Research Areas

Cropping and farming systems

My scholarship on farming systems takes a holistic approach, and balances theory, history, and practice. As a research fellow at Michigan State University, I studied farming systems in Mali and Malawi to understand how perennial grains already contributed to farming systems, as well as future possibilities for their introduction. The management of staple crops as perennials is a historic legacy and a present-day strategy in some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, yet perenniality is rarely an agronomic subject. In Mali, I applied the theoretical lens of gendered spaces to understand their potential benefits to women farmers and pastoralists. In Malawi, I combined semi-structured interviews with a literature review on the history and agronomic practices associated with crops such as pigeonpea and sorghum to point out a disconnect between agronomic practices and research priorities.

In a similar vein, part of my doctoral research in the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca, Mexico interpreted farmers’ narratives regarding shifts in cropping systems due to changes in climate, cultural norms, and labor availability. I hope to return to the Mixteca Alta, possibly with funding through a second Fulbright fellowship, to build on my previous research. I hope to implement – in partnership with farmers – conservation and innovation strategies for the traditional cropping systems of the region, such as a maize system that involves planting approximately 2-3 months before the rainy season begins.

I am also continuing farming systems research domestically as part of a team that recently applied for funding to study climate resilience through participatory engagement with sustainable agriculture networks. We are researchers at the University of Hawaii, UC Berkeley, and Michigan State University, as well as practitioners at the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) and Terra Global Capital Capital. Our proposal attempts to advance on-farm climate resilience. The research will focus on the potential carbon sequestration and economic benefits of livestock integration in orchard systems on farms in Hawaii, California, and Michigan.

Monitoring resilience to climatic variability

Farmers who practice agroecology are developing ways to monitor their progress in designing more climate-resilient systems. As part of my doctoral studies, I partnered with a farmer-to-farmer training network in Oaxaca, Mexico to facilitate workshops on monitoring climate resilience. Groups of farmers described their adaptation strategies to past climate challenges. Farmers also identified indicators that they subsequently used to evaluate the condition of their agroecosystems. From this analysis, farmers proposed strategies to improve the ability of their agroecosystems to cope with climatic variability.

I am currently collaborating with researchers from northeast Brazil to study indicator-based approaches to evaluating climate resilience. Our research focuses on the concept of coexistence with semi-aridity in the semi-arid region of Brazil. This concept was put into practice through structural, agroecological, social, and management transformations in combination with a strengthening of mechanisms for community reciprocity. I will continue collaborating with my Brazilian colleagues, including establishing future research in the semi-arid region of Brazil.

Regenerative soil management strategies for urban agriculture

I am part of a research team from UC Berkeley funded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to study issues facing urban agriculture in the Bay Area from production to marketing and distribution. My specific contribution is the idea to test whether, compared with tillage farming, organic no-till vegetable systems enhance soil organic matter, improve soil moisture retention, reduce labor costs, and increase overall yields. I was inspired to study this topic by my regular interactions with Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser at Singing Frogs Farm, leaders in ecologically-based no-till vegetable production.

Our research in the urban setting is complementing investigations by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers to research a similar topic in the rural sector. In addition to scientific inquiry, our experiment will offer employment to one graduate of MESA’s Bay Area Farmer Training Program. The idea is to offer this research assistant from the Bay Area urban agriculture community advanced training in ecological vegetable crop production and research methods.