Students, Broilers and Sustainability

Last week about 60 Msc students followed a week on socio-cultural sustainability of organic production chains, as part of the course ‘Analysis and Management of Sustainable Organic Production Chains’. Each week of the course focused on a specific component of sustainability (consumer, socio-cultural, environmental, economic), given by a different chair group. Last  week was under supervision and teaching of our Rural Sociology group.The lectures and assignments focused on socio-cultural sustainability and discussed chain perception from a societal point of view and the context dependency of indicators for socio-cultural sustainability.

During the course, the students worked in multidisciplinary and multicultural groups of 6 students. Each group represented a stakeholder in the broiler production chain (e.g. fodder company, farmers, retailers, animal welfare organization, slaughterhouse). Of the 60 students, only 1 student had a background in sociology. Others were involved in economics, agronomy or other natural-science based disciplines. Consequently, it was challenging for many of the students to change their way of thinking and reasoning to a more sociological mindset.  Moreover, one week is extremely short to do this. This resulted in hard working students and heated debates among group members.

By the end of the week, the students were requested to  – on the basis of earlier assignments that week – come up with actions that would make the broiler production chain more socio-cultural sustainable  from their stakeholder perspective. Several groups raised suggestions  like shorter production chains, more regional production and stronger embeddedness in the region. Although these themes were not explicitly tackled during this week, I was happy to hear these suggestions, because our Rural Sociology group is engaged in such themes.  

Overall, it was a week of hard working – for the students as well as the teacher 😉 – but when I look back, it makes me happy that the students themselves came up with interesting and creative ideas in just one week!