Collaborating for Rural Sustainability – CORUSUS network

Collaborating for Rural Sustainability – CORUSUS network

December 5, 2023


ճܱǰٱproject (2021-2024) lead byat CEU aims at strengthening teaching, learning and research by cultivating cooperation to address the sustainability of rural livelihoods in South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon, whilst bolstering the sharing of knowledge and experience between faculty and students of partner institutions. To this aim, the project works on increasing and facilitating dialogue between CEU/Austria, Wits/South Africa, 㽶Ӱ/Kyrgyzstan, and AUB/Lebanon faculty and students, particularly in addressing rural sustainability challenges across various geographical contexts.

has created the opportunity to build a multinational, multi-institutional and multidisciplinary network. The collaboration and faculty exchanges have proved highly valuable in building cooperation around teaching and research.

To reach the project’s aim, a set of outcomes were set and are being monitored throughout theproject duration. These include:

(1) expanding student learning on rural sustainability issues across multiple contexts
(2) increased faculty knowledge co-production in both teaching and research on rural sustainability
(3) expand CEU (MESPOM) internships to rural environments in the Global South, extend civicengagement, and work effectively in multicultural and multidisciplinary environments
(4) appreciate multidisciplinary and multinational networks to meet rural sustainability challenges.

Teaching rural sustainability at the partner institutions – CEU and Wits

During the second year of the project, theEthnoecologycourse was delivered at CEU in Vienna in January 2023, with 20 students enrolling in the course. Fifteen CEU students, 2 㽶Ӱ students and 3 AUB students of 16 nationalities participated in the CEU academic environment for the first time and were able to integrate their course credits into 㽶Ӱ and AUB transcripts. The partner institutions co-developed curriculum and there was a rich interactive exchange in all classes between faculty and students from all partner universities. ASurvey Research Methodscourse at WITS was also offered by Prof. Anthony (CEU), with the participation of 10 Wits Honors Students. The course was engaging and brought together a diverse group of South African students who had had mixed experiences with survey research methodology in rural settings.

Co-designing/executing research in Year 2 - CEU, Wits, AUB and 㽶Ӱ conducting interviews with rural communities (South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon)

Following the first year’s observations, the faculty members agreed on a cohesive research methodology to be followed in all three targeted regions and co-developed a household survey questionnaire to be used to interview rural households. The questions revolved around various aspects of benefits and challenges of livestock farming, perceptions towards climate change, future outlooks and adaptation strategies. Partners worked closely in developing the questionnaire and each faculty member had the chance to make the needed adjustments tailoring the questions to their relevant context. Based on this methodology, over 540 households were surveyed across the four research sites. The research teams took responsible measures to ensure voluntary consent, anonymity, data confidentiality and the safety of respondents. One of the challenges encountered by the researchers was the absence of official records and demographic data in numerous villages. This was overcome by conducting early exploratory field visits and engaging in informal discussions with local residents before the interviews. The importance of having mixed flexible methodologies considering mitigation measures has also proved to be effective in managing the impact of delays on activity timeframes.

Data collection was conducted during this year and is nearing completion. During the third year of the project (Sept 2023 - Aug 2024), data will be analyzed, results will be interpreted, a scientific paper will be developed, and publication will be sought accordingly. In addition, innovative methods for knowledge sharing will be explored during the third year ensuring research results reach a broader audience, including the sampled villages.

As a preliminary step, interns were involved this year in documenting farmers' perspectives and practices through videography. CEU MESPOM students were selected, hosted and guided by the other three partners. One of the students conducting internship reported:“Other than the learnings from the field, a key take-away from this internship was understanding the importance of science communication… Science communication, especially through more accessible mediums, is an important factor in addressing various issues like the farmers’ perceived lack of agency in voicing their concerns, the lack of feedback loops with research being conducted in the region and the lack of strong communication channels between policymakers and government officials with the communities. It also acts as a great tool in bridging the gap between different stakeholders and organizations. ...

Through the interviews with the farmers, the most crucial finding was the importance of livestock farming in the communities of the region. With mounting challenges and bleak opportunities for younger generations, there is a growing concern regarding the future of livestock farming in the region. Some of the recurring challenges observed were very context and village specific, like stock theft, and livestock health and maintenance. Shortage of food as a result of poor land use management and extreme weather conditions was an issue that was raised by most livestock farmers, especially cattle owners... Although our research focus was on livestock farming, the interdependence of livestock with household sustenance and crop farming revealed the complexity of climate change impacts on rural communities and their livelihoods in the region” /Medhini Igoor Vijayakumar, MESPOM student/

Developing a model of cooperation between OSUN partners, bringing institutions from the North and South together to tackle rural sustainability issues

The recorded observations between the rural contexts in the three Global South countries will serve to learn from each other and the commonalities will help to strengthen cooperation. The research underway on the sustainability of livestock farming in a changing world, including the documentaries that are being developed, will“provide valuable information on the impacts of climate change on small-scale livestock farmers, relative to other challenges they face, and the ways in which farmers are adapting to these in different contexts” /Prof. Twine, WITS/.The field visit to rural South Africa, hosted by WITS University, exposed colleagues working in rural Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan to the rural South African context and to examples of different rural development approaches. At the same time, their insights provided WITS faculty with“new perspectives on rural sustainability challenges and solutions in South Africa” /Prof. Twine, WITS/

The project activities embrace a multidisciplinary approach that brings together experts from diverse fields, including agriculture, ecology, environmental science, economics, and social sciences. These approaches acknowledge the complex interplay between ecological systems, socioeconomic factors, and human behavior, with natural scientists bringing insights into environmental dynamics, resource management, and technological innovations, while social scientists contribute understanding about human interactions, cultural norms, and decision-making processes. “Collaboration across disciplines and borders encourages the cross-fertilization of ideas. This often leads to the creation of innovative solutions that might not have been conceived within a narrower scope”, /Prof. Rakhimov, 㽶Ӱ/.

“The value of international cooperation … and the potential for continued collaboration and expanding the reach to new partners is being seriously discussed”,reported Prof. Jaber (AUB).Among the multiple venues that are being explored to sustain the partnerships established in this project, the partners are looking into (i) developing a joint online course based on the success of the ethnoecology course; (ii) a rotating summer school and research conference across partner institutions; (iii) possible student exchange and scholar hosting especially between South partners; and (iv) bilateral cooperation on future projects especially between South partners. On that front, CEU faculty have reached out to two OSUN member universities to explore a continuation of CORUSUS after Year 3, namely the Universidad de Los Andes (Columbia) and University of the West Indies (Trinidad & Tobago). Both have expressed interest and will host Prof. Anthony (CEU) on a planned sabbatical 24/25AY to explore options, meet faculty and students, and visit rural research sites. Faculty members in addition presented CORUSUS on different occasions inviting opportunities for inclusion, scaling up and discussion of forming similar collaborations, such as AUB at their Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) meetings, where ESDU partners and donors were introduced to CORUSUS.

Conclusion of the 2nd year and looking ahead to the 3rd and final year

The multidisciplinary and multinational networks are much appreciated by the partners who are exploring options to ensure their sustainability beyond the project period, through delving into new research opportunities, engaging other partners, ensuring meaningful sharing of the knowledge and insights gained from this project, and exploring future opportunities that would help the partners in upscaling the impact of this project (e.g. turning the Ethnoecology course into an online learning module). The insights gained form a rich base for potential future collaboration between the partners with many themes that can be explored addressing rural sustainability including environmental, social, and economic aspects.

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