A one day workshop bringing together returned TAAF awardees was held at University College London on 9th November. The aim was to enable awardees to discuss their fieldwork experiences, and to discuss future career opportunities with experienced TAA members.
Nine awardees from recent years attended the workshop together with eight members of the TAAF Committee, five of whom had themselves received TAAF awards at the start of their careers. Representatives from UCL also took part.
The recent TAAF awardees presented posters of their research on topics including oilpalm in smallholder agroforestry systems in Brazil (see picture), impact of climate change adaptation on local communities in Mongolia, and determinants of declining levels of tobacco production in Malawi. The presentations sparked interesting discussions and provided a good opportunity for reflecting on research processes and outcomes.
A subsequent careers advisory session covered openings in consultancy, Government, NGOs, start up enterprise and academia. This proved, in the words of one
of the awardees, ‘very motivating and inspirational’.
The participants were highly positive about TAA and TAAF: all said that they want to continue their association with the organisation and with each other. To try to ensure that this happens an online Slack Channel has been established, periodic meetups in London are proposed, and it is intended to repeat the workshop as an annual event.
We are pleased to announce this first of what we hope will be an annual series of TAAF awardee events. This is an invitee-only event.
Where: Darryll Forde Seminar Room, Department of Anthropology, University College London, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H OBW (6 mins walk from Euston station). See map attached
When: Friday 9th November 10.00 – 17.30 pm, followed by optional pub visit
Who: 6 TAAF masters awardees from 2018, plus 4 awardees from earlier years; 7 TAAF committee members and 1-2 TAA members with extensive relevant work experience. Some UCL students and staff will join us in the afternoon.
What: Getting to know each other, poster presentations, career support in different types of organisations, sharing learning with UCL students. Workshop style and fully interactive. Contact Numbers: in case of difficulty call 0777 3509852 (Jane) or 07722 849891 (Antony)
Callum Scotson conducted research on the genetic variability of Cauliflory in Theobroma cacao Accession, as part of his BSc in Plant Biology at Aberystwyth.
It has previously been demonstrated that the cauliflorous flowers (flowers present on the trunk) of Theobroma cacao (cocoa trees) will produce a greater yield of cocoa than the flowers present within the canopy. The aim of my research is to investigate the heritability of cauliflory in T. cacao by studying flower distribution in over eighty genetic accessions at the International Cocoa Genebank, Cocoa Research Centre, University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago. While the data analysis is still ongoing, that which has been undertaken thus far suggests the density of cauliflorous flowering is to some extent influenced by the variations in resource allocation within the plant that result from alterations in the branching structure. The branching structures appear to vary by accession group which may indicate that this is a genetically controlled trait. If this is found to be the case it would suggest that accession groups typically found to have only a single primary trunk, such as the TRD and MOQ accession groups, may allocate greater resources to this region and therefore produce a greater density of cauliflorous flowers which may in turn increase yield. The research project has expanded significantly since visiting the UWI – I am now coordinating a multidiscipline interinstitute research project which will involve the application of novel computed tomography image analysis techniques that I have developed over the summer. This will hopefully allow me to assess variations between cauliflorous and canopy pod and bean morphology. This is particularly exciting because the application of computed tomography techniques has so far been limited within plant science research and, as far as I am aware, this will be the first instance of its use within a tropical crop science research context.
This research will hopefully contribute towards ensuring that Trinidad and Tobago remains an international leader in the research and development of cocoa production. Throughout the project I have developed numerous technical skills, but what has been of most value is the experience this opportunity has provided of working within a professional tropical crop research environment and of making contacts within both industry and the academic world. This would not have been possible if it were not for the TAA MSc Award. I am grateful for the support and generosity of the TAA and its members without which this research would not have been possible. (Callum Scotson)
Sean Denny conducted an investigation into the factors driving agricultural burning practices bordering Amani Nature Reserve, Tanzania, as part of his MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College. My Master’s research and TAAF award took me to the Eastern Arc Mountains (EAM) of Tanzania, where I investigated the threat of agricultural burning practices to forest within Amani Nature Reserve (hereafter referred to as ‘Amani’). Not only are Amani’s forests home to some of the highest densities of endemic plants and vertebrates on Earth, they also provide water, hydropower, and favourable climatic conditions for tens of thousands of subsistence farmers. Through my research, I sought to better understand the most prominent threat to these forests: fires emanating from the bordering agricultural communities that surround the reserve.
Every February and March, many (but not all) subsistence farmers living at the edge of Amani burn their agricultural fields to clear them for cultivation. Often, these fires are poorly managed and, as a consequence, they sometimes spread into the reserve, destroying large swathes of forest and preventing the regeneration of previously burned areas. The aim of my study was to determine whether certain social, economic, and demographic factors, as well as particular beliefs or attitudes among villagers, are related to whether a subsistence farmer chooses to burn his or her farm, and, if so, by which of two methods. In doing so, conservation efforts aimed at improving fire management in villages surrounding Amani can be better targeted to certain individuals, groups, or even villages that are particularly prone to fire use and poor fire management.
Two months of fieldwork involving household surveys and focus groups revealed that normative beliefs— specifically whether or not a farmer perceived other farmers in the village to be burning farmland, and, also, whether village leaders approved of such practices—were highly related to whether a farmer burned his or her own farmland. Wealth was also found to be related to agricultural burning practices, with the poorest households burning farmland most often and disproportionately employing the more destructive of the two burning methods. Such findings can be used in future conservation and development efforts to improve fire management and the overall sustainability of agricultural practices around Amani Nature Reserve for the betterment of both globally important biodiversity and tens of thousands of farmers reliant on Amani’s forests for their livelihoods. (Sean Denny)
Ben Taylor and Adam Southern conducted an investigation of pollution impacts of the Al Lith Aquaculture Facility, using invertebrate indicator species, as part of their MScs in International Marine Environmental Consultancy at Newcastle University Tridacna sp found along transect Aquaculture production is currently increasing to meet global food demands. However aquaculture facilities are known to produce by-products known as fish farm wastes (FFW), consisting of unconsumed food and fish excreta. These FFW can be a major source of pollution when released as effluent into the natural environment. The study I conducted with the support of the KAUST and the TAA focused on the National Aquaculture Group (NAQUA) facility near Al-lith, Saudi Arabia. NAQUA is one of the largest aquaculture facilities in the world. It produces an estimated 35,000t yr-1 of shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei in 250km2 of inland marine lakes. The aims of the project were, firstly to conduct a baseline study of benthic mega invertebrates in the reefs of the Allith bay. Secondly, to investigate use of two separate invertebrate indicator techniques, to assess whether any differences between the sampled reefs could be attributed to NAQUA’s FFW effluent. The first indicator was a scuba diving based visual population census recording any invertebrate >5cm long; the second indicator was a stable isotopic analysis of carbon and nitrogen taken from the tissue of specific invertebrates. In brief, the study provided the baseline of benthic mega-invertebrates distribution in the region of Al-lith, enabling future secondary studies and further monitoring. The combination of the two indicators, stable isotopes and population census techniques, indicated spatial differences between the invertebrate communities centred on the site closest to NAQUA effluent. Furthermore, a majority of the results coincided with previous investigations which described FFW impacts on invertebrates, which suggests that marine invertebrates may be impacted by NAQUA effluent. Although the study did not directly investigate the effect of the aquaculture facility on the local community, anthropogenic pollution impacts the surrounding environment, hence it can be detrimental to dependent communities. For this reason it is important that potential sources of pollution are rapidly and effectively assessed, to allow for the appropriate remediation and mitigation of impacts, for the environment and the community that it supports. Overall the project provided me with valuable consultancy and field experience, which not only taught me useful new research, organisation and leadership skills, but also gave me the ability to deal with new challenges. One of the major obstacles faced during the project was the lack of scientific documentation on the invertebrates inhabiting the region prior to conducting the fieldwork. Overcoming this challenge through a flexible methodology and exchange with project partners gave me a new found confidence in my scientific abilities, allowing me to achieve aspired targets through hard work, adaptability and determination which will be essential for my career. Conducting the research in Saudi Arabia gave me a unique, raw and truly wild experience of the Red Sea, especially when we were exploring potentially virgin reefs or diving with whale sharks, as well as invaluable moments sharing cultural exchanges with the local people. Thank you once again to the TAA for making this possible. (Ben & Adam)
Harriet Ibbett researched the Impact of grassland user groups on Bengal Florican populations in Central Cambodia, as part of her MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College In April 2015 I was generously gifted a grant from TAAF to conduct research to assess the impact of local people on Bengal florican populations in central Cambodia. My aim was to gain a greater understanding of the drivers behind land use change in the grassland landscape, to identify other potential threats to floricans and to identify how local people interacted with grassland habitat. The Bengal florican is a critically endangered bustard species, of which the Cambodia population (the world’s largest remaining population) is increasingly threated by the expansion of rice cultivation. Armed with the resources to successfully conduct my research I travelled to Cambodia to work with Wildlife Conservation Society to conduct social surveys in villages surrounding florican breeding sites on the floodplain of the great Tonle Sap Lake. Research revealed rapid adoption of intensive rice cultivation by local people over the last ten years and a low, but significant, prevalence of bird hunting amongst floodplain communities. Findings helped to identify several areas for future research for WCS and some immediate actions that could be implemented in order to support sustainable agricultural development and improve florican conservation. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to conduct this research, not only did it provide me with an excellent insight into the challenges of collecting data in developing countries, but I was lucky enough to have a unique exposure into rural Cambodian life and have learnt lessons which will undoubtedly guide me through my future career. Thank you TAAF. (Harriet Ibbett)
Bamnan Catherine Dagu researched the Economics of Technology Change in Vending Agricultural Products in Peru as part of her MSc International Development at the University of Edinburgh. The objective of the research was to understand how technology is impacting work opportunities and livelihoods of Street Vendors of Agricultural Products (SVAPs) and local waste recyclers, predominantly herbal agricultural foods grown in the Peruvian highlands. The SVAPs or ‘Emolienteros’ are so called for their jobs as vendors of emoliente- beverages made with medicinal plants, sold on the streets of Lima, they provide an important service; that of inexpensive on-the-go breakfast/snacks, rivalled by none in Peru’s densely populated capital. Traditional and modern carretillas As the 3rd largest city in the Americas, Lima presents a huge market for the emolienteros, with much potential for growth. They have been able to form a robust labour union, well-structured into associations in the districts in which they function most. This became possible after garnering support from the city council and authorities, which they did not have in previous years. Today, it is considered one of the most prestigious informal sectors in Lima to work in. Despite their accomplishments, they face threats through competition with the growing number of chain supermarkets in the city. Although the presence of knowledge transfer within their labour unions helps the workers get information about new and improved technology, many lack the access to better technology that help mitigate the risks of losing their livelihoods to the market competition with the increasing dominance of supermarkets. In response, these workers have set a plan in motion to start an enterprise where they manufacture, package and sell the natural products used in their ‘emoliente’. This would enable mass production at cheaper rates to cater for the increasing demands for their products and services, and puts them at a better position to not lose their market share. The main technologies used by the ‘emoliente’ are mobile carts or ‘carretillas’. Also, freezers to store excess supplies on days they had low purchases. They change from older to better models of carretillas to improve their efficiency and productivity. As a result they earn slightly more and some have increased spare time, spent on childcare, family support or on a second job. In this sector, most of the technological change is brought about by the reinvestment of income into newergeneration technology. Throughout the project, I have consistently acquired not only personal development, but academic and career development as well. I have learned so much through my understanding of the informal economy’s link to agricultural technology, improved my skills and experience in the development field through transforming my theoretical knowledge to practical applications. The project will directly bring benefits to the local community through an understanding of the role of technology in the informal agricultural workers. It has enabled stronger links between local NGOs and the local SVAPs, a relationship that will foster growth of the sector, while also contributing to knowledge and understanding in the UK of development issues in Latin America.
George Barrett explored stakeholder responses to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Lower Sanaga Basin, Cameroon as part of his MSc in International Development at Sheffield University. The study examined the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and stakeholder engagement strategies of active oil companies within the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve in Cameroon’s resource rich South. Established in 1932 and covering 160,000 hectares of dense equatorial forest, the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve is home to a range of threatened flora and fauna, including some of West Africa’s largest mangrove networks and endangered West African manatee. The Reserve’s largest inhabited area, Mouanko, provided the main research site. Mouanko has a population of two thousand people mainly subsistent on farming and fishing. The project assessed the purpose and inclusivity of said strategies, and the developmental roles of a range of stakeholders within the Reserve. Respondents suggested that far from being genuinely altruistic, the CSR and stakeholder engagement strategies employed represented a strategic tool to coerce and pacify potential opposition, in turn fostering an environment conducive to profit maximisation. Additionally, the gifts employed as part of the CSR strategies, such as pens to the local school, beds to the hospital and financial donations to the local chief, were argued to reproduce colonial distinctions between a technically progressive West and backward Other, and as such highlighted the continued imperial underpinnings of development discourse and the West’s perpetual engagement with the global South. As such, active corporations were argued to not represent appropriate agents of development and social change. Instead the CSR strategies were seen to further disengage the citizenry from the Cameroonian state by marginalising debates surrounding government-level solutions. Moreover, it was considered that the employed CSR strategies reinforced dependency relations and in turn undermined the developmental prospects of the rural populations within the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve. The study exposed me to the re-branding of Western engagement with the global South, from the enlightenment era, colonial plunder, foreign assistance, to contemporary ideas of partnership and corporate social responsibility, and the array of ideological and material tools employed by the West to maintain its security and superiority at the expense of Others. Furthermore, the study advocated the need for a more vociferous role of civil society members within the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve, and a more broad-ranging development focus. Additionally the project highlighted the need for collective action at the local level to contest state- and corporate-level natural resource extraction. The project has been particularly useful for me in pursuing my career in CSR analysis and consultancy, whereby the research was key in me attaining internships with EIRIS and AccountAbility shortly after I completed my Masters. Without the TAAF’s generous support, and the advice of by Naysan Adlparvar, it is highly unlikely that the project would have ever been viable. (George Barrett)
Natasha Howard explored the value of different land use types in providing wild harvested products to local communities in Madagascar as part of her MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College Rural people in many parts of the world depend on products harvested from the wild for their livelihoods. Most of the literature focuses on the importance of forest in providing these products, but I wanted to focus on the role that other land uses including agricultural land (such as fallows in the swidden cycle) play in providing these valued products. My project was a mixed methods study based in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor (CAZ) region of Madagascar’s Eastern Mountains rainforest and was done in association with the Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy (linked to a larger project called p4ges: www.p4ges.org). I have produced a thesis from this work and am now working with my collaborators to write this up into a paper.
My colleague from Madagasikara Voakajy Njaka Randrianarisoa will be returning to the villages early in the New Year to disseminate the results (along with other results from a related project I was linked to). This information will also be disseminated to national scale policy makers interested in how conservation and other land management decisions influence local livelihoods. We found that forest closed canopy is essential for products used in construction, but that other land uses play important roles in providing food and other products that are used on a more daily basis. All products are not available from simply one land use: a mosaic is needed to meet the communities’ requirements. As pressure from deforestation and protection rises on the remaining forest fragments, alternatives to wild products harvested wherever they can be found need to be developed. I really enjoyed the three months I spent in Madagascar collecting data with Madagasikara Voakajy. I learnt how data for such an extensive project is collected and managed as well as meeting so many dedicated and hardworking conservationists. This project also brought home to me just how complex a field situation can be, and how vital it is to combine local knowledge and opinions with quantitative data to generate a true understanding of the situation on the ground. (Natasha Howard)
James Alden and Paul Baranowski conducted research to design and evaluate a tool to aid science-led decision-making for smallholder coffee farmers in Central America for their MScs in Environmental Technology at Imperial College. In 2014, the total global export value of coffee for producing nations well exceeded $20 billion; despite this seemingly vast sum, we are currently in the midst of a ‘coffee crisis’, with producers being hit hardest. Breakdowns in the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) and influxes from newly emerging Asian markets have resulted in an oversupply of poor quality coffee and destabilised low prices. These issues have been magnified by increasingly volatile climatic conditions, and a lack of access to credit for farmers, which force farmers to grow poorer quality, easily cultivated coffee strains, adding to the already harsh market environment. Farmers are being forced to sell assets, reduce expenditure from food consumption and school fees, and in some cases migrate to cities in search of alternative income, and these trends are continuing to worsen.
Our project set out to pilot a new methodology, aimed at improving coffee farm net present value, through the use of an environmental data collection toolkit and a computer simulation model, providing farmers with greater information to make better farm and crop management decisions. My specific goal was to develop and pilot the physical toolkit to enable cost-effective and accurate environmental data to be collected from farms. The data from which would be used to provide farm specific decision support on how to maximise yields and yield quality, and which adaptation strategies used to face climate change would be most appropriate for each farm. During this study, the approach was evaluated for potential efficacy, through communication to farmers and specific trials in the field.
With the support of the TAAF award, and with the help of HRNS, Fairtrade and Becamo organisations, I was able to pilot the developed toolkit on a number of farms in Honduras. Whilst the approach being developed is still a work in progress, the pilot study enabled us to gauge exactly which parameters should be measured using the physical toolkit, and the most practical and cost-effective methods to do this under real field conditions. This will ensure that the toolkit is completely appropriate for the farms and farmers to which this project is directed. The pilot also allowed us to talk to the farmers and understand where decision support was most needed, and to gauge whether the approach being developed would be accepted and incorporated by the farmers and cooperatives themselves. The response was positive, and our experience showed that empirical data from farms to guide decision making was severely lacking in this sector, supporting the continued development of this approach. We really believe that if this project can be implemented fully, we will be able to support coffee, and other smallholder, farmers in a personal, practical and effective way that has not been attempted before, to enable farmers to increase production and income despite a deteriorating economic and environmental climate. (James Alden)