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Sustainability Education Meets Development in West Africa

Our starting point is the Ocean. It provides every second breath we take, it absorbs much of the CO2 human activities release into the atmosphere and thus has helped so far to stabilise our climate, it provides us with food, recreation and much more.

But as we know, the ocean is under siege as the rest of our planet. The three major threats are overfishing, climate change and pollution. Overfishing has many implications, the biggest is the eradication trend of all big animals in the ocean, which leads also to profound changes in the way marine ecosystems are structured and work. We are systematically killing more animals than marine ecosystems can regenerate in a year. It's like taking the capital out of the bank instead of living off the interest. Not a sustainable strategy.

Climate change comes in the form of warming beyond what particularly tropical marine species can endure and has already led to mass mortality in corals e.g. in the Andaman Sea in Asia. Along with warming comes reduced oxygen content, another reason why fish and other gill-breathing animals are moving polewards. Otherwise they would suffocate. Last but not least, acidification threatens all marine plants and animals with calcareous skeletons. So, we observe thinnning of the external shells of molluscs. Planktonic algae with calcareous or silica shells (external skeletons) also find it harder to keep their bodies together.

Sounds like a double whammy? It is. Add pollution and you see why we really need to be concerned, whether we live directly on the coast or not. Pollution comes in several forms, overfertilisation and marine litter are currently the ones with highest impact. Overfertilisation (or eutrophication in technical terms) of coastal zones from agricultural run-off and untreated municipal and industrial waste water is increasing the number and extension of dead zones in the ocean - more than 220 hot spots at a recent count. Marine litter has become a global problem too.

Against this backdrop, Mundus maris has been working for the last few years on making the science accessible to non-specialists by engaging also with the arts across a wide cultural spectrum. Investing in public awareness, contributing to education and supporting teachers and schools have been a core activities. Building on local knowledge to connect to people is one of the principles in doing so.

The presentation "Sustainability education meets development in West Africa" by a Mundus maris composed of Margareth Hammer, Cornelia E Nauen and Aliou Sall was given in one of the sessions of the EADI Working Group "Global Education Meets Development". The abstract goes like this:

"According to UNESCO, key indicators of the right to education are weakest in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to other regions in the world. Teacher to pupil ratios are poor in several countries and drop out rates average 40%. Education starts at home, yet the school in Sub Saharan Africa is the basic center of attention for pupils and their families and often the (only) visible sign that there are some services provided by the State. For generations, especially in West Africa, the expression “TEACHER SAID” was the ultima ratio. It still is a guide for different messages discussed at home and raising the curiosity of local communities, thus creating bottom up development. Strengthening sustainability education under these circumstances poses particular challenges. Sustainability education is here understood to encompass notions usually associated with global education, but further enriched by attention to greater awareness and protection of the environment, nurturing solidarity within a setting and internationally, and to local culture. From our experience in development projects the involvement of teachers as multipliers and change agents was most effective on sanitation issues and on gender. The environmental aspects focus on sustainable use of renewable resources and transgenerational, lifelong learning. Both induced or aim at inducing behavioural changes.

Here, we report on work with local partners towards greater awareness about sustainability and the linkage of institutionalised curriculum development in West Africa with applied, local accompanied learning/education in pilot schools. The paper does away with conventional understanding of development as a 'North-South' issue and is informed by understanding that especially sustainable development applies potentially to all countries and focuses on greater distributional justice supported, among others, by the right to education. We point to the similarity of the principles underlying educational and development activities for different age groups, but also the need for nuanced and site-specific adaptation to achieve critical engagement. The paper concludes with proposals for action research to take the field practice to the next level in the light of new educational priorities adopted at the recent Regional Coastal and Marine Forum in West Africa."

Among the case material presented to illustrate how principles and practice can be gainfully combined was one from the development side and one focused on supporting education for sustainability. The development project was about the introduction of improved Fante ovens in the FAO-Shenge project in Sierra Leone in the 1980s after the women fish processors tested different designs and chose the one that best fit their socio-economic and technical needs. The example on education summarised the more recent collaboration in pilot activities with FAO - EAF Nansen Project to introduce the ecosystem approach to fisheries and the follow-up ensured by Mundus maris afterwards. A workshop in Senegal last year illustrated how far the collective learning had come and highlighting also what the aspirations were for further activities.

The paper was well received and triggered numerous discussions, not only with participants in the working group session but also throughout the conference. Click here to see the ppt. The full paper is here.

The conveners of the four sessions under the responsibility of the Working Group, Matt Baillie Smith, Director of the Northumbria Centre for International Development, UK, and Amy Skinner of CONCORD in Belgium, had skillfully designed the programme to facilitate mutual learning. The other very interesting contributions in this first session were about

  • "Decentralised cooperation" between municipalities and many other local actors in Italy, the Balkans and Mozambique presented by Sara Franch of the Training Centre for International Cooperation in Trento, Italy,
  • "Global Professional Learning Communities" presented by Cathryn MacCallum and Insiya Salam of Sazani Associates in the UK and Zanzibar respectively, and
  • "Upper Middle-Class, Mobility, Global Citizenship and Development: A Case Study from Transmigrants in Brussels", selected findings from Cécile Giraud's PhD research at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

Only one session in the conference had fisheries-related topics as an explicit theme. It focused on comparisons in fisheries related conflicts between South Africa and Southern India. 

How to live in sustainable ways and the necessary investment in citizenship and institutions that can mediate rebuilding natural endowments and living in tune with nature and one another ran like a thread through all these discussions.

The last session of the working group "Global Education meets Development" explored the challenges on the road to trying to develop a global civil society and how relationships were changing between established NGOs and new movements. International solidarity was one of the watchwords, but also the realisation that local citizenship and engagement for more sustainable living everywhere were a prerequisite for international cooperation on equal footing.

Other highlights from the EADI General Conference in Bonn

This was the year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), which continues to be led by Isa Baud as president and Susanne von Itter heading the secretariat in Bonn.

The public face of many plenary sessions was largely shaped by economists still wedded to more conventional growth models. But the plurality present in the conference made room for other perspectives. Some panels and working sessions offered spaces for particularly interesting challenges and reflexive contributions to debates on how to reduce inequalities within and between countries and where to locate political and social alliances for change for the better.

In the process, the panel on "Tackling Inequality through 'Responsible Development'" ably moderated by Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute (DIE) made perhaps the most thought-provoking contribution. Panelists covered a relatively broad range of research and practice that triggered lively engagement of the almost full plenary hall. Branko Milanovic of the City University of New York shared some unusual perspectives on income distribution. Peter Knorringa of the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands summarised recent empirical research that new middle classes in China, India and Brazil seemed not to influence necessary negotiation of a new social contract to reduce inequalities, but also submitted that too little knowledge was available about these heterogeneous groups.

Joyeeta Gupta, Professor for Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam, made an passionate plea to use existing global treaties and processes to bring human civilisations back into tune with the regenerative capacities of the planet and reduce inequalities in the process. She had no advice for the new Chinese middle class but suggested middle classes in Europe and the US might want to go vegetarian to reduce the pressures on natural resources for food.

Pierre Jacquet, India-based President of the Global Development Network did not observe much awareness of Indian elites or the small middle class about global responsibilities, but cautioned against taking a too traditional perspective without engaging on equal footing with the many groups of actors across the globe. He was skeptical about fixing goals e.g. in the UN post 2015 agenda without a process on how to attain them.

Louka Katseli, of the University of Athens and former Greek Minister of Economy, Shipping and Competitiveness, did not see a fundamental difference between industrialised and developing countries as far as inequalities are concerned. She submitted that more attention needed to be paid in who set the agenda e.g. for social standards and how to come to grips with the fact that the disparity in capital and asset ownership concentrated in the hands of very few individuals and families had become again more important for inequality than labour income, except perhaps for financial and top industrial managers.

Concerns about rising political nationalism as lower middle classes in industrialised countries are stagnating or fearful of loss of social status were vividly felt in the debate, though few suggestions came up how to address them. The debate brought to light the significant gap between the aspirations for greater equality and what researchers were empirically observing. That gap certainly required substantially more research and action. Interestingly, sustainability in its different dimensions as a pathway towards "responsible development" played a minor role. Do we need broader views beyond the schools of economic thought to get new and robust insights?

Looking back on 40 years of work by EADI another panel vividly debated how the research agenda needs to evolve to remain relevant in a changing local and global context. Already established and new working groups under the roof of EADI are already taking up some of the challeges.

Look for more information about the 14th EADI General Conference at the specific conference website.