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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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.


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/


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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The social and human dimensions of invasive species

December 5, 2018

Announcing a special issue on the human and social dimensions of invasive species masterfully coordinated by Ross Shackleton, who came to Lausanne as a post-doctoral scholar funded by the Swiss Government’s Excellence Scholarship, and has prolonged his stay with a lecturer contract.  The special issue, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, includes three review papers and thirteen case studies – see the Table of Contents below.  In our editorial paper, we review advances in the four main ways people interact with invasive species:

  • causing or facilitating invasions
  • thinking and feeling about invasions
  • being affected by invasions, for better or for worse
  • getting together to manage invasions

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What to do about the ‘neo-Australian’ forests of lowland eastern Madagascar?

August 17, 2018

Neo-Australian landscapes along RN11a in eastern Madagascar: Grevillea, Eucalyptus, Acacia…

Beyond the rice paddies, beyond the orchards of litchi, cloves, and coffee, beyond the rare patches of lemur inhabited natural forest, beyond the swidden fallows, a new landscape has appeared in lowland eastern Madagascar in the past half century.  These ‘neo-Australian’ forests include four or five trees introduced from Australia that have, in many ways, become integral to regional lifeways: Read the rest of this entry »


Arbres voyageurs et plantes invasives dans les pays du Sud

October 17, 2016

FGSE Unil ouverture des cours 2016-2017 Last month I gave the ceremonial first lecture of the academic year for our Faculty.  The video is now online (see below).  The presentation dips into a number of research projects I’ve contributed to in recent years in order to make a number of observations about the relationship between plants and people, notably with iconic ‘natural’ plants and problematic ‘invasive’ weeds.  These observations include: Read the rest of this entry »


Protest and politics at the Santiago geography conference

December 1, 2011

During the closing ceremony of the 2011 International Geographical Union (IGU) regional meeting in Santiago, Chile, two students discretely entered and distributed small flyers alerting attendees to the conference venue’s history of torture during the regime of Pinochet (see images below).  They were gently escorted out by military officers in white dress uniforms.  After a few more platitudinous speeches by the conference luminaries, the students came back, this time with a paper banner that a military officer succeeded in ripping apart.  As they were again guided out, one shouted words that were obviously not translated by the interpreters in their booth.  The speeches resumed as if nothing had happened.

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