Nadja El Benni: A Fascination with Practice-Oriented Research

Nadja El Benni

Since the beginning of the year 2017, 37-year-old agricultural economist Nadja El Benni has headed the new ‘Competition and System Evaluation’ Strategic Research Division – one of the ten new research and competence divisions. And how have the first year panned out for her? “I’m off to a good start, but there’s still a lot to do” she replies.

During the reorganisation, Nadja El Benni set about acquiring an overview of her division. Although she was well acquainted with the agricultural economists, agricultural engineering was largely new territory for her. “The breadth of the topics we cover is huge” she confides, but she sees this as an advantage: “This diversity allows us to approach issues holistically.”

Now she has the task of gearing the research division more strongly to the theme of ‘competitiveness of the farming sector’. This also includes the new focus of smart farming. “We’ll concentrate on the relationship between technology and people” El Benni explains. This means investigating which technical developments might make life easier for farmers, and which mean additional stress. “Our job is to do what the private sector cannot, for example, to independently assess the effect of new technologies” she explains.

Nadja El Benni is also kept very busy as site manager of Tänikon, where the research division is located. Since the beginning of 2017, the Tänikon experimental farm has been leased to the canton of Thurgau. A lease and cooperation agreement had to be concluded with the Arenenberg Education and Advisory Centre (BBZ), which runs the Tänikon farm. Joint activities are also planned. This involves a major coordination effort, says El Benni, but thanks to the exchange with the BBZ Arenenberg, Agroscope research can be more strongly geared to practice. “The motivational thing is that Agroscope and the canton of Thurgau are pursuing the same goal: we both want to set up a model farm and delve more deeply into the subject of smart farming.”

The fascination with socially relevant research was also the reason why Nadja El Benni chose after grammar school the subject of agricultural sciences in the first place. After finishing her Bachelor’s degree, El Benni – a Berliner with Lebanese roots – studied agricultural economics at the ETH Zurich and completed her PhD under the supervision of Bernard Lehmann, current Director of the Federal Office for Agriculture, on the effects of the direct payment system on income distribution and income risk. During her employment at the ETH Zurich, the University of Applied Sciences HTW Chur and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, she dealt with the analysis of agricultural markets and the competitiveness of the Swiss agricultural sector. “The interaction between the natural, social and economic sciences, the holistic consideration of production through to consumption, the varied methodological approaches – I’m very keen on it all.”