By Audrey Vincent, geographer, lecturer-researcher at ISARA.
ISARA is an engineering school specialised in agriculture, food science and environment. We offer a wide range of Bachelor and Master level curricula in these fields. Next to teaching, we also have research activities as well as advisory and consultancy services. Every year, we offer in June a module dedicated to mountains, their specificities and their challenges. It is taught in English and can be followed by ISARA students as well as by students coming from our partner universities.
The module aims at understanding the challenges faced in mountains areas such as preservation of natural resources, averting the depopulation of rural areas, maintenance of economic activities, accessibility, adaptation to climate change, coexistence between agriculture and other activities etc.
It is based on lectures and practical’s given by researchers from ISARA and other universities of the EU, most of them being part of NEMOR. We also invite experts and stakeholders working on mountain areas, at local, national or EU levels (such as Euromontana). Having this large panel of speakers allows students to get diverse perspectives and presentations of various experiences. It gives them the possibility to figure out that working for mountain areas can cover various realities: from working on local projects with local communities, to advocating for the interest of mountain areas in EU institutions in Brussels.
Next to the lectures, a three-days excursion is usually organised in the French Alps, with visits and meetings with local stakeholders (elected officials, farmers and their representatives, local development facilitators, environmental protection officers , NGOs, etc).
This year, the current Covid-19 crisis forces us to change the plans. In France, universities will be closed until September. Nevertheless, teaching must continue. We are therefore organising teaching remotely. Courses will be given via video conferences. As for the study trip, we will opt for a virtual trip to Vanoise National Park, based on video resources available online and on phone interviews with local stakeholders. The purpose of this virtual trip will be to give students the opportunity to analyse how concretely it is possible to combine preservation of natural resources and sustainable development of economic activities such as tourism, agriculture, production of quality products. The question of how to deal with trade-offs, synergies and incompatibilities between preservation and economic development is of course at the heart of the discussions.
We will also discuss with students how they see the future of mountains. Hopefully the module will enable both students and speakers to develop a prospective vision of futures challenges and means of action in these areas, bringing food for thought in current debates such as the one which will be organised by Euromontana in September 2020 about how to make these territories attractive and future oriented.