in memoriam - Pieter Buringh (1918 - 2009)
After a long and active life Dr ir Piet Buringh passed away on 27th April 2009 at the age of 91 years. His career centred around the study of soils in the field, their geography, morphology and classification, as well as their agricultural use potential. He studied at Wageningen Agricultural University , where Prof. C.H.Edelman was one of his teachers. Buringh’s career included a chair at the same university. He was an efficient manager, a devoted scientist and a gifted teacher.
Buringh’s career started in 1947 at the Netherlands Soil Survey Institute (StiBoKa) where he was appointed as secretary and worked closely with the director, Prof. Edeleman. His doctoral thesis[i] was written during this period in which he was actively engaged in soil surveys in the Netherlands . In 1955, he was appointed by the Government of Iraq as a consultant for soil survey and land evaluation. He participated in various soil survey projects in Iraq , the main emphasis being on the study of saline and alkali soils, their origin, distribution and use potential. The results of three years work in Iraq were published [ii] in a book on Iraqi soils, with an exploratory soil map.
After his return to the Netherlands in 1958 Dr Buringh was appointed Head of the Soils Department of the International Training Centre for Aerial Survey at Delft (now at Enschede). He was a keen promoter of the interpretation of aerial photographs as a tool in soil surveys. In 1960, Buringh joined the Board of Directors of a Dutch consulting firm, ‘De Nederlandse Heidemaatschappij’. He worked in several projects, both in the Netherlands and overseas. From 1956 to 1974 he was Deputy Secretary General of the International Society of Soil Science (ISSS, now IUSS).
In 1964, Dr Buringh was offered a chair in tropical soil science at Wageningen Agricultural University . Next to teaching he initiated the Training Project in Pedology which was meant to give students with a major in soil science an opportunity to get practical experience. The Training Project was to be based in a tropical or subtropical country, in cooperation with local university and government departments. The project has two main aims: offering a study area to students from Wageningen and the host country, and making the results of the investigations available to host country authorities. The first training project was based in the Konya Basin of Central Turkey. Some 25 Dutch students and a number of Turkish students participated in the project together with several members of the teaching staff of Wageningen University . Three staff members received a PhD on work in Konya . To the students in this project Prof. Buringh was an inspiring and highly appreciated mentor.
In the 1960s and 1970s an increasing number of foreign students came to Wageningen University . Tropical soil science was often an important part of their study programme. Buringh's concise review of tropical and subtropical soils [iii], first published in 1968 and serving as a textbook for his lectures, became increasingly popular in the tropical world. The third and last edition was published in 1979 and the book was translated in several languages, including Arabic. The Training Project in Turkey continued after Buringh's retirement and became increasingly multidisciplinary. Subsequent study areas were in Kenya and Costa Rica.
Buringh's work as a professor was interrupted from 1971 to 1975. He was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of Wageningen University. In a period of major change in organization and study programmes, the university was in need of an experienced manager who also was a member of the teaching staff.
From 1975 until his retirement in 1981 Buringh focused his attention increasingly on worldwide problems of food production in relation to land potential and (changing) climatic conditions.
Retirement meant fewer obligations, but Piet Buringh remained interested in world food problems, and he busied himself with agricultural history, religion and society in the Middle East , which region was close to his heart.
Titus de Meester
[i] P.Buringh, 1951. Over de bodemgesteldheid rondom Wageningen (Soil conditions in the environments of Wageningen). Versl. Landbouwk. Onderz. 57.4. Staatsdrukkerij,
[ii] P.Buringh. 1960. Soils an soil conditions in Iraq (with soil map). Ministry of Agriculture, Bagdad , Iraq
[iii] P.Buringh, 1979. Introduction to the study of soils in tropical and subtropical regions.
3rd edition, Pudoc, Wageningen (ISBN 90-220-0691-3)