Good day folks!
A few posts back I promised that before I go on summers’ leave, I’d try my best to summarize what this first year on the Agroecology program has been like, so here goes. I’ll start by going through the first two courses – and in my next post, I’ll finish with the final two.
The first course you take when you start this program is called Agroecology Basics – and as the name implies, it gives you the basics. What is Agroecology? How is it practiced? How does it differ around the world? In this course you learn by means of interviewing farmers, doing case-studies, working in groups, participating in seminars and writing your own reports. Throughout the course, there’s a strong focus on systems thinking, ecology, and in my mind (although this particular word was not used much) – biomimicry – “learning or taking inspiration from how nature has solved various problems.”
This course had lots of great, varied content. It served to create a strong foundation for studying Agroecology further and it really left you wanting more. In a very short time, you are thrown out into the world to find new ways of seeing and thinking about sustainable development in our common food system. You begin to question deeply held assumptions of issues and solutions, and by interacting with a class of people – so diverse in where they come from and what they’ve previously studied, you truly begin to develop new knowledge.
This is how I felt about this first course of the program. I recognize that there’s not a whole lot of criticism in there, but it was really a great course. That said, there were a few things that I felt could’ve been better. The case-studies we got to read about (and later analyze and present) were very limited, and sometimes you could go through the same farm (but presented by a new student) for a whole day. This was exhausting and not very inspiring. What’s even worse is that some of these cases are used in later courses – so if you start this program, be sure to push your teachers early to find new case-studies. It really makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.
If there’s anything else, then it’s the fact that when we’d visited our first farms, many of us felt that it would be great to “go back” and to continue with the work. To fill in the blanks, learn more about practical agriculture – and to hopefully one day come with our own suggestions of improvements. This is something you get to do in later courses, but it would have been great if there was enough time to revisit “your” farmer at least once more. Some of us (especially those with no agronomic background) also wanted more typical agricultural lectures. This is something that was severely lacking – so if you think that these courses will give you this knowledge, think again – or check the course description if any of this has changed!
This course was very similar to Agroecology Basics – and many of the elements found in that one, existed in this one as well. If you take this course, you’ll either be revisiting the farm you went to in the first course, or one that a group-mate went to.
You’ll once again be interviewing farmers – but this time around, you’ll be focusing more on presenting solutions to issues, or giving your views on how the farm could improve. So how do you do that? By learning about FAO’s Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture (SAFA) tool! This is something I sadly did not get the opportunity to do with my group, but only read about in retrospect. But knowing what it is and how it could be used is great as it helps us understand how we can measure how sustainable different farming systems really are.
You’ll also (again) be going through cases, and you’ll once again be writing reports. But what really makes this course stand out is the amount of group work carried out. A large part of the course actually consists of students arranging their own 2-3 hour long seminars/workshops, where the goal is to convey and discuss information on a specific topic. It teaches us that we, as future Agroecologists, shouldn’t be passive receivers of information, but active leaders, process facilitators and learners.
This was by far the coolest thing about the course for me. Being in charge of the theme for a day, planning and discussing content and activities is really exciting. It’s one of those activities where once you’re done, you quickly realize what you could’ve been better at, and you’re already, in your own mind, planning the next event. Sadly, there was only time for one seminar per group (we were 4-5 groups) in the schedule. So those ideas went up in smoke. But you quickly developed a different mindset, and the lessons learned in this part of the course was actually quite useful as the class started planning for Agroecology Day (held by 1st year students of the program in April each year.)
On the negative side of things, I actually can’t recall anything I was disappointed in. I remember thinking that it would once again be cool with some more typical agricultural knowledge-type of stuff. But there were some guest-lecturers and excursions on the schedule for this as well. I guess this type of knowledge is just something we need to strive for and attain ourselves on the side. But all in all, I think it was an interesting course that fitted the first course really well.
That was all for today guys, if you have any questions, feel free to comment or to mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to answer. Next time I’ll be writing about Environmental Economics, Project Management and Process Facilitaiton, and perhaps also shortly mentioning Agroecology Day – the best day of the year? ;). Next post will also be the last post for this semester, so after that I’ll be inactive until August-September when things start to heat up again. Just to give you a heads up.