Global South


Costa Rica


The Model

What is the institute’s sustainability approach?

EARTH stands for “Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda”: "The School of Agriculture for the Humid Tropical Region”. EARTH’s education model blends academic work with practical experience and collaboration in nearby agrarian communities and agribusiness. Key focus areas for the educational model are scientific and technical knowledge, social and environmental awareness and attitudes and values for effective leadership and entrepreneurship. EARTH offers one degree program for all students in Agricultural Sciences Engineering, which develops students’ abilities, skills, and knowledge on sustainable agricultural management. Each student runs a sustainable agri-business for their first 3 years of study, supported by a loan from the university, alongside training to weigh the social and environmental implications of their venture. Students close the business at the end of the study and formally evaluate its successes and challenges in a yearly event. Built into the curriculum are weekly field experiences and a mandatory international internship with a sustainable agricultural venture. Moreover, the university invests in students from Latin America, the Caribbean region and Africa under a mission of fostering South-South partnerships for sustainable development. The university also operates as a sustainable commercial enterprise (sustainable banana and soap production) to partially fund its operations; which itself operates as a teaching lab.

transition process

Activities and Development Process

What is the institute’s overall culture of sustainability and their long-term vision for the future?

EARTH University’s overarching strategy is to “prepare leaders with ethical values to contribute to sustainable development and to achieve a prosperous and just society”. The University’s Environmental Action Unit oversees environmental projections and protections, monitoring the University’s strategic indicators, and promoting environmental education and resource conservation.Specifically, their strategy is to foster students as future change agents for sustainable development; building capacity for sustainable agriculture, sustainable entrepreneurship and socio-environmental commitment.

How does the institute translate their sustainability vision into a sustainability agenda?

The University works within five pillars: waste management, energy efficiency, water management, carbon neutrality and alternative energy. Their strategy is based on workshops, educational programs and initiatives and practical, experiential field learning to integrate agricultural, entrepreneurial and ecological competencies.

What are the institute’s short-term practices and programmes which achieve their sustainability mission?

Through donations and fundraising, EARTH funds the entire cohort of students’ sustainable agricultural business ventures and their field work.


Sustainability and Setting

What is the culture of sustainability at the country-level?

Costa Rica nationally enshrines biodiversity, the rights of nature and decarbonization into law. This can be seen in the National Decarbonisation Plan, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, together with strong policies for sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is also supported by the 1998 Biodiversity Act, which enshrines the sustainable use of resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from resource use. The country is a biodiversity hotspot, home to multiple types of ecosystems and approximately 6% of the world’s species. Current challenges include rising energy use, air quality issues in urban areas, and strained water, waste, and transport infrastructure.

In which regional context is the institution situated, and what is their policy or activities of integration within the broader community?

EARTH Occupies an 8,342-acre campus and prioritizes development of the surrounding community. They operate a Community Development Program, and students work with small-scale, local producers as part of their curriculum.

What is the institutional context of engaging with sustainability and experimenting with reorganisation or alternative governance approaches?

EARTH is a young institute founded in response to immediate and future-thinking needs of agriculture, thus their educational approach existed from its initial design.

Process and Approach

Development Timespan

What was the time-line and process of development and implementation of the sustainability approach?

Agricultural innovation in Costa Rica during the cold-war era was necessary for self-sufficiency and to combat rising environmental degradation. In 1986 a citizen’s group established EARTH, supported by funds from the Costa Rican government and USAID. The educational approach was solidified in the 1990s by integrating field work and entrepreneurial components. A second campus was added in 2005 for post-graduate study


Drivers and Challenges

What were the motivations for developing the approach?

The main driver of the university is “building a future in which the humid tropics and its communities achieve social, economic and environmental well-being”. The educational program also enhances partnerships and collaboration with regional agricultural and natural resource management stakeholders, thereby boosting environmental management capacities of local communities.

What are some challenges that arose?

Challenges to EARTH’s approach include the highly student-centered approach, which is reliant on individual progress and development for its success. The university is a private, not-for-profit international university, which poses a risk for financial precarity, as it is reliant on international donations.

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