International experts to discuss sustainable livelihoods and ecosystem health
BY ANDREW VOWLES
U of G will host an international conference called “Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystem Health: Informing Policy, Practice and Research” June 4 to 7.
Organizers expect to attract about 150 delegates, including policy-makers, researchers, practitioners and students from Canada, the United States and Europe interested in social and ecological systems and in innovative approaches to rural development research.
Speakers will include Naresh Singh, recently named executive director of a United Nations commission on the legal empowerment of poor people. Formerly director general of governance and social development with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Singh is the co-author of Sustainable Livelihoods: Building on the Wealth of the Poor and is a former visiting fellow at the Ontario Agricultural College.
Also on the roster is Mario Giampietro, director of the Unit of Technological Assessment at the National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition in Italy. He's the author of Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Agroecosystems.
The conference is intended not to solve specific problems but to allow participants to share ideas and experiences about everything from AIDS, climate change and disaster relief to asset-building and human rights, says Prof. Tony Fuller of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD).
A key goal will be to suggest research directions and projects for academics, including U of G faculty, to pursue, says Fuller. “That's our main contribution.”
He underlines the big-picture nature of the planned discussions, intended to ensure that key players consider the broad implications of policies and strategies for tackling threats to livelihoods and the environment.
For example, Fuller and other Guelph colleagues recently took part in discussions about a pine-beetle infestation threatening much of the forest industry in British Columbia. Far from being restricted to that industry, however, those talks involved officials from tourism and municipalities as well as environmental groups, aboriginal representatives and academics.
“It's not just about spraying the pine beetle,” he says. “This is an opportunity to think about the complexity of the issues. It's not about problem-solving but systems thinking, where uncertainty and surprise are normal.”
The same big-picture approach has involved numerous players in discussions over the effects of climate change on the Prairies, where “it's imperative to take complexity seriously,” he says.
Overseas, that approach is also needed in assessing the environmental impact of Nile perch introduced with disastrous effects in Lake Victoria in East Africa or in ensuring that social and environmental issues are considered in attempts to tackle the HIV-AIDS epidemic, says Fuller. “It becomes a development issue, not just a medical issue.”
This rural development conference in Guelph will culminate two years' worth of discussions and study under a project headed by Fuller called “Building Institutional Capacity.”
That project, funded jointly by the University and CIDA, is intended to support rural development research and policy discussions involving policy-makers and development agencies.
“CIDA came to Guelph with the project because of our proven leadership in international development and Canadian rural development,” he says. “This is one of the great strengths of Guelph. This will give the University more exposure in international development.”
Fuller hopes the conference will foster new links between environmental and social agencies. They're the kinds of connections he says are needed to cope with, or even anticipate, the effects of an epidemic or environmental disaster, from HIV- AIDS in Africa to a tsunami in Southeast Asia. “You have to mesh the ecological side with the human side,” he says.
This conference is sponsored by the Office of Research and SEDRD. For more information, visit www.sleshconference2006.com or contact conference organizer Mary Rankin at email@example.com or Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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