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Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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ESS students aid Chris Bacon with surveys of food and water security and starting a water monitoring network in Nicaragua!

This past summer two ESS students (Morgan Cowick and Alex Cabral) joined Chris Bacon as he continued field research in northern Nicaragua. They continued work on a project focused on food security, water access and adaptation to climatic and market change in coffee growing communities.  This region of Central America has recently been affected by drought, a coffee pathogen (coffee leaf rust) and high prices for some staple foods. The team used funding from the Miller Center and Chris’ partnerships with local fair trade cooperatives and non-profit organizations to organize a series of focus groups with farmers and other local stakeholders. In the focus groups, they shared results that analyzed data collected from a survey of 368 households, started a community-based water-monitoring network, and recorded local preferences about technologies which could enhance resilience to climatic change. Chris also conducted stakeholder interviews to record the impacts of the persistent drought, which potentially can be further exacerbated by El Nino.

ESS students Alex Cabral and Morgan Cowick meet with stakeholders in Nicaragua.

After returning to California, Alex and Morgan reflected on their experiences. “It’s crazy to think that one day I was drinking coffee in the Learning Commons at SCU to make it through final exams, and a few weeks later, I was in Estelí, meeting the Nicaraguan farmers who grew the coffee beans,” says Alexandra Cabral ’15, an Economics major with a minor in Environmental Studies. Morgan Cowick ’15, an Environmental Science major, had a similar experience:  “I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a unique research trip like this. I came to appreciate how valuable it is to be immersed in the context of the work you are doing. There are certain things you just aren’t able to understand when you’re confined to computer research.” These two recent grads returned to California and found meaningful fulltime employment in the Bay Area. Chris, Iris Stewart-Frey, Ed Maurer, and Bill Sundstrom will continue working with partners in this region as they use support from a recently secured grant from the National Science Foundation to expand this interdisciplinary research agenda.