Doctoral Dissertation Research: Micro-level Decision Making and Macro-level Policies in the Management of Natural Resources
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Deforestation and forest fragmentation continue unabated in many parts of the world, including the United States. This has led to the degradation of watersheds, reduction in bio-diversity, and the loss of ecosystem services. Previous research has found that the expansion of the agricultural frontier is a prime driver of this process and frequently local smallholder farmers are blamed. In response, Government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often promote agroforestry as a "sustainable development" strategy for combating deforestation while improving farmer livelihoods. Unfortunately, these projects frequently are not successful. The goal of the research funded by this award is to understand why. Evidence to date suggests that the problem may lie in a clash between prescriptive ideas from outsiders and local understandings of how forests, fields, and resources should be managed, which will be the focus of this investigation.Texas Agriculture and Mining University doctoral student, Katherine Davis, under the direction of Dr. Amanda Stronza, will target her research on agroforestry projects in the Santa Maria River watershed and the Santa Fe National Park buffer zone in Panama. She chose these sites because in the relatively small area of Panama, numerous agencies are promoting agroforestry projects for smallholder farmers, which allows comparative sampling in a controlled framework. Agroforestry promoters include the Panamanian government''s National Environmental Authority, national institutions, and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Davis will gather data with a mixed-methods strategy, including: semi-structured interviews, participatory mapping, and participant observation. These data will allow her to compare the views and practices of farmers, NGOs, and government staff in regard to agroforestry, farmer associations, and the relationship between agroforestry and forest conservation. By linking micro-level farmer natural resource management and livelihood decisions with macro-level projects and agroforestry discourse, findings from this research will help social scientists better identify the key factors involved in successfully managing natural resources for conservation outcomes for all while improving livelihoods of local residents. These findings will be generalizable to multiple sites in the United States where small-scale farming and natural resource management frequently come into conflict.