About my courses

At the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna – BOKU – I offer three graduate courses covering various aspects of farming and food systems in complex environments, focusing primarily on bringing about change for the benefits of disadvantaged people and countries. My teaching is research-led, i.e. I draw on data and experiences arising from my work on pathways and transition processes at ICRISAT.

My teaching portfolio includes taught courses and seminars.

Courses range in length from two to five days and are designed both as a standalone introduction to managing farm and food system transitions and as a unit to prepare students for research and practical actions in the field. All courses can be completed within six weeks.

Details including course content, learning outcomes and schedules can be found on the BOKU University website.

My graduate courses are learning-intensive. Exactly for that reason, I’m not teaching all the time. In my courses, I encourage students to enhance their critical thinking skills, form academic positions and work independently.

If you are thinking about development research in more general terms, you may want to consider courses offered by my university colleagues at the Institute for Development Research.

ALTHOUGH I TEACH I HARDLY LECTURE. AFTER ALL, STUDENTS WANT TO LEARN.

Livelihood system dynamics in rural development

Farmers in precarious conditions – notably those living in the drylands – have a remarkable capacity for survival. This survival behavior is reflected in the agricultural technologies they use, the way they relate to neighbors and communities, and how they form political opinions about agriculture and food. These livelihood factors, though sometimes difficult for researchers to parse, greatly influence their transition readiness. In other words, livelihood circumstances affect disadvantaged people in managing change to improve their well-being.

What resources constitute the material, human and social foundation for survival? How can farmers and those depending on off-farm income be supported in improving well-being? How might a development intervention become workable for people in precarious living conditions, especially when considering risks and uncertainties that dominate human choices? This course focuses on the latest thinking on these questions, bringing together insights from system theory, biology, social sciences, and practical experiences in rural development.

Facilitating change for sustainable development

Facilitating change that brings about sustainable development has long been an important goal. This course focuses on facilitating change within households, communities or food value chains. It thereby focuses on the co-evolution of complex adaptive systems using a selection of change theories, models and processes. Complexity facilitators - such as agricultural advisory service providers - can mix these theories and models to help system stakeholders to evolve along paths of sustainable development. Since all change is impermanent (nothing is fixed once for all) and context dependent – that is, dependent on interrelationships, interdependencies, interconnectedness – the course emphasizes the need for integration and for understanding the whole – for example the importance of:

  • Broadening perspectives (multi-level, multi-stakeholders, across timescales) of all actors in agricultural development and related systems;
  • Agricultural knowledge and innovation systems;
  • The “we-identity”: actors’ sense of connectedness leading to ownership for development initiatives;
  • Collaborative leadership and collaborative networks within and between farmer communities;
  • Integrating internal as well as external factors (drivers) of change in sustainable development processes.

This course aims to acquaint future practitioners with the theoretical foundation for facilitating complex change processes in the field of agriculture and sustainable development. Jointly offered with Alexandre (Rico) De Faria, GOAL - Global Options And Linkages.

Participatory methods in development research and practice

New participatory tools to analyze, jointly plan and implement change processes for sustainable development are constantly being developed. Participatory methods empower people to use their material, social or political resources to deal with challenges and make the most of opportunities to improve their livelihoods. Be it participatory plant or livestock breeding, the development of watershed rehabilitation for managing flashfloods in the drylands or developing ways to co-design new food environments in informal urban settlements, participatory methods are core to any change process, especially in complex, fragile environments. This course offers theoretical reflections and provides students with a toolbox to analyze and facilitate change processes in groups and communities. Such change management processes towards sustainable and equitable natural resource use are relevant globally.

Sustainable development is about enabling people to understand the complexity in which they live, and  develop their own capacity to act upon it.

Alexandre (Rico) de Faria, GOAL - Global Options And Linkages