Having grown up in Burkina Faso—one of the most food-insecure countries of West Africa, with 90% of its population involved in farming and agriculture—Elisabeth Nebie understands the challenges faced by rural communities. As a doctoral student in Anthropology, she has conducted exploratory fieldwork in southern and northern Burkina Faso (Bam and Sissili provinces) to evaluate the state of food insecurity and to develop an understanding of what farmers and herders think about the situation. In Bam, many farmers stated that they have seen an increase in income and have become less vulnerable to drought. In Sissili, however, there are increasing concerns about food insecurity. Her work and analysis contributed to the writing and publishing of the co-authored article “Famines are a Thing of the Past: Food Insecurity Trends in Northern Burkina Faso” in Human Organization in 2014. Findings from this exploratory research have informed her proposed dissertation project titled “Social Differentiation of Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change: Analyzing Adaption as a Social Practice” among the pastoralists of Sondré-Est and the farmers of Biéha (Burkina Faso) who are increasingly food insecure.
As a Spring 2016 Borlaug LEAP Fellow, Elisabeth will conduct the fieldwork research and data analysis that are essential to completing her dissertation. As a researcher and future leader in international development, she believes that true leadership and problem solving starts by learning to listen and then assessing people’s needs, rather than imposing her own views and assumptions on others. The expertise of farmers and herders is crucial to mobilizing resources and creating appropriate policy in a country where the majority of the population is involved in smallholder farming activities. Working as a consultant under the supervision of the Chief of Section for Small Islands and Indigenous Knowledge at UNESCO, Elisabeth explored the literature on pastoralist knowledge of weather, climate, and climate change in West and East Africa in order to inform national adaptation processes. This consultancy increased her understanding of the link between indigenous and scientific knowledge. She hopes to continue her work in Burkina Faso and inspire young researchers to continue the job of being a voice for the underrepresented.
Elisabeth’s research will be supervised by her US mentor Dr. Colin Thor West, an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and CGIAR mentor Dr. Todd Andrew Crane, a Climate Adaptation Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Both share similar research interests on social ecological research in the Sahel region. Dr. West has concentrated his research on household adaptations to climate change while Dr. Crane emphasizes connecting local knowledge, socio-technical change and development interventions. Dr. Crane is also involved in the Local Governance and Adapting to Climate Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (LGACC) research project in Zoundweogo, Burkina Faso. Dr. West and Dr. Crane, who have known each other since graduate school, are looking forward to working together to supervise her research that has also been funded through the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chancellor’s Doctoral Candidacy award and the Graduate School’s Off-Campus Dissertation Award. Elisabeth will use the Borlaug LEAP award specifically to help fund her and her mentors’ travel to Burkina Faso so that she can conduct her field research. Elisabeth is on track to complete her research and degree in 2018.