Weekend workshop to solve Human Security issues in the Mara River Basin

Students of the first semester course Tropical Ecosystem Management and Human Security goes to Southern Jutland for a full weekend to design their first project in the master’s programme.

By Kirstine Saxe Nordal

One of the short common meetings before starting team work

“When this weekend is over you will almost have a finished project,” Henrik Balslev, professor at Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, says while making big eyes at the students through his colourful classes. A shallow mumble spreads across the students, some encouraged and some critical in their response to Henrik Balslev’s statement.

Just arrived on an autumn Friday afternoon to the old manor house of Sandbjerg in Southern Jutland together with Henrik Balslev is his collegues Henrik Borgtoft, senior consultant at Niras and guest lecturer in the course and Lars Emil Erslev, a Ph.D student at the Department of Bioscience. They are here to guide the students of Human Security and other students of natural science through the weekend workshop. The aim is to get started on a project evolving around the Mara River Basin in Kenya and Tanzania.

Practise is all before meeting reality

One approach to deforestation and coal production in the Transmara forest

Although the students’ projects most likely never will be implemented in reality, the conditions and objectives of the project resembles reality very much. Split in groups of 4 or 5 across disciplinary backgrounds and even faculties, the students will be familiarized with working processes they may meet in their following working life in organizations or as consultants.

With limitations to funds and time frame the students have to address a certain issue in the geographical area of the Mara River Basin by implementing activities that will ease environmental issues in relation to the Human Security Framework. An example could be looking at deforestation and try understanding the reasons to why land is cleared for agriculture and what can be done to prevent it in the local setting.

Going in circles can be hidden progression

The Sandbjerg Manor house is located in Southern Jutland and dates all the way back to the 16th century

As to Henrik Balslev’s statement about the fast progression during the weekend, the feedback is diverse. “I feel we have progressed this weekend and found a common starting point, even though we were going in circles in the beginning as well,” says student Mikkel Lustrup. He feels confident that him and his group will make a good project about human wildlife relations and small farmers.

Ben Raby, a biology student from York University in England, expresses his low familiarity with this kind of case work. “This lack of familiarity afforded a window of insight, an ability to analyse working practices. I was struck by the organic approach to work with every member of the group contributing in their own way,” Ben Raby says. He continues to express how the flat structure also became a challenge. “However, without a central directing influence, a tendency to get caught in circles emerged, and once these circles were established, they proved difficult to break free of.”

Don’t forget the social dimension of teamwork

A cold dip will make you think better throughout the day

The social part of the weekend is evident in morning swims in the temperate bay, a common walk in the forest and rich use of the table tennis and pool table at nighttime. The Sandbjerg Manor house is owned by Aarhus University to use for conferences and events and seems to be the perfect frame for such a workshop. With delicious buffets and impressive rooms renovated in the old manor style, the students feel well prepared to engage in the case of the Mara River Basin.

The projects will be the frame of the students’ term paper followed by an oral exam at the end of the semester.

The biology professors, Henrik and Henrik, make time for the students to experience the surrounding nature