Josh Su ’17, a PCSE Peer Advisor, studied abroad during fall semester and sent us this reflection:
I had begun my study abroad program to find solutions (economic, social, and political) for the impacts of climate change. However, even after a month in Vietnam, I had only been troubled with more issues and the hidden dynamics of social and political structures. A problem I faced in the first month was, “where exactly does the legitimacy of my ‘solutions’ come from?” I am not an environmentalist nor scientist in this field. The needs of this program, pushed me to ask expert questions when I was no expert myself. At this point, I am halfway through the program and have reached Morocco.
My travels brought me to a tiny village concealed within the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. An arising issue among the agricultural land and present within this village and villages alike is the irregularity in the climate and need for greater water management. The farm displayed significant problems from inefficiency in technology use, unpredictable weather changes, to faltering crops.
Morocco has the world’s second highest illiteracy rate at 30%. In addition, Moroccan farms have been reaping the world’s climate change impacts through fluctuating seasons of drought and unstable weather.
I stood on the 100 acre farm, amidst 5 year-old pear trees during the fall harvest simply as a student studying climate change, but could not help but scrutinize the top-down management policy governing rural farmers. It became evident through local experts and lecturers that even with the enormous amount of subsidies farmers received (from the government and foreign investments), this was still not enough to reboot agricultural production or allow local farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, the technical solutions are there already. Solutions such as hail nets or drip irrigation systems were not being used as intended. For instance, the improper use of the hail nets, which were supposedly to cover and protect crops from intense unpredictable hail storms instead wiped whole acres of apples last harvest.
This brought me to the question: How far does knowledge travel? Apparently not far enough for the source to reach the end-user. Sometimes, we become entranced in finding solutions, from our institutions, society, and politics. However, without someone to implement these solutions, its value is diminished. “The solution becomes nil without knowledge to use it,” said Mr. J, the Moroccan farmer who owned the farm I was visiting. The comedic Mr. J, a well-educated man in his late 50s who had studied in the States highlighted the concept of human centered design. This encounter made me realize its importance in Morocco.
The solutions, the technical ones, were already there, readily available to farmers like Mr. J, but the implementation and knowledge of use and maintenance was lost within the system. This interaction had made me more than realize the international importance for social entrepreneurs. Especially social entrepreneurs who understand the necessity of human-centered design. However, while the majority of entrepreneurship lies in discovering the perfect solution, without the implementation (and consideration of the human aspect), solutions like this carry no weight. Knowledge is a resource that has to be used to incorporate the “end-user” from beginning to end. It is a continual cycle that can mean all the difference.