Research Projects

Declining fish access and local livelihoods, fish consumption and child nutrition

UntitledAlthough the coupling of human and natural systems is increasingly recognized, rarely do we understand the dynamics that shape their interactions at a household scale. I lead a research study around Lake Victoria, Kenya that seeks to better understand these dynamics in the context of a declining, globalized fishery. In this research, I integrate ecological data on fish availability with household data on patterns of environmental resource use, fish consumption and child nutrition. Over two years, our project team of collaborators at the University of California, Berkeley and Organic Health Response has collected daily fish catch, price and effort data with local Beach Management Units and survey data with 300 households. We are using this data to understand the effects of changing fish availability on access to fish resources, fish consumption, and the growth and cognitive development of young children.

In Kenya, this project is called the Mfangano Research on Environmental and Community Health Study and the abbreviation RECH, means fish in Dholuo, the local language.

Benefits of Improved Resource Access, Biodiversity

Fishing activity
Photo: WorldFish

Although global fisheries are largely declining, innovative management practices and the growth of aquaculture portend increasing accessibility of fish. In developing work in Cambodian rice paddy and fishing systems, I will partner with WorldFish Cambodia to explore the benefits of Community Fish Refuge ponds. These community-managed ponds are conserved year round to provide a brood stock of fish that migrates into rice paddies during the monsoon season and are harvested by local families. We will examine the governance and biophysical factors that contribute to biodiversity and biomass in Community Fish Refuges. Further, we will ask how that biodiversity and biomass affects the fishing income, consumption of fish, and food security for fishing families. Of particular consideration will be the governance factors that build or erode healthy fisheries, and the ways fishery biodiversity shapes which fish are sold or consumed.

Human health and environmental resource sustainability

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Estimates suggest that in sub-Saharan Africa women are sick 2 in 5 days and men are sick 1 in 5 days. Consequently, illness shapes engagement with livelihoods and thereby the environment. My research around Lake Victoria, Kenya, where HIV prevalence among adults exceeds 25%, examines the impact of adult morbidity, or the experience of illness, on fishing activities as well as the links between fish declines and transactional fish-for-sex relationships. This work seeks to understand the effects of poor human health on the environment and the ways that improved healthcare can serve both people and their environment.

Social support, food security, and medical care

Mala Masa Community Group
Kanyakala group meeting

In collaboration with colleagues at Organic Health Response and UCSF, my research tries to understand the impacts of social support groups in providing community support to entire social networks as a solution to both health and environmental challenges affecting communities. The innovative kanyakala program, meaning togetherness in Dholuo, has provided for improved engagement in HIV care and treatment. Further work with this programming platform has developed nutrition programming and food security programming. With an evaluation nested in the RECH cohort, we aim to understand the effects of social network programming and the extent to which social network groups can buffer against food insecurity in the face of changing resource availability and livelihoods.

Wildlife declines and social conflict

Science_defaunation_issueDeclining wildlife availability has resulted in a range of social ills, and conflict has had broad impacts on wildlife persistence and conservation. Research in this arena with collaborators at the University of California, Berkeley seeks to expound the ways in which declining aquatic and terrestrial wildlife relate to social conflict. Pathways illuminated include vigilante governance of wildlife resources, forced labor resulting from the need to harvest scarce resources, and the role of organized crime in the trade of high value wildlife products. In a related research effort, I am examining the effects of declining fish availability on the transactional exchange of sex-for-fish around Lake Victoria.