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Using local wisdom for sustainable change

research team
Tuesday, 15 May, 2018

WORKING with communities is the key to sustainable change according to ecological design thinking lecturer Dr Mona Nasseri.

She has been speaking about her work as part of an international research team addressing environmental challenges in Tanzania, ahead of a visit to the country later this year.

Jali-ardhi, which means care for the land in Swahili, is a project examining the impact of climate change and social activity on soil erosion in areas of East Africa.

Mona, who has been teaching at Schumacher College for nearly four years, said both social and environmental factors had contributed to landscape degradation in northern Tanzania.

And she said there was now growing acknowledgement that ecological design thinking had a crucial role in the success of projects like this.

Mona explained: “Part of my work in the Manyara Catchment area is to ensure that we involve the local community so that we are using local wisdom to tackle a local problem.  These kinds of issues can be very complex so they need a much more holistic approach.

“Ecological design is completely different to what many people consider as traditional design.  It put the eco-system at the centre rather than just putting the human at the centre - as traditional design does.”Ecological Design Thinking Postgraduate Programme

Soil erosion is a growing environmental challenge in many areas of Africa.  In northern Tanzania the combination of pastoralist and farming practices as well as prolonged drought periods followed by heavy rain have contributed to the problem.

The rain washes large amounts of soil into the nearby lake and the resulting sediment causes significant changes to the eco-system.

In order to assess the complexity of the problem, as a part of an interdisciplinary team, Mona mapped out areas of challenge and then worked with the community to develop solutions.

“Livestock are very important to the Maasai,” she added. “It’s very much part of their cultural identity regardless of their status and so we have to make sure that anything that addresses these problems also respects their cultural practices.

“One of the ways we tackled this was by bringing together people from the community who were ‘champions’ of good practice so they could talk to those who were reluctant to change.”  In addition the team arranged a number of workshops to encourage education about the importance of land management.

The project, which involves academics from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Plymouth and Exeter Universities as well as Schumacher College has been funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.

The team has already made two trips to Tanzania and are planning the third this summer.

Pictured left to right : Professor of Environmemental Science Will Blake, Plymouth University, Dr Mona Nasseri, Senior Lecturer Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College, Carey Marks, Creative Director at Scarlet Design and Aloys Patrick, Research Assistant at the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology.

Dr Mona Nasseri teaches on MA Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College