The hub will focus on methods to efficiently explore, locate, and catalogue non-timber organic resources, using new digitally enabled capabilities such as satellite and airborne remote sensing, micro-robots gathering field data, and other data platforms tracking higher level deforestation information. An appropriate data architecture linking local conditions to the wider economic context will generate new value streams for local communities within the constraints of forest conservation. This includes biodiversity protection, and reduction of CO2 emissions, through a process of co-creation of value with local communities, NGOs, and private sector partners already experienced in non-timber organic resource development and sustainable development in the rainforests. Application of digital technologies and micro-scale manufacturing processes will extend existing small-scale harvesting of products such as Brazil nuts and acai berries to sustainably increase the output of certain high-value plant oils used in pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. This also enables further skill development and new employment opportunities within the local communities, already benefiting from ICT and other modern technology.
The outcomes of this project will have a direct impact on the UN sustainable development goal (SDG)-15, that aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. The non-timber bio-industrial opportunities created by the hub will meet UN ambition to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally by 2030.
Via an up-front ethnographic study, stakeholder networks will be mapped, and existing local community context, resources, and capacity will be evaluated. We will focus on developing and using methods for building empathy between investigators across disciplines and borders, and the primary stakeholders. Co-design methods will be developed to connect with local communities in the target areas of DAC countries. The creative capacity of the rainforest communities will be enhanced by their inclusion in the innovation process, and ensure that the investigation’s technological advancements are contextually appropriate, with a strong sense of intellectual engagement and ownership by the local participants. These pilots will involve embedding educational outcomes, bridging local communities with UK based academic institutes.
The very nature of a collaboration with the global south to address an intractable challenge to do with preserving rainforests by introducing alternative value streams will advance business and economic research in sustainable development, including the use of indicators linking sustainable supply chain management with international development. This project will make significant advances in fundamental knowledge in bio-inspired robot locomotion in unstructured and uncertain environments and non-invasive mobile sensing technologies. Combining ground-based and satellite-based information with a sustainable development (incl. socio-economic) will break new ground in data science and performance management. New tools for mobile sensor deployment in uncalibrated environments like forests will enable new technology development, but also tools to understand animal survival in a rainforest. Discoveries in new materials as alternatives to timber can radically change academic research in civil engineering and interior design.
This project will have significant impacts on curriculum development of taught undergraduate and masters programs in design engineering, business studies, sociology, robotics, civil engineering, computer science, botany, food science, economics, big data, telecommunications engineering, and geology. An example is the Global Innovation Design Engineering (GID) and Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) masters programs run jointly by Imperial College London and Royal College of Arts, where students will get an invaluable opportunity to participate in problem-solving exercises involving multiple countries and cultures. The co-design approaches will add new pedagogy for similar taught programs across the globe.
These community-building efforts were supported by an RCUK (Research Councils UK) travel grant and an EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) award (EP/P512655/1) to Imperial College London to build communities for Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) proposals.