Academic agroindustrial projects to reduce poverty

Academic agroindustrial projects to reduce poverty.jpg

Through engineering for solidarity, students can design and carry out social development projects with the participation of multidisciplinary groups where they apply their knowledge to real situations.

Photo: Bigstock

My transition to academia, after working for a decade in the electronics industry, emerged from a profound desire to share my experience of working in world-class companies with future professionals, through concrete actions that would impact and improve the environment in which we live.

As an industrial engineering professor, I took the liberty of exploring educational innovations in the classroom that reduced research, design and solution development time. We implemented two methodologies with the students to create ideas and manage projects with the aim of designing high-impact activities. We used thought engineering to identify products and also adapted mental maps and the Maltese cross to define a project’s activities.

"One of the greatest satisfactions that students have when they implement projects for social development is the application of their own knowledge for a greater purpose: to contribute to the reduction of poverty in their country."

Thought engineering is a creativity process based on gathering all the ideas generated, such as in brainstorming, and, using set logic, reduce them until those that can feasibly and viably be implemented are left. This eliminates the dispersion of ideas, focusing efforts and resources on solving  the problem. Consequently, the time spent on designing a product is reduced drastically and trial and error processes are reduced to a minimum (Almaguer et al., 2015).

Subsequently, once a product has been defined, with the support of mental maps and the Maltese cross adapted to project management, each of the activities can be designed in detail. In addition, its relationships with the entire system are identified, thus eliminating one of the most reiterative issues in project execution, which is to obviate processes and activities that can be critical and produce delays in time and increases in costs.

According to the evaluation by CONEVAL (2017), 43.6% of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, which is equivalent to 53.4 million people, of which 9.4 million live in extreme poverty.

Engineering for solidarity is the capacity to design and execute social development projects through multidisciplinary groups, based on simple engineering solutions (Almaguer et al., 2013). Together with a group of professors, we implemented an activity called “The Sierra Gorda Solidarity Route” in subdivisions with a high level of marginalization and poverty located in Guanajuato and Querétaro. The objective was to identify spaces in which students could apply their knowledge to make a positive impact, thus generating a “win-win” relationship with the community.

 

"We need to empower people to generate their own wealth in order to eradicate extreme poverty."

 

We generated agroindustries in the aforementioned marginalized zones. In one of these communities, the apple orchards had an overproduction and losing the surplus harvest was actually preferable, owing to the high logistical cost of transporting the product to sell in the market. To avoid this, we suggested giving the product an added value, taking into account technological restrictions and quality concerns. The intersection of these two ideas or sets resulted in products such as apple jam and cider. Small packing companies were created for apple, quince and mango jam, and an environmentally-friendly cider bottler was designed. In this way, supply chains for materials were created among the communities and, simultaneously, backyard orchards were designed and greenhouses for own-use products were built. The execution of this project took a week, week i, but the preliminary work implied three months of coordination with the municipal authorities and the common-land shareholders.

In another case within the same project, a machine specifically for shelling nuts was designed, allowing nut orchard owners in the town of Victoria, in the state of Guanajuato, Sierra Gorda, to increase their productivity and give their product added value. It took almost a year to optimize these machines; the need was detected in the preliminary work for week i in 2016 and, by 2017, they were finished.

Once we have defined the project to be executed, we need to formulate a plan for its implementation, without obviating any activity, however small or insignificant it might seem. The project can be managed efficiently by using a data mapping technique known as the Maltese Cross in combination with the mental mapping technique. This enables us to define to perfection each activity, its responsibility, duration, deliverability and dependency relationships with other activities.

When students work in a disciplinary manner, they consolidate the collaborative work competency. Designing and implementing projects with this type of scope is certainly not easy. Nevertheless, one of the greatest satisfactions for our students in these activities is using their knowledge for a higher purpose, which is contributing to the reduction of poverty in their country.

The only way to eradicate extreme poverty is through productive projects that empower people to generate their own wealth. If you would like to find out more about these projects or collaborate with us, please contact me by email.

 

About the author

Carlos Alberto González Almaguer (cgonzalz@itesm.mx) holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering, with a specialization in new products and processes. He is a member of the Tecnológico de Monterrey faculty and an independent industrial engineering consultant.