opinion

Opening doors for collaboration and exchange with universities in El Salvador

DRIFTer Ilonka Marselis visited el Salvador to exchange knowledge and experiences at local universities with a team of five PhD-students, to share knowledge, research and experiences of the team, as well as to explore opportunities for future knowledge exchange, possible courses and possible research collaborations. This blog describes her experiences.

In March 2018, Ilonka Marselis visited el Salvador to exchange knowledge and experiences at local universities together with five PhD-students from the University of Maryland, U.S.A.. Daniel Teodoro, one of the Phd students from Maryland and originally from el Salvador, initiated this visit and assembled a team with mixed expertise in environmental management using GIS, remote sensing, drones, social networks and transition management. The aim of the visit was to share knowledge, research and experiences of the team, as well as to explore opportunities for future knowledge exchange, possible courses and possible research collaborations. The team visited two universities and a knowledge institute: Universidad dr. Jose Matias Delgado (UJMD), Universidad de el Salvador and ICMARES.

Transition theory
Ilonka held courses in transition theory and transition management. She linked the understanding of complex, deeply embedded problems and systems thinking to environmental issues in el Salvador. Introducing frameworks like the X-curve and multi-level perspective as helpful ways of looking at (change in) systems in society. During the courses she emphasized the importance of experimenting, empowerment, creating a mixed team of frontrunners and realizing fundamental change.

In the transition management course Ilonka explained the framework for managing a participatory, reflexive process for transformative change and provided examples of the application of transition management in different cases. She highlighted the work done by drifter Giorgia Silvestri in Honduras, where transition management was used to help several rural communities overcome their environmental problems, as well as the work done by DRIFT in Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda in the context of the T-group project.

The transition theory was completely new to the participants of the course – a mixed group of mostly agriculture, biology and architecture students and professors. This way of framing society and looking at complex problems and change was considered very enlightening and helpful. The participants were aware of the current system regimes in their country and the problems that have arisen from these. Questions that were asked during the courses involved: ‘how to get around powerful, vested interests?’, ‘what does a path of more radical change involve?’ and ‘how to get a project of transition management started?’.

Opening doors for collaboration and exchange with universities in el Salvador

Challenges
The participants of the courses raised several environmental issues in el Salvador that demonstrate the need for transformative change. The most pressing issue mentioned was the depletion of their groundwater reserves. These have been depleted to a low of 3% of the original contents.

Related to this are the issues of landslides and erosion that are very present in the mountainous country. Ongoing deforestation leads not only to landslides and erosion, it also lessens water infiltration in the soil preventing replenishment of the groundwater reserves. Other issues were related to their agricultural production: they foresee that with forthcoming climate change they will no longer be able to grow their most common crops, like beans and corn. Also, a persistent pest is damaging their coffee production. This has already led to the start of a large scale study on the persistency of new types of coffee crops to this pest.

An environmental issue felt at the coastal area of el Salvador is the dramatic decline in fish catches, mainly attributed to over-exploitation of the ocean. Small communities, reliant for their income on fish, are struggling intensely and have to switch to other types of income, leaving their traditional ways of living. On a very small scale, experiments are being done with hydroponics and aquaponics. During the visit in el Salvador the team visited one experiment with aquaponics in the island community of Tasajera, where Daniel Teodoro has been involved for many years.

These are just some of the environmental issues in el Salvador raised during the visits to the universities. They show the extent and complexity of the issues that people in el Salvador are facing and the need for radical transformations. Transition management could greatly help in enabling systemic changes, transition theory can help understand and frame the issues. By making the first contacts through this visit more knowledge exchange and collaborations can hopefully occur in the future. Doors have been opened for sharing transition theory and methods of transition management to hand the youths and professionals in el Salvador the tools to overcome their (environmental) issues!

Do you want to learn more about the trip to El Salvador? You can watch a short aftermovie here.

Opening doors for collaboration and exchange with universities in El Salvador


Date
April 1, 2018