Past leader reflects on milestones

05.06.2024 As part of the 30-year celebrations, Prof Urs Scheidegger, one of International Agriculture’s founding staff members and a former leader, discusses highlights from his tenure and wishes for the coming decades.

Even though he retired in 2020, Urs Scheidegger still contributes as a guest lecturer at BFH-HAFL and closely follows worldwide agricultural developments.
Even though he retired in 2020, Urs Scheidegger still contributes as a guest lecturer at BFH-HAFL and closely follows worldwide agricultural developments.

Urs Scheidegger is a busy man. He may have officially retired from HAFL four years ago, but as a regular guest lecturer he’s still deeply engaged with the national and international agriculture sectors.

Urs was heavily involved in the 20th-anniversary celebrations but unfortunately will miss this year’s festivities on 11 June, as he will be walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. There really is no stopping him!

As former head of both International Agriculture (IL; 2008–2010) and the master’s programme (2010–2019), he shares some past IL memories as well as future ideas.

Biggest achievements

Sharing international experience in agriculture overseas, and seeing students flourish while on their international internships working with smallholder farmers were highlighted as major successes.

“The first big achievement was the consolidation of international agriculture at HAFL,” said Urs. “This culminated in the curriculum reform in 2000. From then on, all agricultural students had some exposure to topics in international agriculture.   

“And then there’s the student internships, which we started 30 years ago. They work for six months in a host organisation in a developing country. They’re often nervous before leaving Switzerland, so we made a point to visit them early during their internships. It was like meeting completely changed people – they were self-confident and saw how they could contribute to the work of the host organisation. Most did a good job.

“From the very beginning we focused on smallholder farmers. They are the ones who produce the lion’s share and have higher yields and productivity than on large farms. I think it's an achievement that we stayed focused on the small farmers over the last 30 years.”

Biggest developments

The biggest developments he saw during his IL tenure, which began in 1993, were in IT and in the teaching methodology.

“When I started to work here,” he said, “we were sharing one desktop computer between two people – no internet, no emails. I keep telling students that if they think it's complicated now to do a literature search, it was 20 times more complicated without IT tools!

“In the late 90s, we switched our teaching language to English. It was the students who proposed it, as they knew it would be their future working language. In 2008, we introduced Problem-Based Learning (PBL) in IL – no more lectures, and students taking full responsibility for their own learning. Then in 2009, the introduction of the master’s programme brought quite a few students from overseas, with whom the IL BSc students could interact.”

Future wishes

Looking to the next 30 years, Urs has clear ideas for IL and HAFL.

“I hope IL will continue to focus on the principles of sustainability, impact-oriented research and climate change (mitigation and adaptation),” he said, “and be known for that internationally – in the Global South and also within HAFL and Switzerland.

“And I hope HAFL is still recognised as an institution with a down-to-earth attitude. With its expertise in sustainable food production and healthy nutrition, HAFL could contribute more to the discussions around healthy diets within planetary boundaries, as recently initiated by the EAT-Lancet Commission.”

Read a full transcript of the interview here:

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Subject area: Resource-efficient agricultural production systems
Category: International, Research, Resource-efficient agricultural production systems