Acacias (wattles, mimosas) in your landscape: survey

February 2, 2022

Together with Charlie Shackleton, I am updating our 2011 global study of the adoption, use, and perception of non-native Australian acacias in landscapes around the world.  We seek to identify changes and trends in the presence of these trees and how they have been welcomed (or not), and used (or not). To that effect, we have prepared a brief online survey.

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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.

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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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:

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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