Jean W. A. Poesen
The 2016 Alexander von Humboldt Medal is awarded to Jean W. A. Poesen for exceptionally significant work in developing regions in providing superb scientific expertise in managing pressures on land originating from producing food and fuel for growing populations.
The Alexander von Humboldt Medal awards scientists with exceptional international standing who have performed research in developing regions for the benefit of people and society. Jean Poesen of KU Leuven, Belgium, personifies these criteria superbly. He has dedicated much of his career to capacity building of soil scientists from developing countries. Although his early work addressing the management of nutrient and soil loss from agricultural watersheds focused on erosion on the highly erodible Belgian loess, it soon expanded into many other areas of Europe, Africa and South America. The scientific research work of Poesen in northern Ethiopia, Uganda, Ecuador, Tanzania and elsewhere – carried out with many local young scientists – is unrivalled and has led to many landmark papers. In one widely cited paper published more than a decade ago, he recognised the need to put more emphasis on loss of soil by gullies compared to sheet and rill erosion and formulated an action plan to start this research. His impressive scientific expertise has greatly helped many developing countries to manage the pressure on land and soil to produce food, fuel and fibre for rapidly growing populations. In this context, Poesen pioneered outreach in a cooperative mode, helping to adopt local practice and working jointly with stakeholders on feasible and sustainable solutions. He has truly become a gifted ambassador for translating research results into practice, producing benefits for local communities. The services of Poesen to the scientific community are varied. They include being chief editor of Catena, member of the editorial board of 25 international journals, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at KU Leuven, organiser and co-organiser of more than 20 international conferences, and initiator of the first symposium on gully erosion. He is a member of the Royal Flemish Belgium Academy for Science and the Arts and the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities. In addition, he has received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Wolverhampton, UK, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi, Romania, and the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Poland.