In 2018, the University of Central America (UCA) established the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Natural Sciences (IICN-abbreviation from Spanish) to make a contribution to Nicaraguan society through the development of scientific research in the country, which will focus on generating scientific information dedicated to the solution of environmental problems facing Nicaragua and the region.

The new Institute has established their main objective in the implementation of investigations in the Natural Sciences from an interdisciplinary perspective which provides an integral context more useful in analyzing and increasing the understanding of environmental topics and problems of great national interest and necessity which can only be evaluated and resolved with the coordinated contribution of various academic disciplines together. An integrated research focus involving the present environmental, social and economic problems can accomplish a better understanding of the dynamics and tendencies which together influence the rational utilisation and management of the natural resources of Nicaragua.

The team of interdisciplinary research specialists brings the advantage of combining multiple and different capacities in order to generate better solutions for environmental issues specifically orientated to improve the quality of life of the population and to promote sustainable development in Nicaragua and the region. The team of specialists is composed of experienced experts from different research centers of the University of Central America (UCA) such as the Institute for Capacity Building, Research and Environmental Development (CIDEA), the Solar Station, the National Herbarium, the Biological Station and other researchers of the Faculties with the goal of unifying experience in developing the institutional capacity in research at the university and the development of the IICN. The team of specialists unites expertise in such topics as water resources, forest management, energy, biodiversity, agriculture, aquiculture, biotechnology, food security and nutrition, ecology and environmental management. The scientific research in these topics is intrinsic to other academic functions of the university which will promote improvements in the quality of teaching in related careers of the UCA as the researcher staff will also be professors in subjects based on their specialities to bring their research experience into the classroom especially in the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment of the UCA.

In modern society, there are no fixed structures that can be used as a reference framework related to human action on the environment as we live in times of constant transformations under the influence of local and national realities but at the same time constantly under the impact of global processes.

Considering this constantly changing context of environmental transformations, it is necessary to develop flexible strategies of investigation and intervention in order to meet the challenges of society and look for environmental and social solutions to these critical problems; for this reason the scientific research of the IICN will be based on an active dynamic process to search for answers to real problems that are more than just an analysis but also go forward to bringing improvement to the quality of life of the population and at the same time contribute to the better comprehension of these changes which affect the environment in order to recommend improved measures of protection and/or restoration. For the IICN the knowledge produced in their research will only be effective when accomplishing positive impacts on society.

The first phase of development of the IICN has been concluded with the formulation of the Research Agenda which involved a process of analyses of the principal problems in the global and national context with the collective knowledge and participation of the research staff.

Through the conformation of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Natural Sciences, the University of Central America (UCA) is engaged in creating an institutional capacity in research in Nicaragua aimed at providing solutions to environmental problems, improving the management of the natural resources of the country, in meeting the challenges of climate change and assuring better conditions to guarantee an adequate and improved food security for the population. It is important to find solutions and improvements based on the contributions of scientific investigation.

The research agenda of the IICN has defined 3 priority lines of investigation:

1) Integrated Management of Ecosystems and Sustainable Resources.

Nicaragua is a country benefited from great richness in natural resources and biodiversity due to its geographical position in the center of the Central American Isthmus, its location in the neotropics with access to both oceans, Pacific and Caribbean and the variability in geology and geomorphology throughout the territory. In spite of this, the use and inadequate management of its natural resources and exploitation of biological resources has been dominated by aspirations focused only on economic benefits ignoring the environmental costs and, in many cases, also social impacts according to the classical method of business as usual which has now been recognized as unsustainable. This line of investigation of the IICN responds to the necessity to manage natural resources of ecosystems in an integral and sustainable form in order to avoid or mitigate impacts that lead to their deterioration and aspire to rescue opportunities which they could offer for local, national and regional development. The investigation into the causes of the losses of the rich biodiversity in different ecosystems of Nicaragua is key to proposing measures of conservation and protection and also the rational use of the natural resources.

Specific Objective:
Provide sustainable responses- environmentally adequate, economically viable and socially acceptable- to confront environmental and ecological challenges of global, regional and national importance from scientific investigation and local knowledge based on multi- and interdisciplinary research with an integrated ecological approach.

2) Climate Change and Territorial Development.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Nicaragua is the fourth most vulnerable country affected by extreme climate events, such as floods, hurricanes and storms in the 20-year period from 1997 to 2016. The country also has a high index of poverty and inequality which increases the severity of these problems and the need to confront climate change and environmental deterioration caused by anthropogenic activities.

On a national level, scientific and technical information which addresses climate change from the standpoint of vulnerability, adaptation and mitigation is limited, as well as the lack of analyses of the interrelation between climate change and natural resources; this of course reduces the capacity to respond to adverse events and therefore leads to the lack of adequate governance and creation of policies supported by scientific knowledge and results of investigation in the region. The perspective of territorial development and the integral management of risks is key in the transformation of all dimensions whether economic, institutional, social or cultural with attention to the environment especially in rural regions where the effect of climate change is even stronger in Nicaragua.

Specific Objective:
Develop studies which provide analyses of variability and change of climate and its impact on natural resources and livelihoods, which can contribute to resilience from the perspective of territorial development and integral management of risks.

3) Food Security and Nutrition.

The economy of Nicaragua is based principally on food production, but this sector confronts many challenges due to a low productivity. Instead of increasing the efficiency per surface unit, cultivation area is under expansion which has caused a deterioration in resources such a soil, water, forests and biodiversity. The country also has low income and a deficit of food where 17% of the population suffer from severe food insecurity and 24% from extreme undernourishment according to FAO from 2014-2016.

This line of investigation has been conceived as an opportunity to foster the generation of knowledge and the application of scientific technical information in the analyses of the causes of food insecurity and to find sustainable solutions in order to confront the challenges of food systems in conforming the base for human health, nutritional quality and agriculture taking into consideration the impact of climate change and environmental deterioration of resources in order to assure the quality and equitable distribution of food.

Specific Objective:
Generate scientific knowledge which contributes to improve the understanding of phenomena and processes which influence the availability, utilization, stability and access to food that serves as a basis for decision-making and the formulation of social and environmentally appropriate solutions.

These 3 lines of investigation have been established with the objective of contributing solutions, generating information and analyses which support improvements in the elaboration of policies and plans of action orientated to stimulate positive impacts to the reality of Nicaragua. It is key to work in collaboration with different actors such as communities and different sectors of civil society.

Certain aspects or research projects will also be carried out in cooperation with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Social Sciences (IICS-abbreviation from Spanish) recently established by the UCA. Both Institutes share common instruments, goals of research and the interdisciplinary approach all looking to deepen the understanding of problems of society and the economy which forms an integral part of environmental issues and essential to contribute to the sustainable development of Nicaragua. The IICN also proposes to work in interinstitucional cooperation in order to take advantage of the strengths and capacities of other national and international institutions with the goal of promoting research in Nicaragua.

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