Diversity Turn in Land Use Science

Project: Educational project: Competencies for rural Madagascar (2016–2021)
Joint Project: Diversity Turn in Land Use Science: The importance of social diversity for sustainable land use innovations using the example of vanilla farming in Madagascar
Funding: “Niedersächsisches Vorab” of Volkswagen Foundation, program “Science for Sustainable Development”; Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture (grant number: 11-76251-99-35/13 (ZN3119), for 2016–2021)
Project PI: Prof. Dr. Susanne Bögeholz
Project Scientist: Janna Niens

Madagascar is known for its’ unique biodiversity. However, remnant forests are severely threatened, e.g., by unsustainable land-use activities (Laney and Turner 2015, Zaehringer et al. 2015). The Malagasy population furthermore faces multiple Health issues, e.g. tropical diseases, critical hygienic conditions, and under- and malnutrition (Andrianarisoa et al. 2007, Curtis et al. 2009, MSP 2015, UNICEF and WHO 2020, Andriamparany et al. 2021). Coping with these Land-use and Health issues is challenging for the population in Madagascar. Approximately 77% of the population lives with less than 1.90$ a day (UNDP 2019) and the possibilities to become a change agent for sustainable development are limited (Andriamihaja et al. 2021). To empower the population with regard to sustainable development, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) plays a key role (Rieckmann 2018). For Madagascar, this accounts in particular for primary education, as most of the population only attends primary school (UNESCO 2020). The low-income country faces many educational hurdles, including poor conditions of schools and insufficient material (Glick and Sahn 2006, Ratompomalala et al. 2019, Venart and Reuter 2014), as well as a lack of trained teachers (Venart and Reuter 2014, UNSECO 2020). Furthermore, ESD is only marginally implemented in primary education (Reibelt et al. 2014, Schüßler et al. 2019).
The joint project Diversity Turn in Land Use Science comprises 10 different Workpackages, investigating sustainable land-use innovations regarding vanilla cultivation in North-East Madagascar, with respect to social diversity. In Workpackage 6: Competencies for rural Madagascar, we investigate conditions and potentials of ESD in primary schools in the SAVA region (NE Madagascar). In particular, we conducted studies regarding:
  1. The preconditions of national Malagasy primary school curricula for ESD teaching
  2. The procedural knowledge of Malagasy primary school teachers regarding challenges of sustainable development (related to SDGs 2, 3, 6, 12, and 15) as prerequisite for ESD teaching
  3. The schooling conditions in primary schools in the SAVA region

The analysis of discipline-specific primary school curricula indicates that numerous learning objectives relate to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDGs 2: „Zero Hunger“, 3: „Good Health and Well-being“, 6: „Clean Water and Sanitation“, 12: „Responsible Consumption and Production“, and 15: „Life on Land“ (Niens et al. 2019).
With a subsequent Delphi study with 34 Malagasy experts, we identified corresponding Land-use and Health topics, suitable for teaching regionally relevant procedural knowledge (action-oriented knowledge) to promote sustainable development. We identified courses of action that the experts estimated as very effective with respect to biodiversity conservation and agronomic productivity and as easy to implement, e.g., a diversity of shade trees on vanilla cultivations or the cultivation of small house gardens. At the same time, the Delphi study revealed courses of action that are less effective such as a diversity of tutor trees on vanilla plantations and those that are more difficult to implement, e.g. due to land scarcity, such as letting tired soil recover during a recommended period. For the SAVA region, courses of action related to vanilla are generally suitable for teaching sustainable Land use. Regarding Health, all courses of action were estimated as effective for good health and well-being, e.g., latrine use and water treatment. We furthermore identified courses of action that are easy to implement, such as sleeping under impregnated mosquito nets. However, some courses of action were estimated as less easy to implement, e.g., avoiding malnutrition. Courses of action related to Health education are more difficult to implement in rural compared to urban areas (Niens et al. 2020).
Through the quantitative questionnaire study with 286 primary school teachers, we investigated teachers’ procedural knowledge regarding the identified Land-use and Health issues. The results indicate that corresponding knowledge is currently not promoted in teacher education and training. However, Environmental Education and Health training provided by external stakeholders such as NGOs seem to positively affect teachers’ Land-use and Health procedural knowledge. Furthermore, teachers in rural schools demonstrate a higher Land-use procedural knowledge compared to teachers in urban schools. The higher knowledge of rural teachers can be valued as potential for regionally relevant ESD teaching, e.g., regarding vanilla cultivation as sustainable Land-use option. Comparing male and female teachers, male teachers have a higher procedural knowledge regarding both, Land-use and Health issues, indicating that ESD training should particularly target women.
In addition to the quantitative study about teacher knowledge, a think-aloud study with ten Malagasy primary teachers contributes with qualitative data to understand the possibilities to implement Land-use and Health courses of action. The results argue for a regional adaptation of school curricula and teacher training as well as the individual adaptation of the teaching content to the school environment.
Furthermore, a school-structure study with 64 Malagasy primary schools revealed challenging schooling conditions in the SAVA region, such as high student-teacher-ratio and insufficient material. The average success rate of primary school final exam was only 31% in 2016 (Niens et al. 2019). Public primary schools in comparison with private primary schools show higher teacher absence, provide lower teaching time and have fewer ecological excursions. Accordingly, the primary school completion rate is higher in private compared to public schools (Niens et al. 2019).
The results of the project highlight the potential for Land-use and Health related ESD in the SAVA region in NE Madagascar. Thus, the findings can contribute to a further development of regional primary school curricula and teacher training.

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  • Zaehringer, J., Eckert, S., & Messerli, P. (2015). Revealing Regional Deforestation Dynamics in North-Eastern Madagascar—Insights from Multi-Temporal Land Cover Change Analysis. Land 4(2), 454–474. (https://doi: 10.3390/land4020454)

  • Picture 1: Biology lesson in a private primary school.
    Picture 1: Biology lesson in a private primary school.

    Picture 2: Individual interview with a primary teacher (left) and the interviewer (right) within the scope of the questionnaire study.
    Picture 2: Individual interview with a primary teacher (left) and the interviewer (right) within the scope of the questionnaire study.