Friday 25 March saw the award-giving ceremony for the 2022 recipient of the VUB’s University Development Cooperation (UDC) Career Award.  The general objective of the award is to acknowledge VUB professors and staff for their contribution to university development cooperation. The award event was preceded by a show and tell for Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation Ms Meryame Kitir, who met with several VUB researchers and students who have been working on a wide variety of projects related to development cooperation.

The award ceremony itself was hosted by Professor Stefaan Smis, and Minister Kitir presented the award to this year’s winner: Professor Nico Koedam.

To put it in the words of those who submitted his nomination file, “Over the course of his career, Professor Nico Koedam has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to developing and managing development-relevant research activities and educational programmes at VUB, and he has an exemplary track record of research and teaching activities in cooperation with partners in the Global South. Those who know him will agree on the sincerity and devotion with which he undertakes these activities.”

Nico obtained his PhD at VUB in 1987 on “A physio-ecological approach to the role of root cation-exchange capacity in soil preference with respect to soil acidity”, and from 1984 to 1992 he coordinated the development cooperation-sponsored postgraduate programme, Tropical Molecular Biology for students from partner countries in the Global South. He became full professor at VUB in 1992, and head of research groups “Plant Biology and Nature Management” at VUB (APNA), and “Ecology & Biodiversity”, which includes research on mangrove ecology, forest and nature management, socio-ecology and physio-ecology. For both he did the coordination and promotion as well as participated in a variety of development cooperation projects in India, Sri Lanka, Mauritania, Morocco, Kenya, Vietnam, Gambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Ecuador, Peru, etc. And of course he is programme director for the master programme, Oceans & Lakes (in partnership with Universiteit Gent and Universiteit Antwerp). On top of that, he’s been involved in or managed a large number of projects related to the Global South with funding from VLIR-UOS, FWO, BELSPO, EU-funding, Erasmus+, and others.

He has supervised a total of 131 MSc students (of which 33 from the Global South), and 39 PhD researchers (7 still ongoing at the time of writing) of which some 20 from the Global South.

One of his alumni is Dr James Kairo, Chief Scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute, who said of Nico, “Through his scholarly guidance and motivation, I was able to complete my PhD and return home to Kenya… I have continued to collaborate with Professor Koedam… and through his projects and partnerships, I have witnessed enhanced capacity development, increased community income, and improved environmental stewardship in the Global South, all courtesy of Professor Nico Koedam.” Dr Francisco Benitez Capistros from the Central University of Ecuador adds, “Language and culture barriers are easily overcome by Nico, not only because he speaks around seven+ languages and is utterly smart, but because he is simply curious.. He cares for this planet, plants (mangroves in particular) and wildlife in all its forms and interconnections. He cares for his students and their families, their countries and their history, policies and governance. However, what distinguishes Nico is that he cares and acts on it.”

A warm congratulations from the entire VUB community to Professor Nico Koedam!

  • The video announcing the 2022 UDC Career Award winner can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Dr James Kairo (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute) can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Dr Francisco Benitez (Central University of Ecuador) can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Harvey Suello (Oceans & Lakes alumnus, and PhD researcher at University of Antwerp) can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Judith Okelo (alumna, and now at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute) can be viewed here.

photo courtesy Yann De Troyer