Why do research?If you have a quick look on the web or join the groups of researchers on social networks, you will first find an endless list of complaints: few career opportunities, little funding, too much work, depression problems. Nevertheless, millions of people are involved in research all around the world, each of them with their own, personal reason to go on. Some are driven by pure curiosity, others by passion; some by the dynamic nature of this job, others by the challenge of making great discoveries. And then there is me.
Working for farmersI have recently started my PhD in remote sensing for agriculture. Remote sensing technologies are being explored and improved every day to provide a wide range of services: from crop mapping to early stress detection, from deforestation to irrigation management, earth observation techniques are now becoming a support tool for every activity in agriculture, at every scale.In my research, I am focusing on pear orchards: farmers in Belgium are increasingly cultivating this crop, which adapts well to the climate and soil of some regions in the country. One of the main challenges for farmers is knowing the growth stage of the plants across the field, which can call for different interventions: for instance, a different growth regulator dose or amount of water. This is especially true for fruit producers, since the growth of trees is influenced by the environmental conditions of the current but also of the past years. Farmers know their trees as well as their children and can easily tell which part of the orchard usually flowers sooner or loses the leaves earlier. However, they still lack a tool to systematically provide this type of information in time and space. My challenge is to build the basics for such a tool.
Making a differenceWhy I am doing this? It took me a while to answer this question, and it took me a journey back to the roots of my discipline. My background is in Agrarian Sciences, that faculty at university which puts together plant sciences and economics, meteorology and politics, with the only purpose of making agriculture sustainable, profitable and just. Sustainable for the ecosystem, profitable for the farmer, just for everyone, all around the globe. A most faraway destination. It’s unavoidable to ask ourselves: «Do we make a difference with our work?». One of my favourite book characters once answered: «Maybe. Sometimes. Not much. But I do know that we should never stop trying. We need to remember that every little bit counts».This is what research is to me: it’s that big effort that brings us one small step closer to a better world. It doesn’t matter if you work in academia or in a company, for the public sector or for a private company. Don’t stop doing research. Don’t stop trying to make a difference.