MSc thesis opportunity: Environmental versus/and political ecology explanations of civil war

There is a fierce debate about the origins of the civil war in Syria.

Some argue that the civil war was caused by environmental induced scarcity (climate change). Key environmental factors identified are water-scarcity and climate variability. Drought is said to have contributed to the displacement of rural populations to urban centers, unemployment and the occurrence of food insecurity with subsequent effects on political stability (Gleick 2014).

Others have argued that the relation between drought, migration and conflict is not so clear-cut (Eklund & Thompson 2017). They content that the central causes of the war were the Syrian regime’s agrarian policy and the rural poverty it produced (political ecology). The regime’s social and economic reforms cut the peasantry from subsidies, resulted in a loss of livelihood and brought large parts of the population out of the social reach of the state (Daoudy 2020).  

For this thesis you will evaluate and assess climate change and political ecology centered explanation of the causes of the civil war in Syria. Based on this reading, you are challenged to 1) develop an approach beyond the climate change – political ecology controversy or 2) assess the policy implications of both approaches. For this study, you will analyze scientific articles, reports by international organizations and NGOs, but also consider datasets of FAO and WB.

More info: joost.jongerden@wur.nl

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Rural-urban relations in times of COVID-19

** Special online discussion on rural-urban relations**

Bettina Bock and Jessica Duncan

How are the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas changing at this moment?

Let us know! Comment below or #ROBUST #RuralUrban

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the foundation of our societies, painfully demonstrating the enormous difference residency makes for your risk of infection, as well as your chance of medical treatment. Shockingly clear are also the social differences in threats resulting from the societal lockdown – in terms of income security, access to education, as well as housing, shelter, and food. Though known before with earlier pandemics, COVID-19 has swiftly exposed and exacerbated social inequalities and injustice within and across countries.

 

It also triggers changes in rural-urban relations, while underlining their importance.  For example, rural areas have been widely perceived as offering a safe haven from the virus, given their lower population density. This has motivated some urbanites to seek shelter in the countryside. However, in reality, rural areas are extremely vulnerable to public health crises of any kind, as their populations are ageing and their primary health care infrastructures are extremely fragile, and often cannot sufficiently serve even the local population. Most urban residents are likely not aware of the risks they carry with them in their own search for security, leisure, or space (i.e. physical distancing). And this is not surprising.

Research has shown that with urbanisation, rural and urban regions grew apart, leading to a lack of mutual awareness, understanding and affinity, as well as a difference in affluence, status, and recognition of interests. This may explain why some rural residents have accused urban security seekers of selfishness for travelling to rural areas (e.g. the rise of #dontvisit; Wales, UK where people have been warned not to travel to; The Hampton, US where some wealthy Americans are bunkering down; or Scotland, where the chief medical officer resigned over ignoring her own warnings by travelling to her second home).  But also students, returning to their rural family home, may have unintentionally brought the virus with them, for instance in the South of Italy.

Current times call for solidarity, for contributing to the security of others even at individual costs. And there is plenty evidence of that solidarity – also across rural-urban boundaries. This is reflected in the many initiatives taken to support local farmers, whether by directly buying the products they cannot deliver to restaurants and schools, or by offering to help with the local harvest, as seasonal labour migrants are also unable to travel and work abroad.

Nevertheless, rural areas, which have long experienced out-migration as people leave for educational and employment opportunities, are now experiencing a critical shortage of people who are capable of working in agriculture and harvesting food. This will also be felt in the urban areas eventually.

COVID-19 is having paradoxical effects. It reveals our vulnerability and our readiness to adapt our daily life if security demands it. It reveals our selfishness, at the individual and national level. It reveals our struggles understanding that we can be part of the problem, even when travelling on our own. It also discloses our compassion for others and the capacity of selflessness that many possess.

It underlines the importance of creativity and solidarity. Knowledge and a sense of affinity are crucial for promoting solidarity. Social distancing can promote discrimination and social division if we prioritise our safety and comfort. For good rural-urban relationships, knowledge, understanding and respect are crucial, as is awareness of interdependence. We need each other now and in the future.

Recognizing that rural-urban relations are not the urgent priority of governments, it cannot be denied that the pandemic is reshaping and will likely continue to reshape these relations in multiple and complex ways. The outcomes of this crisis on rural-urban relations will depend heavily on the decisions taken now by political leaders.

Governments need to play an important role in communicating this knowledge and promoting better cooperation and solidarity between rural and urban areas. In the case of COVID-19, they should set an example of unselfishness and solidarity, both locally and globally.

We are calling on governments to not impose measures that would negatively impact rural residents, or over the long term. Pandemic–related trends (e.g. migration for employment from urban to rural areas) should be carefully monitored to avoid unintentional long-term threats to rural communities.

We encourage governments to consider rural-urban relations explicitly when developing and implementing new policies, including an integrated strategy that clearly communicates that the rural is not a refuge – but a partner.

Finally, we encourage governments to strengthen local food production systems and consumption at a structural level and in line with a city-regional approach. Eventually, when it is safe to do so, we also encourage governments to promote sustainable local recreation and tourism, which is vital for many rural areas.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. One of our main goals is to advance our understanding of the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

We are very interested in hearing from you. How are the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas changing at this moment?

Let us know in the comment section or online @bock_bettina  and @foodgovernance

#ROBUST #RuralUrban

ROBUST

Thesis or internship: Nature assisted therapies

Can nature be used as ‘treatment’ for adults with psychological complaints?

Evidence supporting the beneficial effects of nature on our health and wellbeing is accumulating. These insights are being used increasingly for the treatment of people with psychological problems, the so-called nature assisted-therapies, like walking therapy. On the one hand, using ‘nature as a treatment room’ is suggested to be more effective than receiving treatment indoors, whereas on the other hand, healthcare professionals themselves report being more vital and healthy providing treatment outdoors, which is a prerequisite for high quality of care. However, the use of nature in the mainstream healthcare practices is far from accepted.

For students looking for a thesis or internship opportunity we offer the following vacancy:

Investigate the experiences of clients and therapists with nature-assisted and nature-based therapies, and explore how stakeholders involved in the mainstream healthcare sector perceive of this kind of therapy.

Interested or want to know more about the project? Contact Esther Veen at esther.veen@wur.nl

Effects of high-tech urban agriculture on healing environments in Dutch nursing homes

It feels a bit odd to post about research results while the Corona virus is keeping us all occupied. However, last week Paulien van de Vlasakker defended her MSc thesis, and the results are nice to share. Moreover, so many of my colleagues are working very hard to keep education going – why not report on some of the nice things that are being done here at Wageningen University. For all those currently involved in cursory education: keep up the good work, you are heroes!

The text below is written by Paulien and describes the findings of her thesis. The thesis was preceded by an internship on the same topic, on which she reported earlier.

“In recent years, an increasing number of urban agriculture initiatives have been initiated to offer locally produced and fresh food products. One newer form of urban agriculture is high-tech urban agriculture. Advanced technologies, such as led lightening and hydroponic cultivation methods, allow the production of fresh vegetables and herbs inside the built-up environment. High-tech indoor gardens are a form of high-tech urban agriculture, combining food production with greening, and can offer advantages such as all-year-round production of leafy greens, improved air quality of the indoor space and enhancing the aesthetics of the location. The multifunctionality of high-tech indoor gardens can be of value for places where people live who are in need of improved well-being. In the Netherlands, welfare, housing, daily care and treatment for vulnerable elderly people come together in nursing homes.

I studied how high-tech indoor gardens can contribute to the well-being of elderly living in Dutch nursing homes. In care settings, the term ‘healing environment’ is often used to describe aspects of the environment that have health-improving benefits. The purpose of this study was to identify how and to what extent high-tech indoor gardens can contribute to the healing environment of nursing homes. High-tech indoor gardens have two distinct aspects: 1) the appearance of the garden itself, and 2) the production of food. I hypothesized that the appearance of the garden influences the perceived ambiance, enhancing mental and social well-being, and that the production of fresh vegetables and herbs contributes to the vegetable intake, improving physical well-being.

This case study research was inspired by social practice theory and looked at the emergence and transformation of existing practices in four different nursing homes, located in Velp (Province of Gelderland). I looked at how different leisure practices among elderly residents evolved around the indoor garden, and how the cooking practices performed by the caretakers were affected by the use of the freshly harvested products. For my data collection, I conducted interviews with elderly residents and decision makers. In addition, I used surveys to collect information from caretakers and performed observations at all four nursing homes. For the qualitative data analysis I used NVivo and for the quantitative data analysis I used SPSS.

The thesis concludes that high-tech indoor gardens are effective in the creation of  healing environments because they create more livable environments by improving the ambiance and influencing residents’ vegetable intake. I showed that vegetables produced by indoor gardens can influence vegetable intake by changing the meal experience. Residents explained that they could clearly distinguish the difference between a meal prepared with the vegetables from the indoor gardens and a dish without fresh vegetables. Most residents find it very important to eat fresh foods. They enjoy the taste of the different products from the garden and appreciate that they are locally and freshly produced. Many residents were used to growing vegetables in their own vegetable gardens and expressed feelings of familiarity and recognition towards the garden and its products. Especially typical Dutch herbs and vegetables, such as parsley, chives and butterhead lettuce are popular among the elderly residents.

Whether or not the harvest was used in cooking practices by caretakers was influenced by several factors: 1) Caretakers who have gardening experience and enjoy cooking, are more likely to integrate the harvested fresh vegetables and herbs in existing cooking practices than caretakers with no gardening experience and who do not enjoy the task of cooking; 2) In nursing homes in which mostly non-fresh ingredients are used for the preparation of meals (frozen meals), caretakers are more motivated to use the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden, and 3) For optimal use of the indoor garden, it is important that it is placed close to the kitchen and close to the living area of the residents. Caretakers can more easily integrate harvesting practices with cooking and other practices when the garden is located at a place that they often pass by. When the garden is placed close to the living area of the elderly residents, the residents can enjoy the aesthetic aspects of the garden.”

 

Special @SUSPLACE_ITN Feature: Exploring the Transformative Capacity of Place-Shaping Practices

Figure 2: Sustainable place-shaping. Source: Horlings et al. (2020) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00787-w

The SUSPLACE Special Feature ‘Exploring the transformative capacity of place-shaping practices‘ is published open access in Sustainability Sciences. It comprises nine articles: eight original research articles and an Introduction article by Lummina Horlings, Dirk Roep, Erik Mathijs and Terry Marsden. From the introduction:

The eight papers in this Special Feature result from the EU funded SUSPLACE collaborative programme that aimed to explore the transformative capacity of sustainable place-shaping practices, and if and how these practices can support a sustainable, place-based development. The programme encompassed 15 research projects investigating a wide range of place-shaping practices embedded in specific settings. From a common framework on sustainable place-shaping, each research project has developed its own theoretical and methodological approach. This editorial explains the overall approach to sustainable place-based development and more specifically the three analytical dimensions of transformative practices, that together propel sustainable place-shaping: re-appreciationre-grounding and re-positioning. After an overview of the eight articles, the contribution to sustainability sciences is discussed. The research programme has provided insight into the transformative agency of practitioners and policymakers engaged in shaping sustainable places, as well as the transformative role of researchers. 

Keywords: Sustainable place-shaping · Transformative capacity · Sustainability sciences · Place-based development

Horlings, L.G., Roep, D., Mathijs, E., Marsden, T. (2020) Exploring the transformative capacity of place-shaping practices, 15(2):353–362 Sustainability Sciences,  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00787-w

New Book: Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

Book cover Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

This collection reviews key recent research on developing urban and peri-urban agriculture. The first part of the book discusses ways of supporting urban agriculture, from policy and planning to building social networks for local food supply chains. The chapters in the second part of the book survey developments in key technologies for urban agriculture, including rooftop systems and vertical farming. The book also assesses challenges and improvements in irrigation, waste management, composting/soil nutrition and pest management. The final group of chapters are case studies on urban farming of particular commodities, including horticultural produce, livestock, and forestry.

The book targets a varied audience: academic researchers in agricultural science, urban planning and environmental science specialising in urban agriculture; urban planners and policy makers in local government; national government and other bodies promoting urban agriculture.

More information about the book can be found at https://shop.bdspublishing.com/store/bds/detail/workgroup/3-190-83836

 

Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

inez thesis coverLast year Inez responded to a RSO thesis advert to join a research team exploring the social economy of food and nature in Gelderland in connection with several science shop projects coordinated by Jan Hassink. Inez completed her research at de Ommuurde Tuin in Renkum, and took the opportunity to further explore visual and creative methods, documenting her results in an illustrated ethnography that was shared with stakeholders at our most recent network gathering Nijmegen. Thanks for being part of our research team Inez ! 

Inez Dekker, MSc student Sociology of Development (MID) Wageningen University

Below please find the abstract of the MSc  minor thesis Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

The full thesis can be downloaded from the WUR-Library by clicking on the hyperlink

Summary : In the last decades a growing number of alternative food and care initiatives emerged in North-America and Europe. Due to uncertain situations within current neoliberal economic systems such as the recent recession, ongoing outsourcing and environmental depletion, and alienation from production (Morgan and Kuch, 2015), these initiatives offer an alternative to an existing neoliberal model. Moreover, they inspire to create a more diverse pallet of economies alongside dominant economic and social systems. Important to mark here is that their decisions and actions are not merely led by dominant economic models, but intentionally done to create worlds that are environmentally and socially just (Gibson-Graham et al., 2013). Often these initiatives fit in an alternative economic framework where a diverse, interdependent, rich and prolific disarray of ‘good life’ are central for their economies. One of such frameworks is the diverse economic research framework based on the work of Gibson-Graham (2008) where the economy is one based on a myriad of human and non-human social relationships that go beyond capitalist economic models. While there seems to be an emerging interest for practices within alternative economic frameworks, such as in community supported agriculture (CSA) or care farms, there is an absence of how human and non-human relationships create values that form an (diverse) economy. Moreover, in conventional economic thinking, practices occurring outside current economic system remain often unrecognized and unseen, though, these are essential for an economy to exist. Therefore, I aim to strengthen a network of diverse economic initiatives focus on initiatives located in the Dutch province Gelderland. To do this, I created a visual illustration that highlights the diverse practices and human and non-human relationships in the organic horticulture business located in Gelderland called ‘De Ommuurde Tuin’. I add to the scholarship of diverse economies by describing and showing the processes that produce a diversity of values in De Ommuurde Tuin’s daily economic practices. These processes are not only led by relationships among humans but include human and non-human relationships as well. To do this, I not only use a written form, but foremost I used visual and sensory research methods that highlights relationships between humans-humans and humansnonhumans. By putting forward the senses, the visual and emotional, this research concerns the processes in daily economic practices through a study of an economy that is lived and experienced. Moreover, I make alternative and diverse frameworks of economy/is more visible for a wider public through presenting my outcomes in a visual manner in booklet form. This approach tries to display and recognize economic alternatives, which helps to connect and build a coherent and powerful social movement for another economy (Miller, 2008; Gibson-Graham, 2008; Gibson-Graham and Miller, 2015)

Register now for RSO55306 – A Global Sense of Place: Place-based approaches to development | Period 5

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In the face of urgent environmental and societal challenges, how do we move towards inclusive futures? What is the role of people in places? And what can be our role as (social) scientists?

In this course, we explore inclusive place-based approaches to development. We analyse how change happens from below and how people take matters in their own hands, shaping the places they live in according to their own needs and values. A relational perspective allows us to see the interdependence between the local and the global, the urban and the rural and the individual and the collective.

Besides engaging with key theories and analysing topical cases, we reflect upon our own role as (social) scientists and explore the tools and methodologies we need in place-based research, specifically focusing on participatory and creative methods.

This advanced MSc course is relevant for all students (including PhD candidates) with an interest in inclusive development, that seek theoretical as well as methodological guidance. The course can help students prepare an MSc thesis proposal and is supported by lecturers from all chair groups involved in the Centre for Space, Place and Society (RSO, SDC, HSO and GEO)

For more information, contact anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

 

Young people with practical education and sustainable food

Carlijn de Kok, student International Development Studies, wrote her MSc thesis on young people studying cooking, baking or food studies and their engagement with sustainable food. I ask her to share some of her findings.

Why did you choose this topic?

“The literature tends to argue that it is mainly highly educated people who buy sustainable food. It remains unclear, however, to what extent people with a practical education are interested in sustainable food (as well) and if and to what extent they consume sustainable food. Following Karl Marx and his thoughts about the alienation of labour, it can be assumed that people who are engaged with food in their daily lives are more likely to be critical regarding food – and thus to consume sustainably. This is why I decided to focus on people studying cooking, baking or food studies: I expected that their engagement with food in general would lead to more interest in sustainable food.”

What was your theoretical starting point?

“Studies on consumption often use rationalist approaches whereby the individual is taken as a starting point to understand consumption. However, we also know that there is a difference between caring for the environment and changing consumption: this is explained by the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’. This is why I wanted to take a more contextual approach, using Social Practice Theory. This theory puts everyday social practices at the centre of analysis, and considers consumption in terms of its practical, contextual and everyday nature, leaving room for both agency and structure.”

So what practices did you study?

“I defined the general practice of food consumption as a range of sub-practices, including acquisition practices (buying and growing food) and use(r) practices (food preparation-, eating-, and disposal practices), following the work of Sargant (2014). I also made a distinction between how respondents view sustainable food (their cognitive engagement), what they are doing in practice (their practical engagement), and the underlying motivations and reasons for participating in these practices (I called this the narrative behind their engagement).”

Ok, that sounds interesting. But how did you study this?

“In order to understand students’ cognitive engagement with sustainable food and the narrative behind their engagement, I used interviews, a focus group and questionnaires. I interviewed fifteen students following a practical education: five bakery students, five cooking students and five students of food studies. Fifteen cooking students participated in the focus group, and seventy-five students filled out the questionnaire. In order to better understand people’s actual engagement with sustainable food I complemented these methods with food diaries: six of the students interviewed recorded for one to three days what they bought and consumed, where they bought that, and whether there were any sustainability labels on those products.”

And? What did you find?

“There were a few interesting findings. First of all, my respondents are in fact rather knowledgeable about sustainability, the issues in the food system and sustainable food, and they see urgency in acting sustainably. Especially animal welfare, environmental friendliness, a fair price for farmers and naturalness are considered important. All respondents participate in at least some sustainable forms of food consumption. Second, part of the respondents is rather interested in and knowledgeable about sustainable food. This group often performs sustainable food acquisition practices, mostly out of sustainability motivations (for respondents who only occasionally buy sustainable produce, sustainability is less often a motivation). Students of food studies are most often interested in sustainability, followed by the cooking students – for whom sustainability mostly relates to quality.

Thirdly, the extent to which respondents perform food consumption practices sustainably differs per locale. In general, respondents more often act sustainably when they are grocery shopping. They much less do so while eating out, on-the-go or at school or work. In these places sustainable food is less accessible and available, and students feel that their choices have less impact. Finally, I found that respondents’ cognitive and practical engagement with sustainable food does not always align. While some respondents stated to act more sustainably than their food diaries showed, in some cases it was the other way around. These students did not connect much to the concept of sustainability, but they were motivated by certain elements of sustainability such as animal welfare, and so they did make sustainable choices.”

Taking all of these findings into account, what is your main conclusion?

“Young adults who are following a practical educational programme related to food are to a certain extent interested and engaged in sustainable food. Sustainable food plays a role in their daily lives: respondents perform certain food consumption practices sustainably, mostly out of sustainability motivations. The extent to which respondents manage to do so, however, depends on the locale.”

Thesis opportunity: developing a framework for business models that enhance soil quality

The Rural Sociology Group and Business Economics Group jointly offer thesis opportunities on developing business models that enhance soil quality.

Developing a theoretical framework for business models that enhance soil quality in crop and dairy production.

Soil quality is (rapidly) decreasing in The Netherlands, and thereby endangering future income perspectives of farmers. Moreover, reduced soil quality provokes all kind of negative externalities, such as reduced biodiversity, increased climate-change related risks, etc.. Hence, increasing and maintaining soil quality is a prerequisite for sustainable soil use.

This issue affects a multitude of stakeholders, each with different positions and preferences.

Business models, including various stakeholders and aimed at increasing and maintaining soil quality, are essential to enable farmers taking appropriate measures focused on these aims.

Currently, various initiatives have been taken to develop business models, mostly at a smaller scale. However, for mainstream agriculture to getting involved in improved soil management, a thorough theoretical framework, based on scientific analysis and rooted in (at least) economic and sociological theory, is essential. Only then, essentials of balanced business models can be developed which have the pursuit for larger-scale adoption in practice.

Being a pilot study, the aims of this MSc Thesis research are:

  • Qualitative analysis of real costs of soil management (i.e. monetary and non-monetary costs, such as costs for society) through the application of basic economic (cost) concepts;
  • Qualitative analysis of the stakeholder structure;
  • Definition of business cases and performance of a qualitative SWOT-analysis;
  • Evaluation of several existing business cases against the developed framework.

We are looking for a MSc-thesis student with an interest in the topic and a background in (business-)economics and/or rural/agrarian sociology.