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Drs. McElwee and Rudel selected to participate in PEER program

Aug 16, 2012

Three researchers at Rutgers in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences have been selected as U.S. partners to international projects funded by a new USAID program in its first year: the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) awards. Two of the PEER partners are Human Ecology Faculty. Along with Olaf Jensen (Marine and Coastal Sciences), Pamela McElwee, assistant professor, and Tom Rudel, professor, will serve as partners to scientific research projects being undertaken in Vietnam and Ecuador.

The PEER program was established under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NSF and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The PEER Award provides an opportunity to support and build scientific and technical capacity in the developing world. The initial cycle of research collaboration grants were awarded in May 2012. Nearly 500 applications from 63 developing countries were received. Among these, 41 projects from 25 countries were selected based on scientific merit, projected development impact within the country, and the prospects for strength of collaboration between developing country scientists and their American counterparts, according to USAID.
Details of the projects being undertaken between the Human Ecology Department, Rutgers and global partners are below.


Research and capacity building on REDD+, livelihoods, and vulnerability in Vietnam: developing tools for social analysis of development planning

PI: Le Thi Van Hue, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Vietnam National University
US Partner: Pamela McElwee, Rutgers University
Project Dates: June 2012 - May 2015
Project Overview: Forecasted global climate changes have the potential to exacerbate existing social vulnerabilities, especially in poorer developing countries, and communities’ and individuals’ ability to cope with these future changes are often conditioned on their ability to access and mobilize natural resources. At the same time, new global policies are in development that would pay countries for avoided deforestation through forest conservation efforts known as Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD+) in order to sequester carbon and contribute to climate change mitigation. However, as access and use rights to forests change under REDD implementation, this may render some households and communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the long term if REDD policies reduce their adaptive capacity by restricting access to natural resources. Thus, an understanding of the potential outcomes of carbon-credit policies on land use decision-making is necessary before such large-scale global programs get more fully underway.

This study will build upon an early REDD development site in Vietnam and explore several questions regarding this new policy. The overall goal of the existing NSF funded project underway by McElwee is to understand the ways in which payments for ecosystem services (like carbon) serve to alter land-use decision making by smallholder households in forested areas and evaluate if these land-use decisions increase or reduce overall social and biophysical vulnerability to forecasted climate changes. The new PEER-supported project will aim to expand the existing NSF project into new field sites and add additional data collection on environmental conditions. Methodologies and data from the pilot research sites will be shared with an in-country network of stakeholders, and a country-wide index of indicators for REDD will be created to assess at the provincial level in Vietnam the likelihood of meeting conditions of success in REDD. To promote capacity building with local policymakers and NGOs on key REDD issues, short training courses and national workshops will also be organized. This study should contribute to policy-relevant knowledge on social vulnerability to climate change in a country that is likely among the most seriously affected. It also has the potential to influence development of REDD policy, as it may provide a baseline to explain variations in the expected performance of various possible REDD approaches.


REDD based forest expansion, food consumption, and reduced emissions agricultural policies (REAP) in the Ecuadorian Amazon

PI: Carlos Mena, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
US Partner: Thomas Rudel, Rutgers University
Project Dates: May 2012 - April 2015
Project Overview: In tropical forest frontiers, agricultural policies that encourage cultivation increase greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time forest policies that encourage an expansion in forest cover reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but can create risks for food security Can these contrasting goals be reconciled? This project aims to inform the current debate by proving links between payments for ecosystems services (i.e., REDD+) and the production of foodstuffs using emergent silvopastoral landscapes (pasture land with increasing forestation) in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The emergence of these new forested landscapes is viewed by these researchers as both an opportunity for REDD+ due the characteristics of these landscapes as a carbon sink and as a natural experiment to explore the relationship between the expansions of forested landscapes and the production of food.

This project has several interconnected objectives: (1) identifying the extent and drivers of silvopastoral landscapes; (2) identifying food consumption and production patterns and understanding how they are affected by the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes; and (3) developing an emissions profile of peri-urban and urban farmers with an eye towards providing them an equitable distribution from the benefits of REDD+ while providing food security to urban areas. This project will be developed in two main areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon - Coca and Macas - that share key characteristics, including high population growth, high urban expansion, and the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes. However, these two areas are different in several respects. Coca is the center of oil exploration and extraction in Ecuador, and this industry is an important driver of agricultural expansion or land abandonment. Macas, on the other hand, is undergoing agricultural change due to mechanisms of rural-to-urban and international outmigration from agricultural areas. The use of these two areas will provide the opportunity to study processes common to the entire Amazon, where urban growth and the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes occur, but due to different factors. To achieve their objectives, the researchers on this project will use a number of methods and techniques, including remote sensing, household surveys, and complex systems modeling. The project should contribute to increasing understanding of the relationship between food production and consumption and should generate a package of recommendations on reduced-emissions agricultural policies for Ecuador and the Amazon in general.


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