Rural Insights Fuel Sustainability Solutions in OSUN Ethnoecology Course

Collaborating for Rural Sustainability (CORUSUS), an OSUN project designed and implemented by Central European University (CEU), American University of Central Asia (AUCA), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and American University of Beirut (AUB), launched its first course in February 2022. Offered at CEU in Vienna, the class on ethnoecology and rural sustainability, taught by Wayne Twine, Associate Professor in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits in Johannesburg, South Africa, exposed student and faculty attendees to valuable community-based local practices crucial to developing successful tools to support sustainability. Course attendees included Ruslan Rahimov and Cholpon Turdalieva, faculty members from AUCA in Kyrgyzstan and three AUCA students.

Enrollees remarked that the “global classroom” aspect of “Ethnoecology” and the rotating format in which it was taught, both trademarks of OSUN classes, afforded them the opportunity to share important knowledge and viewpoints on sustainability they previously might never have encountered.  

“Ethnoecology provided us with significant concepts and sources to understand community types of knowledge better and the current challenges communities face to manage and preserve natural resources,” says CEU student Gabriela Monroy. “More than ever, exchanging such knowledge (between project partner institutions) is fundamental to achieving environmental goals that involve local actions.” 

Even though the course content focused on South African communities, “Many of the observations shared were typical for local communities in Kyrgyzstan as well,” says AUCA student Talgat Dzhumashev. “When the professor spoke about the problems, threats, and knowledge of South African tribes, I recognized Kyrgyz communities in them. As an archaeologist, this course gave me some insights into communicating strategies with local people to preserve archaeological sites in villages.”

Brandon P. Anthony, project lead and professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy at CEU, says that higher education initiatives, such as CORUSUS, focused on agriculture, conservation, and socio-ecological systems, play a unique role in encouraging rural sustainability. “By strategically linking OSUN partners, we draw from our collective expertise to provide students and faculty with the knowledge and skills necessary to think critically and co-develop creative solutions to address sustainability challenges within and beyond the various rural communities we engage with.”

Anthony goes on to explain that the disparities that distinguish rural areas, including low population density, weakening political influence, and poorer infrastructure, are all features that make such areas desirable places for developing sustainability solutions that can then be implemented throughout broader society.

“The UN predicts that continuing urbanization will further erode rural populations to one-third of their current size by 2050,” says Anthony. “Retaining viable, well-functioning rural areas slows the urbanization process and protects the same places where most climatic change adaptation will take place.” 

CORUSUS project partners have only recently embarked on their mission to strengthen teaching, learning and research that addresses the sustainability of rural livelihoods. But judging by participants’ enthusiastic responses to the project’s first offerings, the initiative and its critical innovations seem bound for an impactful future.

This article was originally published in OSUN News on March 22, 2022.