My research investigates the impacts of biodiversity conservation on rural societies in Africa south of the Sahara. Specifically, it considers how biodiversity conservation affects the livelihoods, status, and wellbeing of diverse rural groups in different local contexts. By analyzing various experiences with and perceptions of biodiversity conservation on the ground, my research illuminates how existing policies and practices work to the advantage of some rural groups and to the disadvantage of others. This approach yields practical insights into the social attributes of biodiversity conservation, which need to be taken seriously if biodiversity conservation is to be equitable and sustainable in the long run. My research also contributes to theoretical debates in critical development studies, political ecology/economy, and rural geography by demonstrating how biodiversity conservation is shaped by existing inequalities in rural societies and why biodiversity conservation often re-produces such inequalities in practice.
I have carried out most of my fieldwork in Kenya, researching contentious land politics in biodiversity conservation, the implications of extractive-led development for pastoralist livelihoods, and emergent issues and trends associated with the development of mega-infrastructure corridors in rural areas. In 2017, I will return to Tanzania to carry out fieldwork as a member of a large international research project called Greenmentality: A Political Ecology of the Green Economy in the Global South. This research aims to determine how the pursuit of green growth impacts different natural resource users in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, as well as how and why different rural groups act in response. I will also begin fieldwork in Zambia in 2018, as a member of a collaborative regional research project that examines the implications of extractive corridors for rural livelihoods in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia.
My research activities in each of these countries contribute indirectly to the production and dissemination of knowledge on the new Sustainable Development Goals – specifically, to Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Goal 13: Climate Action; and Goal 15: Life on Land. These contributions build on research that I have carried out on the SDGs directly, which advocates for the re-politicization of participatory development and argues in favour of creating space for alternative development/alternatives to development in global decision-making processes. I remain deeply interested in research that seeks to better understand how ‘invited’ and ‘uninvited’ forms of participation have shaped the SDGs, as well as how the SDGs are translating into policy and practice and to what ends.
To date, my fieldwork has been supported financially by the International Development Research Centre and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as by the Overseas Development Institute.