The subject of her research sounds somewhat complicated: “Integrating social impacts into the life cycle sustainability assessment of biobased value chains”. Nirvana Marting Vidaurre is used to quizzical looks and quickly gives an example: the 33-year-old bioeconomist recently began a case study researching the cultivation in southern Croatia of miscanthus, a perennial plant used to produce bio-ethanol that has minimum requirements in terms of habitat. In her work, the doctoral student is focusing particularly on the opportunities that miscanthus farming may offer the region. In interviews with experts and farmers, she wants to find out how such a project could for example influence the employment situation or cooperation between farmers.
A research career in Germany
“I believe it is important to combine social, economic and ecological perspectives“, says the Bolivian, who is conducting her research at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. As she explains, her topic is all-encompassing and combines different disciplines: “The question of how to include the social impacts of biobased value chains in sustainability assessments is something that has been paid little attention in research to date.”
After leaving school, Nirvana Marting Vidaurre studied commercial engineering at the Universidad Catolica Boliviana in her home city of La Paz. “I have always been very interested in ecology. I wanted to contribute in some way to making the world a better place”, she says. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she worked in a company while searching for a master’s course that would allow her to combine her interest in environmental issues with her previous degree. “Nothing of the kind existed in Bolivia, and I wanted to go abroad in any case.” While researching online in 2014 she came across the English-language Master’s in Bioeconomy at the University of Hohenheim that had just been launched: “It was exactly what I had been looking for!” Nirvana Marting Vidaurre did a German course, applied to the programme and was accepted, and moved to Stuttgart to begin her studies in the winter semester of 2015.
Ideal research conditions in Hohenheim
With an almost rural feel, Hohenheim is an idyllic district in the south of Stuttgart. The Institute of Crop Science, where the researcher works, is just a few steps from the Palace Park, and to the rear of the building there are greenhouses for conducting experiments. “I like the Hohenheim campus because it’s so nice and green”, says Nirvana Marting Vidaurre.
“What is more, the atmosphere is very international. Depending on who I’m speaking to, I switch several times a day between German, English and Spanish. And I’m constantly learning more about different cultures.” Above all, she says that the research conditions in Hohenheim are ideal for her subject, as the three faculties at the small university – natural sciences, agricultural sciences and business, economics and social sciences – work closely together. “This interdisciplinary collaboration between the professors is unique”, comments Nirvana Marting Vidaurre. She is supported for example not only by her PhD supervisor, an agricultural scientist, but also by a social scientist and an expert in “life cycle assessment” – a process that assesses the sustainability of a product’s entire life cycle, from raw materials to disposal.
Interdisciplinary graduate programme
Since March 2019, Nirvana Marting Vidaurre has been a scholarship holder on the interdisciplinary “BBW ForWerts” graduate programme, which is part of the state of Baden-Württemberg’s “Bioeconomy Research Programme”. As the doctoral student explains: “Germany is a good place to conduct research because there is great interest in new ideas, new products and innovative value chains”. What she likes best about everyday life in Germany is nature and the seasons: “The summers are hot and the winters are cold! That’s something I hadn’t experienced before because La Paz lies so close to the Equator.” In her free time she is a keen bird-watcher and goes for long hikes, for example in the nearby Black Forest.
Bioeconomy – an important topic for the future
Once she completes her PhD, Nirvana Marting Vidaurre would like to remain in academia – and at some point return to Bolivia to research there. Bioeconomy ideas and knowledge are still something entirely new in her home country, she explains, adding that the biomass extraction in Bolivia entails big ecological and social risks: “There is still a great deal for bioeconomists to do!”
Author: Miriam Hoffmeyer