Interviews for Amsterdam Water Science

Amsterdam Water Science is a water research collaboration between VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam. In 2016, I worked with them as an interviewer and published four articles. My favourite is below. Click here to read the rest.

Sanne Kruijt, Commonland

For Sanne Kruijt, there has always been a clear focus in ecosystem dynamics and the agricultural systems within. She joined Commonland, where landscape restoration projects are based on business cases, as a business developer and has identified numerous potential business cases since. Sanne Kruijt has an interdisciplinary background spanning the natural and social sciences and is passionate about the role of education in landscape restoration and bring the right people together to make it happen.

Please introduce yourself! Tell us about your academic background/research projects/specific areas of research you specialise in.

I have a background in Future Planet Studies, an interdisciplinary program at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). At the UvA, I specialised in ecology and focused on ecosystem dynamics. This proved to pave the way for my future research interests when I pursued my MSc. degree in earth and environmental sciences at Wageningen University (WUR) and focused on the dynamics between ecosystems and agricultural systems within them.

Tell us about your current work.

At Commonland, we restore degraded ecosystems with a business case. Here I am partly responsible for project development, both nationally and abroad. Partly overseeing business development of our existing projects, analysing emerging business cases and ultimately restore ecosystems at large. Perhaps most importantly, I also work to transfer lessons learnt from past projects into our new ones.

At Commonland, we specifically focus on degraded areas that provide an opportunity for a new business model. For example, in South Africa, we are working with an organisation called Living Lands which is a collective of farmers with a common goal before we joined to offer business expertise for them to scale up their initiative. On the commercial front, they have partnered with an organisation in Australia to restore the deforested Australian wheat belt. Commonland are not the frontrunners, but rather work swiftly in the background to add value to existing initiatives by offering expertise, mobilising farmers and developing potential markets for products.

Tell us about your research project within the AWS.

Together with Amsterdam Water Science, we are accelerating peat meadow restoration and climate resilience through sustainable business development and integrated urban-rural systems. Right now we are building a team with very little money, which means we have to get creative! To do this we’re establishing collaborations with businesses and research institutes. We are in the phase of building up the project by establishing relationships with our wide array of stakeholders, including farmers, private businesses, government, NGOs, and research institutes.

The long-term goals of the peat meadow restoration project are to restore the ecological functions of Amsterdam’s peat meadows, whilst increasing the financial value that is created in the landscape with a land use model that is adapted to the carrying capacity of the landscape. However, the project is more than just increasing the financial value, I also see a huge importance in creating a space where changemakers can be heard and be facilitated to do so. Amsterdam Water Science plays a significant role in bringing students closer to new research initiatives and helping them get involved.

In your opinion, what is the current greatest challenge to overcome in the field of Water Science? How can we address it?

The greatest challenge to overcome in the field of water science is fresh water availability, especially for irrigation in agriculture. I believe there is a great need to switch to a different system, whether through legislation changes or newer desalinization technologies. In fact, there is great, untapped potential for the advancement of innovative solutions to address the lack of fresh water. Research on this topic will not only increase the urgency on this issue but also work to investigate and develop evidence-based, innovative solutions to these larger problems.

At the end of the day, I’ve learnt that in any project your relationships with stakeholders are most crucial, especially those with farmers. Although farmers can be resistant, they often hold the greatest knowledge to be tapped into. The key is to listen first, and then take collaborative action. Restoring an ecosystem can take decades and Commonland certainly does not have all the solutions, but we have a proven approach that works and the capacity to mobilise the right local people to carry out the project, long after Commonland has departed. And that for me, is the greatest success of all.