Concept paper of the transdisciplinary PRODIGY postgraduate course on the role of biodiversity for sustainable development strategies in the Brazil/Peru/Bolivia border-triangle

  1. Initial situation

The border triangle of Madre de Dios/Peru, Acre/Brazil and Pando/Bolivia, MAP, has many, transboundary commonalities in terms of natural space, population structure, conflicts and threats. It is a biodiversity hotspot that suffers from climate change impacts, overexploitation of nature, weak institutions and transboundary drug-related crime. Yet the natural resources and especially the biodiversity in the region represent the crucial economic and socio-cultural basis. In the three countries, the problems mentioned are dealt with in very different ways, while at the same time there is communication and cooperation. Local governments, civil society and the scientific community are working together in the MAP region on problem-related issues, e.g. disaster risk management (floods and drought), research on adapted forms of land use and combating organized crime.

While preparing the multinational research project PRODIGY (BIOTIP/FONA/BMBF – 03/2019 – 02/2023), we observed how local universities and research institutions try to cooperate whenever possible: exchange students and PhD candidates and meet each other, but do not have the means to structure and perpetuate such cooperation. Thus, together with the university project partners, the idea was born to develop an interdisciplinary postgraduate course on the role of biodiversity for sustainable development strategies in the Brazil/Peru/Bolivia tri-border region.

2. Problem definition

The postgraduate course aims to establish a sustainable framework for knowledge production and scientific exchange on the role of biodiversity for the resilience and survivability of social and ecological systems. The already existing but still unstructured co-operations between the participating institutions are to be institutionalized and consolidated in the medium term in order to meet the demand for a permanent teaching and research offer on biodiversity topics in the context of the national and international research and development agenda in the economically and socially closely interwoven MAP region. In this context, the potentials of the German universities that are jointly active in biodiversity research in the region (University of Koblenz-Landau, FU-Berlin, University of Kassel, University of Hanover, University of Hamburg, University of Bonn) are to be systematized and made usable for the MAP region. Through the establishment of a potentially locally rotating postgraduate course, inter- and transdisciplinary cooperation is to contribute to the conservation, restoration and promotion of biodiversity as well as to the development and anchoring of sustainable cooperation structures between Germany and the MAP region in this thematic field. Based on the already existing cooperation with numerous local NGOs and the Mini-MAP project with the mayoralties of the MAP region, which is located at the Universidade Federal do Acre (UFAC), bridges between research and development-relevant practice are to be expanded.

Together with the partner institutions also involved in PRODIGY, UFAC (Brazil), Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciencia e Tecnologia do Acre (Brazil), Universidad Amazónica del Pando (Bolivia), Universidad Nacional Amazónica de Madre de Dios (Peru), Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cusco (Peru), we want to build on the project work in PRODIGY and deepen the content that the project staff work on in their research in our postgraduate course. Concepts, policies and instruments that deal with or touch upon biodiversity or its conservation and methods of inter- and transdisciplinary research as well as the associated science communication will be dealt with in the interdisciplinary curriculum (see modules 1-6).

3. Direct and indirect target groups

The direct target groups are all Master’s students and doctoral candidates conducting research on biodiversity and land use change in the region, both from the MAP region and from other countries and Germany. The partners attach great importance to making the programme interdisciplinary so that students and doctoral candidates from other disciplines, such as lawyers and engineers, who are involved in biodiversity issues, can also participate. Due to the transdisciplinary approach, which assumes the co-production of knowledge with local (research) partners, all communal and civil society actors in this research field are also directly and indirectly involved. This form of doing research acknowledges local and traditional knowledge and prepares an application-oriented framework. The indigenous perspectives on the concepts and approaches we deal with is specifically sought and included in the course activities. Through so-called Living Labs within the PRODIGY project, local stakeholders will be involved in a regular and structured way. On this basis, it will also be possible to involve the students directly and application-related in local project activities.

Scientific knowledge, which is otherwise often generated in a project-bound manner and leaves the region after the end of the project in the direction of English articles, lectures and books, flows through our approach into the jointly developed curricula of the local universities and thus reaches future decision-makers in the long term.

Due to the Corona pandemic, the PRODIGY project has had to rely more on virtual forms of cooperation with the MAP region in 2020/21. We have discovered that this has ultimately allowed us to communicate more with our research partners than before, and that they now also participate more actively in project activities. In this context, the virtual PRODIGY postgraduate course 2020-21 has become a space of interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and intercultural dialogue and has greatly supported the establishment and maintenance of communication with contacts in the MAP region.

4. Project goals

  1. On the basis of the pilot course (2020-21) and the research practice of our multi-national and interdisciplinary research consortium, which will hopefully be possible again in 2021/22, we will combine study and qualification offers related to biodiversity and establish a multi-local, virtual/analogue postgraduate course together with the partner institutions.
  2. After the second run, the postgraduate programme will be institutionally anchored at the participating institutions and thus biodiversity topics will be given a permanent place in the respective curriculum. At the same time, we will try to officially initiate the certification process.
  3. By institutionalizing cooperation between German and universities and research institutions in the MAP region beyond the duration of specific research projects, we contribute to long-term cooperation in knowledge production between the global South and North. This increases the chance of mutual listening and understanding, which could have positive effects on decision-making processes.
  4. Existing professional networks in the field of biodiversity between the participating institutions and local stakeholders are to be strengthened and connected.
  5. The aim is to ensure that knowledge gained in specific research contexts is incorporated into local teaching and that biodiversity-related decisions are sustainably influenced there.

5. Course concept

The basic idea is to link existing Master’s and PhD programmes in the participating partner countries, such as the Master’s programme in Forest Science (CIFLOR) at UFAC in Acre/Brazil, along a curriculum focused on biodiversity research in modular form and to enrich it with ongoing research projects and associated qualification opportunities. The approach is inter- and transdisciplinary, which suits the regionally common form of knowledge production. The teaching method will follow peer learning, i.e. a collaborative form of learning together, where subject and language gaps are compensated by learning from each other in partnership.

The virtual structure is as follows: Readers and 30-minute presentations (either text Spanish/Portuguese + language English or vice versa – depending on the language competence of the teacher) are offered for the six modules (see library), so that the teaching material is accessible in any case – even if the Internet should not be available every day. In addition, podcasts and case studies are prepared on an ongoing basis and placed in the common library. Once the material has been heard and read, the students prepare their questions and connecting lines to their own academic and professional practice. This is followed by joint life sessions where the questions are discussed and the content analyzed. In thematic working groups, which are culturally and gender-diverse, the concepts are deepened and applied to the students’ own questions. At the end of each module, there is another virtual life session to present the results of the working groups.

The modules are continuously evaluated so that we can respond to the needs of the participants at any time. Once the course will also include analogue elements (depending on the COVID situation), the analogue schedule will be based on the requirements of the field research stays of the participating scientists, the important events in the region and the Living Lab dates of ongoing research projects. The pilot course (2020-21) has given us insights into the respective needs, target groups and study rules on site; these, together with the evaluation results of the pilot course, will be taken into account and implemented in the current project design.

The structure and philosophy of the postgraduate course on the role of biodiversity for sustainable development strategies, which we are implementing with the MAP region as a real laboratory, is based on the interplay of critical reflection and capacity building. The interdisciplinary and intercultural study group is taught by an equally interdisciplinary and intercultural teaching staff that circulates in the region or is in contact with the MAP region due to PRODIGY research activities.

6. The basic concept of the study program

All modules are based on the cooperation and participation of researchers from the foreign partner institutions and PRODIGY researchers.

In Module 1, the PRODIGY project is worked through in its full range of topics as teaching content. Currently, everything takes place virtually; in an analogue/virtual concept, it will be desirable that individual lectures, depending on the availability of teachers at previously agreed locations, also take place live or are linked to ongoing field work – the latter can then also be streamed.

In Module 2, the focus is on research ethics issues as well as the formation of a common intercultural and transdisciplinary learning culture; the permanent working groups for the remainder of the course are formed.

In Module 3, the concepts underlying the respective subject discussions are worked on in the working groups and followed up through cross-disciplinary roundtables.

Module 4 focuses on the relevant research methods, and, on the difficult question of how data obtained very differently can communicate with each other. Modelling and scenario-building are also addressed in this module.

In Module 5, students are familiarized with the SDG’s and global regulations, instruments and conventions on biodiversity and climate change.

Module 6 deals with science communication, i.e. the important question of for whom or with whom which knowledge is being produced and to whom the results are to be communicated.

For modules 3 – 6, there is flexibility for participants in terms of analogue participation in events. Participation in live lectures, workshops, field internships and living labs will be offered by researchers travelling and researching in the tri-national project region after prior planning of time and place and streamed for the other participants. Whenever possible, practical exercises and field trips are desirable. A compulsory reading list will be established for each module to underpin the outcome-oriented work of the working groups. In the event that participation in this programme should lead to a doctoral thesis, we will support sandwich supervision and funding. The continuous cooperation with our research partners in teaching will deepen the exchange, also about joint research results, and thus, as a side effect, lead to more joint publications.

The place of implementation, the MAP region, is bilingual (Spanish/Portuguese), with all border residents understanding both languages and often speaking a mixed form. Once you get to PhD level, the understanding of English is widespread, so guest lectures in English are also viable.

7. Involvement of German and foreign scientists

The German universities of Koblenz-Landau, FU-Berlin, University of Kassel, University of Hannover, University of Hamburg, University of Bonn, which are jointly active in biodiversity research within the PRODIGY project, will, together with the partner institutions, Universidad Federal do Acre (Brazil), Instituto Federal de Educacao, Ciência e Tecnologia do Acre (Brazil), Universidad Amazónica del Pando (Bolivia), Universidad Nacional Amazónica de Madre de Dios (Peru), Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cuzco (Peru) will design the curriculum with inputs (lectures, field trips, seminars, exercises, co-supervision of qualification theses).

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