/IHDP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and International Human Dimensions of Climate Change) subprograms on Land Use Change (LUCC).

During her years in The Netherlands she also became involved in journalism and literature through her work as a literary critic for various papers and her columns on science for one of the leading newspapers, leading to a life long commitment to science journalism as well as literature and poetry.

In 1997 she decided to leave Wageningen University and returned to international life, accepting the post of Director of Research, Extension and Training Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in Rome. There she was responsible, among other things, for shaping the policy on sustainable agriculture, the Commission on Sustainable Development and follow-up of Agenda21 as well the environmental treaties such as CBD (biodiversity), UNFCCC (climate).

In 2000, she was promoted to Assistant Director-General, Agriculture Department (FAO). More than six years she led the department, which covers the technical backstopping of the majority of FAO's field projects as well as technical policy in the area of food and agriculture, through a major reform towards more flexibility in responding to world wide crises, increased collaboration with the private sector and NGOs, a better gender balance. She developed extensive cooperation with IAEA, WHO, World Bank, UNEP and other UN partners.

She promoted staff attitudes to effective problem solving, aimed at reducing bureaucracy where feasible, and endeavoured to build bridges to the non-governmental and private sector communities. As a strong team player and manager, she shaped the work on major issues like biotechnology, Avian Influenza, BSE, foot and mouth disease, water, pesticides, locust control, biodiversity and genetic resources, and was actively involved in international negotiations in these areas. She dealt with 350 + staff members and with programmes in over 90 developing countries, including very complex ones such as Iraq and the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, but also had to find a balance between OECD and G-77 interests in matters of trade, certification and standard setting (Codex alimentarius) and intellectual property rights. She managed to maintain and foster academic excellence in the department throughout long years of successive budget cuts.

She feels totally at ease in a highly multicultural environment, and has traveled professionally to over 50 low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America.

In the spring of 2006 she decided to resign in reaction to the continuing budget cuts that threatened FAO's technical excellence and increased political pressures, and accepted the offer of a University Professorship in Amsterdam, allowing her to pursue her various academic and public interests without administrative and teaching obligations. She continues to maintain a strong interest in international affairs notwithstanding her return to the Netherlands.

Upon her return she was appointed to serve as a non executive on the supervisory board of Rabobank, one of the very large cooperative banks in the world, where she deals in particular with issues of food and agriculture, international development and corporate social responsibility. This has given her first hand experience of the private financial sector.

In 2006 she delivered the so-called Duisenberg Lecture during a lunch event at the Annual Meeting of the IMF, resulting in a widely noted publication "Food or Fuel, is there a dilemma?". In 2007 she became visiting professor at Stanford University and recipient of a grant from the Packard Foundation to review the possibility of certifying bio-fuels; as such she is involved with the Round Table for Sustainable Bio-fuels.

She was appointed as a so-called independent Crown member of the Dutch Socio-Economic Council, the leading advisory body uniting employers organisations and trade union in the country.

In 2009 she was appointed as non-executive director at Unilever and serves on its Corporate Responsibility and Reputation Committee and a member of the Council of Advisors of the World Food Prize. She was also appointed as a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

Louise Fresco has published widely outside her scientific field as a as a columnist, a literary critic, and as a writer of novels and essays and is an acclaimed public speaker. In 2008 she resumed writing a bi-weekly newspaper column on international affairs in the NRC. She further serves on various boards of non-profit organizations, dealing with students refugees, medical care and cultural activities. She is also a member of the prestigious trilateral commission. In 2009 she was ranked as the 31st most influential person in The Netherlands (out of 200 leading personalities) and the 4th most influential woman. She is also a member of four scientific Academies. In May 2010 she became a member of the independent review committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the InterAcademy Council at the request of the United Nations.

In 2015 she participated in the conference of the Bilderberg Group. She participated in the World Policy Conference in 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2016. In addition, she holds seats on the boards of the Erasmus Prize Foundation and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, is a member of the Council of Advisors for the World Food Prize and adviser to the OCP Group (Office Chérifien des Phosphates). She also chairs the Compagnie Fonds and its Board of Professors of the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. In May 2010 she was among the members of the InterAcademy Council ’s international scientific team appointed by the United Nations to investigate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Last but not least, she is a member of the jury of the 2011 (Dutch) Libris Literature Prize. Since 2011 Fresco is a member of the advisory council of The Hague Institute for Global Justice, member of the Nederlands-Franse Samenwerkingsraad and member of The Dutch Safety Board in the Netherlands. Fresco is the chair of the Research School Accreditation Committee (KNAW) and of the Nationaal Platform Rio+20.

She was also appointed as President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research Centre from 1 July 2014. She succeeded Aalt Dijkhuizen.

To sum up, Louise O. Fresco is a highly motivated, enthusiastic individual with strong leadership capabilities, combining extensive international experience and solid science in food and agriculture as well as international development. Her main focus today is in building bridges between science and policy, and between the public and private sectors.


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