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.


Sheep and shepherds in the Swiss Alps (PhD Hélène Weber)

February 26, 2020

I’m proud to announce the successful public PhD defence of Hélène Weber, who has worked with me for five years as a doctoral assistant.  Hélène researched a practice operating in the spatial, cultural, and political margins of Swiss agriculture: sheep farming. She investigated the on-going transformation of sheep farming in Switzerland, pushed by eco-modernist policies, market institutions and demands, and also by the actors themselves and their practices and relationships (farmers, herders, sheep, grass, dogs…). Hélène’s intuition was that an ethnographic, practice-centred approach to her topic would give different and complementary insights.

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PhD scholarship in political ecology

February 3, 2020

I am recruiting a doctoral student to work with me as a graduate assistant in the Development, Societies, and Environments group at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the Université de Lausanne next year.   Read the rest of this entry »


Photo essay on forest change in central Vietnam

December 6, 2019

I’m happy to announce that the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (r4d) has published my photo essay regarding our work in the mountains of Thừa Thiên-Huế province in central Vietnam. You can see it here:

https://www.k4d.ch/navigating-forest-changes-in-central-vietnam/


Statistics to open your eyes: our biomass on this planet

November 1, 2019

Here are some numbers that put into perspective the human dominance of the planet: people and domesticated livestock account for 96 percent of the biomass of all mammals on the planet. In other words, if you weighed up all the mammals of the planet on a giant scale, wild mammals (including those very heavy whales and elephants) are only 4 percent of the total. Yikes! The same holds true for birds. The biomass of all the chicken in the world is about three times higher than that of wild birds. What if conservation measures that put their goals in terms of land area (like Madagascar’s Durban Vision of 10% in protected areas, or E. O. Wilson’s Half-Earth) switched to a biomass goal instead?

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The political ecology of the Ganges River (PhD Flore Lafaye de Micheaux)

September 17, 2019

I’m proud to announce the successful public thesis defence of Dr. Flore Lafaye de Micheaux, the first of my Lausanne doctoral students to finish.  The issue that guides and motivates Flore’s thesis is a shift in how the Indian government approached the environmental governance of the Ganges River, notably the Namami Ganga program of prime minister Narendra Modi.  From a need to clean a polluted river, the problem became one of saving a landscape, a deity, and the nation. 

Flore celebrates with her thesis jury: René Véron (internal expert), Torsten Venneman (chair), and myself (supervisor). External experts Priya Rangan (Melbourne) and Jamie Linton (Limoges) participated in the private defence earlier.

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Les feux en Amazonie et ailleurs

September 2, 2019

The recent media storm over Amazonian flames recently caught up with me – here’s the result, in French, published in La Liberté (Fribourg), Le Nouvelliste (Sion), and Le Courrier (Genève), and in pdf. I laud the journalist Thierry Jacolet for his efforts to understand and not just populate preconceived soundbites with academic authority. Read the rest of this entry »


Statistic to open your eyes: 240 generations of agriculture

July 17, 2019

My summer reading has been James C. Scott’s new book, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. In it, I discovered this tasty morcel to open your eyes: “only 240 human generations have elapsed since the first adoption of agriculture and perhaps no more than 160 generations since it became widespread”.

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Forest livelihood transformations: from wartime ‘A Shau valley’ to today’s A Lưới district

May 1, 2019

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining PhD student Nguyen Thi Hai Van in her field sites in the upland A Lưới district of Thừa Thiên-Huế province, central Vietnam. She introduced me to her key informants, took me around the fields and woodlots, and translated as she conducted a number of focus group sessions. Of the many interesting ideas and observations that emerged, the overall theme was certainly one of the dramatic and rapid changes affecting the peoples’ livelihoods and landscapes.

Van (second from left) leads an animated participatory mapping session.
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