Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events
Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014
Most of the world's food insecure people live in marginal rural environments. A recent study with coffee producers in northern Nicaragua’s highlands helps explain this "hungry farmer paradox." These small-scale farmers experienced an average of three months of seasonal hunger over the year studied. Although cash income helped alleviate food scarcity, households that produced more subsistence crops, especially corn and tree fruits, reported still shorter periods of food scarcity. Meanwhile, farmers that used several commonly promoted environmentally friendly farming practices reported no discernible impacts on seasonal hunger.
Researchers, including Chris Bacon (ESS), Bill Sundstrom (Economics), and two recently graduated ESS students Ian Daugherty (now with the United Farmworkers) and Rica Santos (now with the National Council for Science and the Environment), concur with previous studies finding that several factors influence farmer food insecurity, including: (1) annual cycles of precipitation and rising maize prices during the lean months; (2) inter annual droughts and periodic storms; and (3) the long-term inability of coffee harvests and prices to provide sufficient income.
This work identifies the need for balancing coffee production with food production and improving exchange systems to protect farmers from adverse seasonal price fluctuations. It also considers a participatory initiative that uses fair trade cooperatives to increase rural food access through the re-localization of food distribution networks, sustainable agriculture training, and improved food storage. Although crop loss from coffee leaf rust contributes an additional challenge, these and other integrated strategies hold the potential to reduce threats to food security, livelihoods, and biodiversity.
Bacon, C. M., Sundstrom, W. A., Flores Gómez, M. E., Ernesto Méndez, V., Santos, R., Goldoftas, B., & Dougherty, I. (2014). Explaining the ‘hungry farmer paradox’: Smallholders and fair trade cooperatives navigate seasonality and change in Nicaragua's corn and coffee markets. Global Environmental Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.02.005
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
ESS's John Farnsworth, Michelle Bezanson, Chair of SCU's Department of Anthropology, and Professor Lyn Baldwin of Thompson Rivers University in Canada recently co-authored a paper just published in the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience. The paper, a study of best practices for assigning and assessing field journals in collegiate natural history courses, can be found here.
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014
Hunger in Silicon Valley: Bringing healthy food to poor communities is a challenge
Posted: 01/02/2014 10:00:00 AM PST
Updated: 01/22/2014 01:18:46 PM PST
Santa Clara County, once known as Valley of Heart's delight due to its abundant fruit and vegetable production, has lost almost half of its farmland, much of it to sprawling urban development with little access to healthy foods
This pattern of urbanization has disproportionately affected low-income communities where convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, rather than supermarkets, dominate the food landscape.
Large health disparities by income and race mean that low-income communities of color bear the brunt of our unhealthy food system; 14 percent of our county's population was "food insecure" in 2010, unable to reliably meet their daily food needs with their own or public resources.
Moreover, issues of access to healthy food resources affect many residents of Santa Clara County who consume fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes reaching epidemic levels.
The Santa Clara County Food System Alliance believes that solving these problems turns on a robust, sustainable local food system that provides all of our residents with access to culturally appropriate, healthy food at affordable prices. In our recently released Food Systems Assessment, we put forward several solutions.
First, we need to bring healthy foods into low-income communities. One way would be to increase the percentage of existing retail food outlets that offer healthy, affordable food. Another lies in innovative programs. The new Green Cart program brings mobile produce vendors into low-income communities, providing both healthy food and jobs.
Community farms such as Veggielution provide low-income residents with affordable weekly boxes of fresh vegetables. More than half of our county's farmers markets now accept electronic benefit cards from CalFresh (formerly the Food Stamp program), leading a trend that we hope will involve all farmers' markets. Efforts to increase CalFresh enrollment would go a long way to help; only 52 percent of eligible individuals participate in the program.
We encourage city and county governments to adopt policies to increase urban agriculture within city limits. It can increase consumption of fresh produce, free some household food dollars for other expenses, provide exercise and mental relaxation and create safe, healthy, green environments in urban areas.
There is much unmet demand for places to grow food; while Santa Clara County has 28 community gardens, long wait lists persist. Underutilized land could provide new spaces for urban gardens and farms.
Finally, we believe that linking rural producers to urban consumers can increase access to healthy foods. Programs like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers connect Santa Clara Valley family farmers with local businesses.
Yet farmland is at risk; between 1984 and 2010, the county lost 45 percent of its farmland, and 55 percent of what remains is at risk of being developed over the next 30 years. We support policies that limit growth to urban boundaries.
We also need to increase public awareness of the challenges of farming at the urban edge, where friction can pose a threat to agricultural viability.
On Friday, Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Clara University will host a forum spotlighting the levels of hunger and the cost of a healthy meal in Silicon Valley. Likewise, our food systems assessment highlights some of the solutions, linking rural producers to urban consumers, increasing food access among the most vulnerable populations and creating growth opportunities for our economy. We call on the people and governments of Santa Clara County to join us in this effort.
Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
On January 14, 2014, the San Jose Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers presented the Fall 2013 Scholarship Award to Kelsey Baker. The award included a $1500 check and one year paid membership. Kelsey is a senior at Santa Clara University, majoring in Environmental Science. Her main area of concentration is in Sustainability, and has led many related projects and organizations including "Think Outside the Bottle" and the OCEANS Club. Presenting the award to Kelsey is Steven Hochstadt, ASSE-SJ Scholarship Chair.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
A new study finds that even with very modest precipitation changes, water supplies in the upper Colorado River basin could significantly decline by 2100, with severe consequences for agriculture, urban supplies, and ecosystem health.
The Colorado River is widely considered the most important source of water in the western United States, providing water to 30 million people and large agricultural regions and generating 8 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power annually.
Many previous studies have debated whether climate change will bring a wetter or drier future to the Colorado. In this paper, Researchers Darren Ficklin (now Indiana University), Iris Stewart (ESS) and Ed Maurer (CE) used the projections from established global climate models as input to a hydrologic model to forecast what is likely to happen to water flow and other hydrologic measures, such as evaporation and transpiration on a fine scale. Their findings show that the effects of highly likely warmer temperatures will be more important than either modest precipitation increases or decreases. Thus, even if the Colorado Basin will receive some more rain and snow in the future, warmer temperatures are forecast to lead to overall less water availability due to higher evaporation rates and a lot less snow that is melting earlier in the year. In addition, the higher evaporation could mean that soils in the basin will be dryer on average, such that the lower regions of the basin turn from semi-arid to arid conditions by the end of the century.
The full paper can be found at: Ficklin DL, Stewart IT, Maurer EP (2013) Climate Change Impacts on Streamflow and Subbasin-Scale Hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71297. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071297
Funding for this work was provided by the US EPA under a STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Grant.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
ESS faculty member Leslie Gray's (with co-author Brian Dowd) newly published paper examines how liberalization reforms in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector have led to socio-economic differentiation. This research helps us understand the differences among Africa farmers, particularly with respect to their access to land, inputs and broader social institutions and networks. In particular, new grower cooperatives have become a site for wealthier farmers to exert influence on how debts are repaid and inputs distributed, largely to the detriment of poorer producers.
The full article reference is:
Gray, Leslie and Brian Dowd-Uribe, 2013. A political ecology of socio-economic differentiation: debt, inputs and liberalization reforms in southwestern Burkina Faso. Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 40:3-8, pp. 683-702.
Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
Land managers have long fought plant invasions in wildlands because invaders can harm native biodiversity, choking out native species and reducing habitat quality for animal species. But a recent paper in Bioscience, co-authored by ESS assistant professor Virginia Matzek, argues that land managers should be focusing more on invaders that have impacts on ecosystem services, the natural benefits that intact, functioning ecosystems provide to humans. For instance, some plant invaders are water hogs, depleting water that could otherwise go to irrigation; others impede navigation in streams or decrease salmon runs.
The Bioscience paper proposes that broadening the focus of management efforts to include impacts on ecosystem services may also improve the funding situation for invasive plan management, which has suffered under the recent economic decline. Currently, innovative payment for ecosystem services schemes are being developed to link natural resource management with benefits to stakeholders and users, and weed management, if linked to ecosystem service provision, could fit well into these new approaches.
The full article reference is Funk, JL; Matzek, V; Bernhardt, M; and Johnson, D. 2014. Broadening the case for invasive species management to include impacts on ecosystem services. Bioscience 64(1): 58-63. A draft version is available here.
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013
A new article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reviews the threats that climate change poses to ecosystem services and human well-being in the United States.
Ecosystem services are the processes, materials, and commodities delivered by intact ecosystems that have value to human beings. These include crop pollination by native insects, flood protection on undeveloped floodplains, and recreation opportunities in natural areas.
Climate change is projected to hamper the availability of these services. For instance, increasingly stormy weather and rising sea levels may threaten losses to coastal property that exceed the value of development; increased drought will impact the supply and quality of drinking water sources; and lower snowfall will shorten ski seasons and decrease tourism revenues in mountain states.
SCU researcher Peter Kareiva, who is also chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, contributed to the review, as did Virginia Matzek, assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at the university.
The article is part of a special issue of the journal reviewing the impacts of climate change in the U.S., which grew out of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a periodic effort by the federal government to study climate change and inform appropriate government responses. All of the articles in the special issue can be accessed here: http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/11/9
Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013
John Farnsworth has been awarded a Santander Foundation grant of £2000 to support his doctoral research. In June, Farnsworth will use the funds to travel to the Sierra San Pedro Martyr in northern Baja with colleagues from the San Diego Zoo to participate in the release of California Condors. The narrative of this project will comprise the penultimate chapter in Farnsworth's forthcoming book about Baja natural history.
The Condor Field Station is situated in a remote section of the Sierra San Pedro National Park that has been set aside for conservation research. Located in a conifer forest at nearly 8,000 feet, the research station is not accessible by car and generates its own power via solar arrays. There are currently 30 condors resident in the nearby mountains, and every year another 4 to 7 condors that have been captive-bred in the San Diego Zoo are released there.
Farnsworth, who is a volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory's Hawkwatch program, has been studying condor literature intensely for the past several months ever since he was selected for the release team. Upon hearing news of the Santander fellowship, Farnsworth responded, "I am grateful to the Santander Foundation for their support; it will be a great honor to participate in the work of the SDZ Global Wildlife Conservancy, and to do my part to advance their mission of bringing species back from the brink of extinction."
Farnsworth directs the Baja Studies Abroad here at Santa Clara University. He spent the month of August at a field station in Bahia de los Angeles writing about ecologies of summer. He will lead the Seventh Annual SCU Expedition to Circumnavigate Isla Espiritu Santo this coming March. His doctoral research is being conducted at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
Friday, Jul. 12, 2013
ESS faculty member Virginia Matzek recently collaborated with SCU students Justin Covino (Environmental Science '13), Martin Saunders (Environmental Studies '12), and colleague Jennifer Funk of Chapman University to assess how well knowledge about invasive species is shared between academic researchers and land managers. Their surveys revealed that most practitioners do not read academic papers on invasive species and instead tend to rely on their own experience. Information flow is just as limited in the other direction. Virginia's team recommends that, in addition to developing interdisciplinary research ideas in direct consultation with managers, academic researchers should seek new ways to make their work more accessible, including open-access publishing, presenting results at stakeholder workshops or conferences, and using citizen science.
A paper describing their work has been published in the journal Conservation Letters. The article is open-access and can be downloaded here.