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/


Socio-ecological landscapes of Thừa Thiên-Huế province

September 19, 2017

Unrecognizable 20 years ago: Acacia plantations and new road in Nam Đông district, Thừa Thiên-Huế province.

The past week marked the launch of our new, Swiss government funded research project on the “forest transition” in Vietnam, which I’m leading in collaboration with colleagues Trần Nam Thắng and Ngô Trí Dũng of Huế University and Roland Cochard at Unil (see previous blog). The project aims to promote sustainable forest management and resilient rural livelihoods in the rapidly changing forest landscapes of this region.

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Announcing new project on forest landscapes in Vietnam (with PhD post)

April 25, 2017

Forest in Vietnam can mean many things. There are the dense, dipterocarp rainforests that have divulged mammal species previously unknown to science, like the saola. There are also the vast plantations of exotic acacias growing wood for industry, as I detailed in a previous blog entry. And these forests have changed rapidly in the past few decades in step with the country’s economy and politics. The country is often seen to have undergone a “forest transition”, whereby a previous history of deforestation transitions to a new phase characterised by forest stability and indeed regrowth (albeit largely with exotic plantations).  In a new research-for-development project (see PhD job ad here), we intend to investigate the exact nature of the forest transition and its feedback into sustainable development for the heavily peopled rural landscapes of Vietnam.

r4d photo - 4

Acacia mangium, forest plantations, and natural rainforest in A Luoi district, Vietnam

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Hervé Rakoto and the farmers of highland Madagascar

February 8, 2017

The tantsaha, or farmers, of highland Madagascar lost one of their moHerve in the fieldst empathetic interlocutors in late 2015: the geographer Hervé Rakoto Ramiarantsoa. In his books and articles, Hervé investigated the lives and landscapes of rural Imerina, Betsileo, and Tanala country from the farmer’s perspectives. His wonder and respect for the farmer’s techniques, their intricate reworkings of canals, soils, and paddy fields, was as strong as a farmer’s polished wood angady spade. Read the rest of this entry »


Farmer livelihood practices and the forest transition in Africa

December 19, 2015

In what situations do the practices of small-scale family farmers lead to increased tree cover, particularly on a continent better known for land degradation and deforestation?  Research on the “forest transition”, a pattern where net deforestation is replaced by a net gain in forest cover, has so far avoided much mention of Africa.  In contrast, it is historically documented in western Europe, eastern North America, east Asia, and seemingly underway in parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia.  This research tends to focus on factors such as economic modernisation, rural abandonment, urbanisation, or even globalisation as driving forces of the forest transition.  Two recent studies I contributed to focus instead on Africa – one in West Africa, one in Madagascar – and on transitions brought about by rural farmers. Read the rest of this entry »


Lantana, people, and wildlife in southern India (field trip report)

October 6, 2014

A lantana-lined path in the BRT Hills

A lantana-lined path in the BRT Hills

The thorny bush Lantana camara, with its attractive pink, yellow, and orange flowerlets, covers vast areas of forest understory, fallow lands, and hedges in the hilly mountains fringing the southern end of Karnataka state, India. These upland areas are also home to several marginalized cultural groups (‘scheduled tribes’, or ‘indigenous people’) as well as a diversity of wildlife – elephants, tigers, bears, gaur, three kinds of deer, monkeys, boars, wild dogs, leopards. On our recent scoping trip to the Biligiri Ranganaswamy Hills some four hour south of Bangalore, we discovered that there were at least three ways one could talk about the lantana situation, each following familiar tropes: as a story of invasion, of dispossession, or of creative redemption. Read the rest of this entry »


Peatland deforestation for acacia in Indonesia

September 27, 2014

Oil palm gets all the attention, but what about acacia?  Oil palm has become synonymous with deforestation in Indonesia and resulting losses of orang-utan habitat, increased carbon emissions, and unhealthy smoke haze.  But equally large areas of peatland are being converted to pulp and paper plantations of tropical salwood wattles like Acacia crassicarpa and A. magnum, trees that now cover many millions of hectares in South East Asia.  In Riau province, Sumatra, the two big pulp mills (operated by Asia Pulp and Paper [APP] and Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd [APRIL]) have around 75 and 45 per cent (respectively) of their pulp plantations located on peatland. The ways in which such forestry concessions have been granted and implemented have inspired dramatic protests: 28 residents of the Meranti Islands in Riau Province stitched their lips shut while demonstrating in front of government buildings in Jakarta (Jakarta PostTransparency Int.). Read the rest of this entry »


Biodiversity conservation in a developing country: new book

May 9, 2014

I’ve finally received my copy of the new edited book Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, edited by Ivan Scales of Cambridge University. This will be a fantastic resource for scholars of Madagascar new and old, as well as more broadly. It includes chapters on a full array of topics: on biodiversity, palaeoecology, and archaeology, on the measurement and causes of deforestation, on environmental politics, policies, programs, and projects, and on different economic development-and-conservation solutions, often (but not always) from a political ecology perspective, broadly construed.

Cover of Scales 2014 Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar

Highlights for me in the book – which also has two of my own chapters – include: Read the rest of this entry »


Rural development and landscape transformations in highland Madagascar

September 10, 2013

How did forty years of rural development, population growth, and conservation action transform the landscapes of highland Madagascar? My recently published [1, 2] analysis of a region-wide sample of air photos from circa 1950 and 1991 document several key trends: crop fields, settlements, and exotic trees are replacing open grassland, while irrigated rice is expanding at the expense of wetland and riparian vegetation.

Farmhouse among the intensively cultivated rice terraces of Betafo, west of Antsirabe

Farmhouse among the intensively cultivated rice terraces of Betafo, west of Antsirabe

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Recognising community rights in ‘political forests’

August 31, 2013

Indonesia‘s courts recently recognised community forests (or customary ‘adat‘ forests) as distinct from state forests (i.e., government land). This is a landmark decision, as shown in an excellent analysis by Elizabeth Kahurani [1].  It overturns a presumption that the state is first and foremost the guardian and manager of forests, and vests more rights in local communities.  In the context of south-east Asia, where states have a poor history of protecting forests (especially in ways that respect local indigenous people), this is an important victory. In contrast, here in Fiji and in much of the rest of the Pacific, the situation is quite different:  most land (and hence forest) is ‘native land’ and belongs to traditional village structures.  Revenue from logging goes to the iTaukei land board and the villages (the forest service just overseas licences), also two state owned companies grow pine and mahogany on leased native and crown land [2]. In Madagascar, the situation is different again.  The presumption of unoccupied land (hence, forests) as state domain comes first, and most significant areas of forestland have been demarcated as parks, reserves, or classified forests.  Since the mid-1990s, neighbouring communities may gain use and management rights to some forest areas, but the forest is still fundamentally the state’s [3]. Rural social movements are much weaker than in Indonesia, and the conservation lobby (which usually tends to favour state control) is stronger, in relative terms.

Indonesia’s decision can be read through the Nancy Peluso and Peter Vandergeest’s ideas about “political forests”.  Their article in Journal of Asian Studies [4] traces the history of the idea of state forests, and how it was constituted dialectically with customary rights: Read the rest of this entry »