Nature-based Future Challenge: the winning team designed context-specific solutions

The jury commended Team Delta Harmonics for tackling the complex problems of the Bangladesh River Delta at the root by focusing on the upstream region. The team competed with ten other international student teams and won the first prize of € 9000.

The Nature-based Future Challenge invited students from all over the world to work together on a just and sustainable future vision for one of the most vulnerable regions in the world: the river delta surrounding the Bangladesh River. Their report would need to account for floods, droughts, sustainable food systems and an equitable future for all involved. The Challenge pushed the students to look past the boundaries of scientific disciplines to find innovative solutions that worked together with nature and provide provided socio-economic opportunities for the people in the region.

During the Grand Final, all eleven finalists presented their vision to a jury of academic and industry experts on nature-based solutions and sustainable development. That jury chose Team Delta Harmonics as the winner, awarding them € 9000. Asked to summarise their idea in a one-minute pitch during the ceremony, a member of the team focussed on water retention: “Water, we used to have too little. Now we have too much. We believe the solutions must start upstream to benefit the whole region. Restored wetlands and forests will hold water, while agroforestry and ecotourism will provide new employment opportunities.”

“In one word: fantastic,” said a member of the jury. “We were really impressed by all the teams.” Team Delta Go! came in second. They won € 2000. Team Deltability was awarded third place and € 1000. The Challenge’s network of industry partners also gave out an award. It went to Team Terraquous.

Working together with nature

Before the awards ceremony, Tim van Hattum, leader of the Green Climate Solutions programme and one of the members of the jury, gave a presentation on the award-winning Netherlands in 2120 project. This project served as the inspiration for the Challenge. It envisions a future for the Netherlands in which its citizens work together with nature to mitigate climate change, stop biodiversity loss, and sustainably produce food and energy. Last year, Van Hattum gave the Mansholtlecture, in which he expanded the project to the whole of Europe. During the ceremony, Van Hattum emphasised the need for more knowledge: “We need visions for the future.”

Rector Magnificus Carolien Kroeze and Bangladesh Ambassador M. Riaz Hamidullah were both digitally present during the ceremony. Kroeze and Meike van Ginneken, the Water Envoy of the Netherlands, expressed their appreciation for the teams via a video message, and Hamidullah joined online to reflect on the results of the Challenge and the translation into policies. “The world of policy and politics will look at your ideas from a slightly different perspective. Don’t despair. Hold onto your aspirations.”

Partners and collaborations

The Challenge was organised by Wageningen University & Research in collaboration with the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, University Fund Wageningen and over twenty other industry partners. In the words of one of the coaches, Tom Wilms of Witteveen+Bos: ”The Nature-based Future Challenge clearly showed the power of new talent. The teams came up with an integrated set of sustainable solutions providing answers to the complex challenges Bangladesh faces.”