Initiative helps universities and communities to advance SDGs

How can universities and peasant movements in Argentina and Brazil exchange experiences and promote actions in support of greater food security, biodiversity and promotion?

Answering that question is the aim of an initiative from Argentina’s Universidad Nacional del Nordeste that topped the projects selected for funding by the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education (IOHE), based in Quebec in Canada.

It is one among 234 proposals from 83 universities in 15 countries of the Americas that competed this year for a CA$100,000 (US$79,000) research fund for projects addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and cooperation between higher education institutions and communities. Ten projects will be financed.

IOHE is a 350-member strong action and reflection forum of higher education establishments in 28 countries in the Americas, including the United States. It runs the CA$100,000 research fund thanks to the contributions of eight Canadian universities.

Other projects selected deal with sustainable urban mobility (Universidad Nacional del Sur in Argentina); sustainable production by gender-driven social and economic movements in Brazil and Canada related to promoting the SDGs (Universidade Comunitária da Regiao de Chapecó, Brazil); and integrating the SDGs in university strategies and curriculums (Université de Sherbrooke of Canada and University of Costa Rica).

Also, sentinels of the community will monitor social and environmental participation in coastal areas of Chile and Brazil (Universidad de Los Lagos, Chile); and the impact of education in equitable gender relations in three- to five-year-olds during the COVID pandemic in Ecuador and Peru (Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador).

Winning projects

Dorita Zuliani from Universidad Nacional del Nordeste in Argentina heads the winning project entitled “Right to food and sustainable rural development: Biodiversity and the rights of peasants in Argentina and Brazil”.

The project is the result of 10 years of research by teachers, research fellows and students from the faculties of law, social sciences and politics at Universidad Nacional del Nordeste.

“Our project has focused on the sustainable use of natural resources and language, cultural and law diversity,” says Zuliani. “For several years now, we have been exchanging teachers and research products from several countries, Brazil and Argentina among them.

“Now we are establishing a work team made up of academics and community representatives that plans to set up a network to strengthen the exchange of ancestral knowledge and experience,” she adds.

The selected project from Colombia’s Universidad El Bosque, led by Clara Santafé, will deal with economic and conservation strategies in rural Colombia. Its objective is to manage biological resources through tourism in order to develop new forms of conservation and improve the quality of life of the communities linked to the project.

The work will include research in conservation of natural resources, their management, environmental education in the project’s impact area and the qualification of the community for the sale of ecosystem goods and services. The project will train leaders in areas such as biocommerce and tourism.

For its part, the University of Costa Rica is running a winning IOHE project that will integrate the SDGs into the curriculum of its agricultural engineering and biosystems careers as well as in research and social action projects.

Its school of biosystems engineering will be training teachers and researchers in productive systems, renewable energies and water, soil and environmental resources through analysis of the 17 SDGs as well as developing a plan of action to implement them.

A selected project of Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico relates to rescuing the ancestral knowledge of the Nahua community, which lives in Malintzin National Park.

The research is into the collection, identification, consumption and sustainable management of edible fungi. The aim is to heighten the importance of edible fungi in the diet of the Nahua community.