What’s college? International confusion over academic and scholastic terminology

January 6, 2022

Have you ever discussed schools and universities with someone from another country or even institution, and gotten confused over terminology? Words like college, faculty, credit, … while generally sharing latin roots, have taken on different meanings around the world. In this blog post, I try to make sense of it all, using my experiences from Switzerland, France, Australia, US, and Canada, and what I’ve learned from elsewhere.

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Voices from the forest – local people and conservation in Madagascar

December 21, 2021

Congratulations to the team from the “Forest4Climate&People” project at ESSA-Forêts (University of Antananarivo) and the School of Natural Sciences (Bangor University) for this fantastic short film. It is both beautifully done and really informative. Wonderful images as well as guitar picking by D’Gary. And most of all, it has a strong and clear message, contained in the subtitle, that advocates “putting local people at the heart of decisions about tropical forest’s contribution to tackling climate change”.

English version embedded above; voici le lien pour la version française: https://youtu.be/X0S0Y1h4NoE


Company-led cocoa sustainability programs in Ghana: PhD of David Amuzu

December 17, 2021
A hot day in the shade of a cocoa tree

More good news on the PhD front:  David Amuzu today passed his public defence with flying colours.  David’s research revolves around the transformations in rural production systems in the cocoa forests of Ghana caused by the arrival of ‘sustainability certification programs’ led by chocolate companies. These are the kinds of programs that lie behind the labels on chocolate bars that guarantee that they were produced in rainforest-friendly, non-exploitative ways.  He investigates how a firm-led sustainability program has inserted itself into the local landscape and with what sorts of social and agro-ecological consequences.  He is particularly interested in the underlying power relations and imbricated social processes that can explain and highlight the dynamic social negotiations and (sometimes) injustices hidden behind sustainability certificates.  The four results chapters focus on different consequences of the arrival and operation of the sustainability scheme, ranging from changes to governance institutions and local agrarian relations (Ch 3), the creation of benefits for and burdens on farmers (Ch 4), the obfuscation of land access relations (Ch 5), and blockages in on-farm tree conservation (Ch 6).  

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The politics of a “forest transition” in Vietnam:  PhD of Nguyen Thi Hai Van

December 6, 2021
Van during her fieldwork

I am thrilled to announce that Nguyen Thi Hai Van has successfully defended her PhD.  Using a political ecology approach, Van investigated the dramatic changes in the forest landscapes of A Luoi, a mountainous district in the central coast of Vietnam.  In this humid tropical landscape, natural forests were destroyed by war and logging, but forest cover has rebounded in the last 20 years due to widespread acacia plantations as well as conservation activities in remaining forests.  Much of these changes have been attributed to successive state policies and programs, such as the allocation of forest lands to local people, the massive promotion of reforestation, and the implementation of ecosystem service payment schemes.  Van, however, looks “under the hood” of the successive layers state policies to see how they translate into specific outcomes in specific places in conjunction with local aspirations and economic pressures.   In the end, she argues that not only has the forest been transformed, but also the people – with ‘new forest people’ undertaking new livelihoods with new identities.

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Fire, afforestation, and agrarian change in highland Madagascar (video)

November 8, 2021

I recorded a short video last summer for an interdisciplinary workshop that outlines in a brief way my work on highland Madagascar. You can watch it here on YouTube.

The video was made for a fantastic workshop on the grassy biomes of Madagascar held online last summer, bringing together archaeologists, diverse types of ecologists-biologists-botanists, palaeoecologists, geologists and more. Other videos are available here.


New forests, new forest people (video presentation)

February 2, 2021

I was recently invited to give a presentation at University College London’s “Human Ecology Research Group” seminar series, and was asked record it in advance. I thank HERG for the invitation and the very fruitful discussion! I’m pleased to share the presentation here.

Summary: Forest landscapes and forest lives are mutating rapidly in central Vietnam. Non-native acacia plantations have boomed, local people have refashioned their livelihoods around these trees, in a context of diverse state policies. What is ‘sustainability’ in the face of these dynamics? This presentation seeks to give an overview of the progress of the “FT Viet” R4D project. I start describing the empirical case, then address the sustainability question before finishing with some comments on interdisciplinarity.

New forests and new forest people in central Vietnam: questions for sustainability and interdisciplinarity from KullGeog on Vimeo.


Economic pressures resurgent in Vietnam’s forests

August 10, 2020

Over the past decade, Vietnam has shifted its approach to forestlands as spaces for economic production and ecosystem services. Policy shifts — such as re-zoning forests from “protection” to “production” — have accompanied decreases in natural forest and increases in exotic tree plantations. Other new policies, like a payment for ecosystem services (PFES) program, had little impact on natural forest cover during the period of our study. More stable natural forests were associated with better governance (less corruption). In sum, despite large efforts invested in stopping deforestation and restoring forestlands, gains in forest cover are not irreversible.

 

Expanding acacia plantations and (in the far back) natural forest in Huong Nguyen commune, Thừa Thiên-Huế province

These are just some of the findings of an article from our r4d “FT Viet” research project just published in the journal World Development. Read the rest of this entry »


Tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean – marine political ecology (PhD Mialy Andriamahefazafy)

July 15, 2020

With pride and pleasure I’d like to announce the successful doctorate of Mialy Andriamahefazafy, which she defended publicly on July 13. Mialy’s previous work with a marine conservation organisation in coastal Madagascar showed her that local fishers were complaining about big boats fishing offshore, while in the inland capital, government officials were keen on the revenue they could gain through access agreements with foreign tuna fleets. This inspiration led to her thesis work, in which investigated the socio-material matrix through which fishing occurs. She narrowed in on three main topics: how diverse actors ‘access’ the fish, how these actors ‘narrate’ their concerns over overfishing, and whether there is any sense in approaching this issue by appealing to a sense of ‘regional identity’. Mialy undertook fieldwork in three countries (Madagascar, Seychelles, and Mauritius), interviewing more than 223 individuals including small-scale fishers, industrial boat captains and sailors, government officials, cannery workers, retailers and more. Mialy also observed landings of tuna in ports both big and small, and practiced event ethnography by joining delegations to attend two international negotiations.

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Trees threaten grasslands in Madagascar more than fire

June 10, 2020

Malagasy grasslands are often ignored, or worse, deplored. Biological research concentrates in the forests, many still shrinking despite conservation efforts. Yet research by plant ecologist Cédrique Solofondranohatra adds another layer of argument to the case that Malagasy grasslands have an ancient history and are important reservoirs of biodiversity themselves. Despite this, recent tree-planting efforts for climate change mitigation (of the ‘trillion trees‘ mode) often seem to take the easy path formed by a century of habit: planting exotic pines, acacias, and eucalypts in the grasslands, perceived as open, available, fire-damaged, and worthless. A much more laudable goal would be to restore trees to areas recently deforested.

A new look at Malagasy grasslands: researchers visit Ambohitantely
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Statistics to open your eyes: income inequality US vs Europe

June 8, 2020

A simple graph in the latest Economist compares income inequality in the US and Europe and caught my eye as it tells a compelling story about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.  From similar positions in 1980, the graphs diverge dramatically.

Income share of the bottom 50% and the top 1% in US and Europe

Political priorities clearly differ across the pond.  There are structural inequalities everywhere and of many types (as the important protests around the world for Black Lives Matter remind us), but in the US they have clearly gotten worse.  The source is the World Inequality Database, which is fascinating to poke around.