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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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:

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 »