Seminar and practical experience: Landwirtschaft und Landleben – Struktur und Kultur im ländlichen Raum

Apple harvest

KAAD scholarship holders experience their host country first (and sometimes almost exclusively) in its urban areas – universities are rarely located in rural regions. Tourist insights, for example during hiking or excursions, are possible, but the actual life on site in the villages usually remains hidden. However, the rural area is a cultural space that is very important for society and the landscape in Germany. It is therefore worthwhile to get an insight into this ‘other Germany’.

From September 26th to 29th, 2021, 28 KAAD-scholars came to the Bildungshaus Kloster St. Ulrich to deal with the topic of agriculture and rural life. The Black Forest, one of the best known and most impressive rural areas in Germany, provided the backdrop and example for this. The cooperation partner for this seminar, which was held for the second time, was again the educational center in St. Ulrich under the direction of Bernhard Nägele. St. Ulrich also functions as a rural adult education center (“Landvolkshochschule”) of the Archdiocese of Freiburg and is therefore predestined for the topic that the KAAD scholars discussed and experienced there.

This cooperation was just as important for the preparation and implementation of the seminar as it was for recruiting farmers for the four-day “exposures” (short internships). This time, part of the group helped in the flood-ravaged Ahr Valley as part of the pre-seminar internships. There is a separate report on this.

Apple harvest

For KAAD, Dr. Marko Kuhn, head of the Africa Department, led the seminar. The seminar was spiritually accompanied by Prof. P. Dr. Ulrich Engel OP. Christine Haßauer, a consultant for agricultural structure and agricultural issues at the regional council of Freiburg, spoke about agriculture and structural change in the region of Südbaden. The participants had many questions on topics such as EU subsidies and profit margins in marketing or direct marketing (for example, farm stores or “farm ice cream”), but also very specific questions such as succession and farm succession played a role, whereby the general prospects of agriculture came into focus. Furthermore, the cultural and landscape-shaping function of agriculture was discussed, which is particularly evident in the Black Forest, where the “picture-book landscape” could not be preserved without livestock farming and grazing on numerous small farms.

In the “narrative” part of the seminar, Angelika Pietschmann and Annemarie Sumser, two local female farmers, were guests who told their life stories and thus illustrated the structural change in a very concrete and personal way. Numerous questions and comments came from the participants, who compared the described living conditions in the past and today with the “livelihoods” in their countries of origin. Parallels were often found between what was common in Germany at that time and what is still part of everyday rural life today in Asia, Africa or Latin America: a low mechanization of agricultural production, a high share of subsistence farming, the strong involvement of family and kin, etc.

In the cowshed

The same phenomenon of comparability between the past (Germany) and the present (the participants’ countries of origin) became apparent during the excursion part of the seminar, specifically during the visit to the open-air museum “Vogtsbauernhof” in Gutach. The guided tour “Experience how it used to be – living conditions and working environment of Black Forest farmers” evoked extremely lively discussions.

Another presentation then took a look at global agricultural markets and their impact on agriculture and structures in developing and industrialized countries. The speaker for this topic was Jobst Kraus from Bad Boll, Sustainable Development Officer at BUND Baden-Württemberg. He spoke about the global interconnections of the agricultural sector and about the interactions with today’s living conditions in the home countries of the scholarship holders, who came together from 17 countries of the global South and Eastern Europe. They contributed their own experiences of rural life at home as well as (several) presentations on the agricultural structures there. The seminar also gained a special liveliness through reports, photos and thoughts on the respective short internships in the farms, which showed an interesting variety of cultivated products, forms of production and marketing strategies: Fruit and viticulture in the foothills of the Black Forest and in the Rhine Valley was represented by several farms – also in its “conventional” form by a farm that completely works without any chemical pest control or fertilization. In all cases, harvest time in September was a very busy period, during which the interns were able to lend a hand. Those who experienced crop and livestock farming were impressed by the high level of mechanization (milking machines and robots) as well as the huge tractors and other farm machinery that were used. Many thoughts on animal husbandry and ecological issues also shaped the internships, such as on an organic-certified farm where primarily the meat of the animals and the milk from cow-calf rearing are marketed, leading the farmers to consciously accept lower yields.

The evaluation and reflection showed that the linking of concrete experience in farming families / farms and the associated reflection left a particularly deep impression at the seminar in St. Ulrich.

The newspaper “Badische Zeitung” also reported on our seminar: Zwei internationale Studenten helfen eine Woche in der Gärtnerei Zipf in Mahlberg mit – Mahlberg – Badische Zeitung (badische-zeitung.de)