I study how public policy and governance impacts people and ecosystems, especially in settings where forest and farming communities are marginalized from decision-making processes that affect their lives and the environments they call home.

Broad research questions of interest include:

  • How can global forces (such as demand for chocolate in the Global North, climate finance, or zero deforestation supply chain commitments) be harnessed to improve the lives of cocoa farmers in the Global South?

  • What enabling conditions are required for forest and land use policy measures to achieve their stated aims to reduce land and forest degradation while increasing environmental justice?

With my team, we apply transdisciplinary methods to answer these questions and strive to always work closely with research partners in community, civil society, government, and business to jointly define and answer research questions that meet the needs of those affected by land use decisions and forest governance outcomes. We use a range of research methods and designs, including policy analysis, process tracing, ethnographic field work, case studies, and statistical models.

Current projects:

Traders as agents of sustainability governance in global food supply chains: Initiating a research agenda (SSHRC Connection Grant, 2020-2022)

Please check out the project website:

Project Summary: With rising consumption and trade of agricultural commodities, the world is witnessing increasing pressure on land and people in the vulnerable geographies of the Global South where agri-food production is concentrated. This is especially true for tropical commodities like cocoa, coffee, and palm oil, which are all staples in the Global North. For these commodities, globalization, market consolidation, and standardization have placed significant power in the hands of an ever-smaller number of corporations whose business lies in trade of these commodities.

Traders are companies whose core business lies in the trade of agricultural commodities between producers and manufacturers. These corporations are rapidly gaining ground as non-traditional forms of authority through the development and implementation of their own environmental and social sustainability initiatives, such as the voluntary commitment to achieve zero deforestation supply chains through the New York Declaration on Forests. This project unites scholars, trade practitioners, and producer communities to create a transdisciplinary community of practice, providing a space for comparing on-the-ground experiences and expertise, discussing the most salient challenges, and identifying research questions and priorities for the next five years.

Cocoa's living income in Ghana: Stakeholder perspectives and sustainability trade-offs (SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant, 2021-2022)

Project summary: The governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire introduced the Living Income Differential (LID) in in 2019 as a direct response to the persistent challenge of poverty in cocoa farming communities. Many environmental and social justice advocates welcomed the LID policy because they consider poverty to be a root cause of many sustainability issues in the sector. At the same time, the LID as currently designed has been contested for its inability to fundamentally change the true drivers of poverty, which include limited transparency surrounding how price premiums such as the LID are distributed and how accountability is ensured. In this research project, we plan to apply the Q-methodology to better understand how domestic and international stakeholders perceive the potential of the LID to achieve its stated aims. This methodology is well-suited for investigating highly debated and contentious policy issues and has demonstrated significant potential for uncovering the underlying narratives of sustainability, natural resources management, and governance issues, wherein power and politics drive strategic policy actions. The project partner is the NGO Social Enterprise Development Foundation (SEND-Ghana), a policy advocacy organization that specializes in voicing the concerns of smallholder farmers.

Follow the bean: Tracing zero deforestation cocoa (SSHRC Insight Development Grant, 2020-2022)

Project Summary: Amongst the greatest challenges facing humanity today are those related to climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainable food production. The proposed research sits at the nexus of these challenges in that it studies deforestation practices as a result of cocoa production. Specifically, this project examines emerging global commitments to sustainability by major chocolate producers and how one particular supply chain is striving towards zero deforestation cocoa.

The cocoa bean, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is grown in tropical ecosystems in the Global South whereas chocolate is consumed predominantly in industrialized economies in the Global North. Due to cocoa’s disparate geographies of production and consumption, any forest loss (and associated social and environmental impacts) occurs far from the immediate purview of consumers. Despite growing media attention about these issues, the average chocolate consumer remains in the dark about the exact social and environmental impacts of their purchases. In 2017, the global chocolate industry responded by committing to “zero deforestation cocoa,” whereby companies aim for full supply chain traceability to ultimately end deforestation in cocoa growing regions.

The problem that this research addresses is that, despite their good intentions, corporate zero deforestation supply chain initiatives have so far had only modest success. While chocolate company pledges grow in number and magnitude, deforestation continues in many cocoa production areas. The proposed research will advance understanding of what precisely the global cocoa/chocolate industry is pledging to change through zero deforestation cocoa, and how.

Indigenous Knowledge Bridging of Land and Water Governance in Tanzania and Canada (SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, 2021-2022)

Please check out the project website:

Project summary: The Enguserosambu Forest Trust (EFT) is an Indigenous community forest management authority established to manage the land of the four Loita Maasai villages of Enguserosambu Ward of the Ngorongoro District of Tanzania. They have requested support to respond to the challenge of improving land and water governance practices in their area while maintaining the cultural integrity of their forest and its spiritual and livelihood values. The Ereto Maasai Youth (EMAYO) based in the village of Elerai, Kilindi District, located along the southern border of the Maasai Steppe, have also expressed a need for capacity development in their neighboring communities for improved land and water governance to ensure they are able to maintain control and effective conservation of their natural resources in a context of rapid regional growth and changing landscapes and climate. The partnerships established through this project aim to improve the capacity of the EFT and EMAYO for their land and water governance role. Our project has three main objectives: First, it will support Indigenous-led action research designed to enhance land and water governance and sovereignty over their traditional territories; second, our joint work will build learning relationships and enhance knowledge bridging between Indigenous peoples in Canada and Tanzania who share the same goals; and third, our work will be of relevance to the conservation of the Maasai traditional lands, livelihoods and culture. The Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Canada are recognized as leaders in many of these activities and will provide added insight throughout.

Indigenous Environmental Stewardship: Shared Community Learning on the Pathway to Reconciliation (UVic Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation Experiential Learning Grant, 2020-2021)

Project summary: Indigenous peoples from around the world are asserting their cultural and political governance systems for environmental stewardship and land use practices on their traditional territories. Although indigenous communities are embedded in vastly different contexts, histories, and political economies, we show how international experience-sharing can foster solidarity in the long-term struggle to assert Indigenous territorial governance. Students are eager for course content to support their engagement with the dynamic reconciliation processes happening in British Columbia, and around the world. This project engages students with on-going community-engaged research with First Nations. Through excursions, and case studies in the classroom, and involvement in research processes, students from diverse backgrounds will learn about how co-management theories are put into practice and how transdisciplinary research can also ‘give back’ to First Nations.