Dear colleagues, students and friends of the Faculty of Tropical Agriculture,
This is reportedly the first FTA annual report with a foreword in English. Rejoice and: boom drumbeat! (as Flemish poet, writer and Dada artist Paul van Ostaijen wrote in 1920). In line with its international R&D mandate, the Faculty wants to go global and deliver its messages to a wide(r) audience and in a more international language than Dutch (my mother tongue) or Czech (the language of our university and faculty).
It is also, I am proud to say, the first FTA annual report written by a foreign dean (who is citing his fellow-country men, as you see above). In a way, this reflects, and is in line with, the Faculty’s mandate and constituency: a fair share of our MSc and PhD students are indeed foreigners. For a few years now, we also have academics from abroad in our teaching and research staff. It is proof of the internationalisation agenda that the Faculty has been building since its creation as the ‘Department of World Agriculture and Forestry’ in 1961.We celebrated the 60th anniversary during our Open Faculty Day on October 15, during one of the rare periods that Covid-restrictions were more lenient. Since its creation, the department evolved into an institute and eventually a ‘true’ faculty, that started in 2013, with my predecessor Prof. Ing. Jan Banout, Ph.D., as the first dean. When I took over in April 2021, he had been leading the Faculty for 8 years. Under his guidance the Faculty grew, and eventually ‘landed’ in our prize-winning brand-new Faculty building. For the first time, all Faculty departments are housed under the same roof, which should further inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration within the institution. Thanks, Honza, for all the efforts you put into bringing our Faculty to the next level! You can proudly say: exegi monumentum aere perennius (I raised a monument more lasting than bronze)!
In this foreword, I would like to share with you some of the Faculty’s achievements and highlights of 2021. As in the previous year, our ambitions and planning were a bit curtailed by the Covid-pandemic that, wave after wave, imposed restrictions on our normal behaviour and functioning. Teaching was not easy as most had to be dispensed ‘from a distance’. Pure distance teaching sometimes got blended with in vivo classes, whereas we also had to be creativein finding alternative ways of organising state exams and thesis defences. The fact that more than half of our students come from the so-called Global South increased the challenges to provide them with high-quality teaching. Overall, however, I think – or should I say hope? - we succeededin accommodating most. A number of foreign students, however, were unable to make it into the Czech Republic due to administrative and travel restrictions, whereas the consecutive lockdowns had a very negative impact on the social interactions for which our university with its unique campus model is widely known and praised. Let’s hope that the socio-emotional stress and burden caused by the repeated and continuous restrictive measures will not have long-lasting effects on the morale of both our students and personnel.As I write these lines, it would seem that the pandemic is easing, and that we will gradually return to normal. We will probably evolve into some FTA 2.0 version, with internet teaching becoming part and parcel of day-to-day interaction.
COVID-19 clearly affected both our social and professional lives. At faculty level, not only teaching was hit. Research and international cooperation also suffered. Indeed, our Faculty is typically outward looking, with numerous R&D collaborative projects in the Global South. Visas were difficult to obtain. When flying into a foreign country, one had to be tested, not once, not twice but sometimes every day. Quarantining became part of the work plan. Overall, however, I was happy to see that most of our tropical field research activities continued and yielded some nice results. One highlight was the Faculty’s Covid-bus that performed tests in Zambia. Another was how tropical agriculture sensu lato can lead us into very unexpected (content) destinations. Involving ourselves in trying to solve societal problems is part of our mandate. But we also continue to spearhead more fundamental research on medicinal plants and their active compounds, plant breeding using modern (bio)technology, and not forgetting the application of all our wisdom in more development-oriented interventions, such as, the Azerbaijan project in support of desertification and land degradation (D/LD) in which a team led by our Departmentof Economics and Development assisted the governmentin identifying D/LD-mitigation measures.
All this research is carried out by a relatively small groupof enthusiastic and dedicated scientists. The Faculty’s academic staff is assisted by research assistants, post-docs, PhDs, lab technicians and administrative personnel in its teaching and research mandate. At the level of publications our Faculty excels by the number of publications: the total output of 97 Web of Science articles (with additionally4 Scopus-articles and 3 books/book chapters) brings us the highest relative output per researcher in the whole university. Congrats to all for this!
A special word on the number of PhD students hosted by the Faculty: in 2021, a total of 103, of which no less than 70 % were foreigners, actively pursuing their doctoral degree.I would almost say: the future is ours!
In 2021, it was almost impossible to host or carry out high participant live events such as international conferences, seminars or summer schools. The perspectives for 2022 look a lot less gloomy, and we are already preparing to host and organise Tropentag (14 – 16 September), an event that we were supposed to have organised in 2020 but which had to be postponed then, and that attracts each year more than700 (young) scholars from abroad. I would like to invite you to come and participate!
Thanks to our PR department we have increased yet again our presence in the national media. By widening the scope to our interventions in the Global South, we attract new publics, and new interests. This type of outreach promotes our Faculty and helps to popularise our science and is a useful complement to the more normal ways of sharing our scientific accomplishments.
With this, I would like to thank everyone, staff, and students, but also you, the public for your support and trust. I am pretty sure that we will continue to deliver on promise and expectations in this new year 2022!
Prague, 14. 3. 2022
PROF. DR. IR. PATRICK VAN DAMME