UEP Student Jessica Norriss Reflects on WSSS in Palestine
| May 17, 2016 | 10:37 am | WSSS | No comments

As a member of the Water Systems, Science, and Society program, students are required to work alongside a client, local or international, for the duration of a semester. In the fall of 2015, various projects were being proposed, one of which was the opportunity to work with the Boston based non-profit 1for3 in partnership with the Palestinian based community center, the Lajee Center. This not only included a close working relationship with our clients, but the chance to travel and implement our work in Palestine!

Without much of an attachment to Boston, I thought this would be a powerful experience to expand my international repertoire. Up until this point, my only connection with this region was the reoccurring insight that I should go on birthright, but growing up in Texas I was fairly isolated from my Jewish side of the family. The border conflicts between Israel and Palestine were quite muted in respect to the more relevant and pressing disputes with our own southern neighbors. The idea of traveling to Israel seemed more like a distant fantasy, a connection to an abstract and vague ancestry that I for some reason felt I inherently needed to get to know.

The primary goal was to aid in the human right to the access of clean water; despite my lack of knowledge to the nuances of this phrase in the Israeli-Palestinian context, I was eager to have an opportunity to work in this region with a direct purpose. Throughout the first few weeks of getting familiar with this project, our objectives and plan of action were still relatively vague. Although, 1for3 and WSSS students had worked together in the past (2012, 2013, and 2014) assessing the water quality challenges in the Aida Refugee camp of Bethlehem, this year we were looking to expand beyond the previous legacy. We would travel to Palestine to engage with a neighboring refugee camp, al Azza, and evaluate their unique set of water quality issues. Through household surveys and water sample collections, we were to analyze the degree of water health and security to the camp, and to provide our client’s with a strategy for expanding their water quality treatment and conservation programs.

While there, we successfully completed over thirty surveys with a wide range of households in the camp, met with several local stakeholders from the Palestinian Water Authority to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and held a community meeting to share our findings from our weeks work. One of the most memorable parts of the experience is the mutually beneficial relationship we were able to establish with our translators, as they shared some of their personal histories and expertise, and we shared our knowledge of water quality sampling.

Now, barely one month after our week spent there, I am still processing our experiences. Despite many conversations and readings about the rich and complex history of Israeli-Palestinian relationships, this trip illuminated the complexity of the conflict that weigh heavy in the region. Fortunately, in al Azza we did not encounter any significant levels of harmful bacteria in the tap water of the homes that we tested, but rather residents communicated they were plagued with significant water insecurity and shortages throughout the dry season.

This trip has taught me the proper scientific techniques for testing the levels of residual chlorine and quality of water in relation to total coliform and fecal bacteria, as well as better prepared me for working directly with a client in a multi-cultural professional context to strategically expand their long-term goals.

But ultimately, this trip has ignited a passion for further exploring the nexus of diplomacy, conflict mediation, and powerful role that water rights hold in this intricate dance. We now have the technologies and capacity to merge rigorous scientific analysis of water quality and allocation systems with political advocacy and leadership in innovative ways; I am excited for a future which addresses this unique set of challenges communities globally are facing.

UEP/Friedman Student Tessa Salzman Reflects on Geography 2050 Conference
| May 17, 2016 | 10:29 am | Events | No comments

I attended the Geography 2050 Conference of the American Geographical Society on Thursday and Friday November 19th and 20th in New York City as an attendee ready to learn and be exposed to more new material than I initially expected. Through the lens of geography I expanded my understanding of how planning extends into the international scope. Some of the most compelling sessions for me were related to immigration and demographic trends. Ms. Nisha Agarwall, the commissioner of NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs described their work to improve the quality of life and protection of all immigrants. Their innovative programs work to de-stigmatize certain support mechanisms, such as free municipal ID cards, by making it appeal to all residents whether or not they’re foreign-born. Another concept that was new to me and presented by Ms. Claudia Juech of the Rockefeller Foundation was work to improve poverty and economic marginalization through remote work and online education. They proposed these technologies would create a virtual geography by 2050 internationally and nationally, and the zip code may begin to be less implicative in quality of life. The conference provided a globally-based perspective on planning, in contrast to the classes I have been in that are very much focused locally in community organizing and city-level politics. Overall, it lifted planning up as an even broader field than I had imagined before.

UEP Student Erin Coutts at Baltimore’s Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference
| May 17, 2016 | 10:23 am | Events | No comments

Preparing for Climate Change on the East Coast

John Bolduc, City of Cambridge Environmental Planner, Rhett Lamb, City of Keene Planning Director, Erin Coutts, UEP M.A. Student

John Bolduc, City of Cambridge Environmental Planner, Rhett Lamb, City of Keene Planning Director, Erin Coutts, UEP M.A. Student

Over three hundred planning professionals, scientists, business owners, and non-profit representatives gathered in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor April 4-6, 2016, for the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference. The conference, organized by Antioch University’s Center for Climate Preparedness & Community Resilience in partnership with the EPA, was designed to build capacity for local decision makers.

Thanks to a generous travel grant from UEP, current student Erin Coutts attended keynote speeches from the Mayor of Baltimore and the Acting Deputy Administrator of the EPA, a workshop on monitoring adaptation progress, and a variety of sessions. She reports that one of the most valuable sessions was “Incorporating Adaptation into Day-to-Day Planning,” which featured a talk by UEP alumnus Rhett Lamb. The session addressed strategies for funding climate adaptation efforts, and how best to cover budget gaps. The information gathered from the conference will contribute directly to her UEP thesis.

Also in attendance was UEP alumnus John Bolduc, Environmental Planner for the City of Cambridge.

UEP Student Jamie Fanous at the MA Urban Farming Conference
| May 17, 2016 | 10:13 am | Events | No comments
UEP Student Jamie Fanous

UEP Student Jamie Fanous

The 4th Annual Urban Farming Conference (UFC) was a full day event comprised of interactive panels, workshops, and discussion addressing a vast number of topics related to urban farming. The UFC brought together multi-sectoral stakeholders such as farmers, land trust managers, policy makers, innovators, activists, investors, and many others, to discuss barriers and opportunities for the urban farming community. The UFC provides a forum which cultivates opportunities for networking, information sharing, and innovation.

Speakers included local urban farmers, environmentalists, educators, government representatives, and activists. The keynote speaker Greg Watson from the Schumacher Center presented on the Cuban Urban Agroecology Movement, discussing the history of Cuba and why they currently have such a vast urban farming system. Discussion panels were held throughout the day focusing on various subjects including beekeeping, food justice, and soil management. A discussion which I attended, entitled, “Thinking Outside the Raised Bed” included a panel of urban farmers and city planners. The discussion focused on how to engage your community in urban farming, the panel discussed the barriers they face when engaging youth, specifically youth from minority and low-income communities. Overall the UFC was a successful conference fueling new ideas and paths forward for the urban farming community.

UEP Co-hosts Leaders for Land and Food Sovereignty from Brazil and Honduras
| May 16, 2016 | 12:33 pm | Uncategorized | 3 Comments
From L-R: Jovanna Garcia Soto (Grassroots International), Yasmin Lopez (Via Campesina), Debora Nunes (MST), Lydia Simas (Grassroots International), Saulo Araujo (Why Hunger)

From L-R: Jovanna Garcia Soto (Grassroots International), Yasmin Lopez (Via Campesina), Debora Nunes (MST), Lydia Simas (Grassroots International), Saulo Araujo (Why Hunger)

On March 31, 2016, Tufts UEP co-hosted a dialogue with Debora Nunes Lino Da Silva, a leader with Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), and Yasmin Lopez, a leader of the Women’s Regional Commission of La Vía Campesina–Central America, based in Honduras. More than 60 Tufts students and community members from Greater Boston attended this evening event at Tufts downtown campus, which was co-hosted by Grassroots International, Why Hunger, and Friends of MST. The evening began with a mistica (tribute and reflection) to Berta Caceres, a Honduran environmental and human rights activist who was assassinated in March.

Mystica tribute and reflection for Berta Caceres

Mystica tribute and reflection for Berta Caceres

With interpretation in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, Nunes and Lopez talked about their movement work in Brazil and Honduras. In Brazil, the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) has been reclaiming rural land and building communities based on cooperative and solidarity economics. Since 1984, they have settled more than 370,000 families on more than 7.5 million hectares of land, where they have built agricultural cooperatives, schools, and health care facilities. Their current struggles center around countering the efforts to take down the democratically elected government.

La Via Campesina is a global social movement led by landless peasants, small scale farmers, women, indigenous people, and migrant workers from around the world. Lopez spoke about how people are taking over land to implement small-scale sustainable agriculture to promote food sovereignty and social justice. In the dialogue, one attendee who now lives in the Boston area shared the story of how his friend, a fellow Brazilian immigrant, had gotten involved in one of MST’s land settlements before moving to the US. Though he had to leave Brazil, family members who remained are now settled on and farming the reclaimed land. This story highlighted one theme throughout the evening about the need for building solidarity and ties across global communities.

This event was also sponsored by Tufts ASE Diversity Fund, Tufts New Economy, Tufts Friedman School’s Agriculture, Food, and Environment Program, Tufts Latin American Studies, and Tufts Portuguese Program.

UEP Student Allie Platt Reflects on Thesis Research in India
| May 13, 2016 | 10:42 am | Uncategorized | No comments

Before beginning my degree at Tufts I spent seven months in India and Southeast Asia. I returned with looming questions about the cultural and economic differences that exist between the East and the West. However, through my UEP courses such as Economics, Food Justice, and Cities I was equipped with tools to process and cope with some of my traveling experiences. For example, terms such as the Gini Coefficient and Purchasing Power helped me to understand the contrast between the value of a rupee and a dollar, without feeling guilty for everything that I bought in the United States.

While studying at Tufts, I remained in contact with the management of the farm where I had volunteered (WWOOFed) on my travels. In January I returned to India to pursue an internship with their organization, TGGFCT, and conduct field work for my thesis research topic (A Sustainable Livelihood Assessment), in which I was able to put to practical use some of the tangible skills and concepts I have gained since starting my degree.

During my internship, I lived on a beautiful organic permaculture farm learning and participating in the harvest of ginger, black pepper, arecanut, and coffee. I was also able to work in their office location, helping to strategize the future charitable activities and economic development initiatives they were planning, particularly aimed to support women entrepreneurship. Some challenges I faced while working with the organization were mainly related to cultural differences. Due to heavily steeped cultural practices that stem from the caste system, it could often feel like there was a divide between members of the farm and the organization management. It is very common in India for those who fall lower on the hierarchical spectrum to eat after those above. Working with the TGGFCT, most of the time this took the form of agricultural workers, particularly the women, eating after everyone else. Women are also the only ones who do the dishes, as men will almost never do their own. This often times upset me, and I was motivated to question my supervisor about some of the everyday customs related to daily life on the farm and in the office. Before approaching him regarding some of these topics, I often thought of the negotiations course I took at UEP, knowing that I did not want to shy away from asking difficult questions while upholding a positive and respectful discourse. He always encouraged me to “push the boundaries” and ask workers to join our meals, however they almost always indicated that they felt uncomfortable with doing this.

I was struggling with the boundary between cultural differences and injustice in many instances, until I was joined by Varnika, a Natural Resource Management masters student from Delhi. Interning with Varnika was probably the most valuable and rewarding part of my experience with TGGFCT. Throughout the month we became quite close sharing a room and hundreds of stories about our strikingly different backgrounds and cultures and bonding over our similar values and interests. I was able to ask her some of the questions about India’s customs, their historical origins, and current repercussions for women in particular, from someone of a native (albeit still privileged) perspective – rather than my American influenced and biased opinions. While many of the practices that seem to be impractical from my perspective still exist on the farm, they far exceed what I know to be some of the harsh realities and lived experiences of many within India. It is changing bit by bit, and I have full faith that some of the questions and discussion that took place on the farm during my time there had an effect, and am even more convinced of the power and importance of cultural exchanges.

UEP helps launch Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network
| May 11, 2016 | 12:34 pm | Events, student papers | Comments closed
Greater Boston Community Land Trust Launch Event, April 27, 2016

Greater Boston Community Land Trust Launch Event, April 27, 2016

UEP Lecturer Penn Loh and UEP Field Project students have been partnering to support the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network. Loh was interviewed about community land trusts on Boston Neighborhood Network News on April 20, 2016. A report by a UEP Field Project student team was released at the Network’s launch on April 27, 2016. The report outlines the potential benefits of community land trusts in Boston and policy recommendations for the City. The Network is facilitated by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and includes Chinatown Community Land Trust, City Life/Vida Urbana, The Coalition for Occupied Homes in Foreclosure (COHIF), Dudley Neighbors, Inc., Mattapan United, New England United for Justice, The Urban Farming Institute, Greater Bowdoin/Geneva Neighborhood Association, Alternatives for Community and Environment and Boston Tenant Coalition.

UEP Alumni Panel and Networking Event
| May 5, 2016 | 1:10 pm | Events, SPA | Comments closed

UEP has been busy in the last week, hosting two alumni events over the weekend. The first was an alumni panel featuring UEPers that are now working in global operations, research and consulting.

  • Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 12.25.51 PMDenise Chin (MA 2014) –  Senior Research Assistant at the Director General’s Office at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • Jon Crowe (MA 2010) – Senior Consultant at Meister Consultants Group
  • Armando Milou (MA 2008, WSSS) – GIS Specialist with the International Finance Corporation
  • Nicholas Petschek (MA/MALD 2012) – Senior Consultant in Governance, Culture & Leadership at LRN
  • Katie Walsh (MA/MALD 2014) – Cities Manager for the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)

    Alumni Panel: Working in Global Operations, Research and Consulting

    Networking before the Alumni Panel: Working in Global Operations, Research and Consulting

Alumni briefly discussed their work and career trajectories since graduating from UEP before responding to questions from the audience. Discussion followed on how UEP prepared them for their careers, opportunities they wish they would have taken advantage of while there, and how they see the next few years of their work playing out. Students in the audience asked about the UEP network in their fields and the language skills required in their work. Alumni unanimously agreed that Negotiations was one of the most important classes they had taken. They also recommended taking diverse courses, including branching out to other schools in the area.

Alumni Networking Event at Vanderbilt Kitchen & Bar

Alumni Networking Event at Vanderbilt Kitchen & Bar

The next day was a more informal networking event put together by the UEP Student Planning & Policy Association. Current students and alumni convened at Vanderbilt Kitchen & Bar near State Street where a crowd of 50 or so discussed careers and opportunities. There was a good showing from class of 2015 graduates, as well as a number from previous years. Folks enjoyed a buffet and drinks while expanding the career opportunities of the UEP network in Boston and elsewhere.

Sacred Rice: Environmental Change and Structural Uncertainty in West Africa
| May 1, 2016 | 2:03 pm | Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

This week’s Tufts Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn was a presentation by Boston University anthropologist Joanna Davidson on her work in rice farming communities in Guinea Bissau. Her book, Sacred Rice, looks at the intricacies of economic and environmental conditions affecting the Jola people. Davidson spent over ten years studying rice cultivation in rural Guinea Bissau and the way rice has shaped the worldview and way of life of the people there.

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Guinea Bissau is a nation of 1.5 million people and 23-27 different ethnic groups. The geography of the country is mostly flat mangrove swampland. There isn’t even a word for mountain in the Jola language. This terrain has made it ideal for palm oil forests and rice paddies. Cultivation of the Oryza glaberrima species began in West Africa, distinct from the rice species grown in Asia, with a higher protein content. Rice gave rise to many of the precolonial African kingdoms, and it is thought that American rice cultivation began only after the slave trade brought rice farmers to the Americas. Since the earliest times, Jola life has depended on rice. The people believe that they were created to farm rice, and their hard work in the rice paddies is part of a covenant with their supreme deity for which they are rewarded with rain. Since the mid 90s, however, the long June to October rainy season that they depend on has shortened to one or two months. As a result, many Jola families don’t have enough rice to last them through the year.

The blame can be laid partially on climate change, but is also the result of centuries of shifting lifeways. During the colonial era, Europeans forced farmers to switch to cash crops like sugar and tobacco for international trade rather than domestic subsistence. More recently, shifts toward urbanization mean that there are fewer people farming rice. Jola farmers have largely responded by simply working harder and longer. According to Davidson, much of this burden falls on Jola women. Seeing rice farming as a dead end long-term, families now send their children to be schooled in the capital city rather than train them in cultivation.

Source: http://www.navvi.com/blog/2015/1/23/how-can-the-countries-hardest-hit-by-ebola-avoid-a-potential-food-security-crisis

Source: http://www.navvi.com/blog/2015/1/23/how-can-the-countries-hardest-hit-by-ebola-avoid-a-potential-food-security-crisis

The Gates Foundation is funding a program called AGRA: the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The hope is that this African-led movement can improve agricultural and market infrastructure. According to Davidson, this program is “not particularly hopeful.”

In a society which defines itself through rice, it is important to consider the effects of climate change beyond the environment or the economy. It becomes an existential issue for the Jola people, who eat rice at every meal. In an anecdote from Davidson’s research, she cooked a spaghetti dinner for the family she was staying with. After the meal, the family asked “So now, where is the food?”

Two Presentations on Sustainable Forestry

This past week, Tufts was host to two guest speakers talking about sustainable forest management. The first, last Monday, was a representative of Mexican reforestation initiative Ejido Verde. At the Environmental Studies department’s weekly Lunch & Learn, Tufts lecturer in environmental anthropology and MIT doctoral candidate Tod Özden-Schilling spoke about the use of computer models in forestry research.

CEO of Ejido Verde, Shaun Paul, stopped by GDAE at Tufts to present on their sustainable and equitable model for pine resin production in the Mexican state of Michoacán. “Ejido Verde” means green “ejido,” which is the term used in Mexico for communally owned land used for agriculture, or in this case, agroforestry.

This video was produced as part of a crowdfunding campaign, which raised their initial goal of $200,000 in only two weeks. As explained in the video, the Purépecha people now have income from over 2400 hectares of pine resin production. Pine resin is used in products including chewing gum, adhesives, food preservatives and more. Mexico is the fifth largest producer of pine resin, with 95% of that coming from the state of Michacán. Mexico has a huge variety of pines, many of which produce large quantities of valuable resin. China, Indonesia and Brazil are by far the largest producers.

Agroforestry in Michoacán

Agroforestry in Michoacán. Source: http://ejidoverde.org/

Here’s how the model works: Working with the communal owners of ejidos, mostly in Michoacán, Ejido Verde brings funding and sustainable forest management education to provide an initial investment of ~$2000 per hectare of ejido. These are long-term loans, a result of the fact that it takes at least 8-10 years for a pine forest to become ready for tapping. Ten years later, a hectare of pine forest can be expected to generate $3,400 in revenue per year, for eighty years. Cultivation and maintenance are paid through debt financing in the short-term, providing much needed job opportunities to the region. Longer-term, the ejido benefits from a stable revenue source for years to come. Ejido Verde takes 10% of the value of resin sold by the ejido to the pine resin industry. On top of this revenue, the Mexican government pays the ejidos for the benefits of reforestation.

Ejido Verde struggles with reconciling the need for biodiversity in long-term sustainability with the need for short- and long-term revenue to sustain the indigenous people of Michoacán. Pine beetles are an issue affecting many ejidos, but because the system is scattered and not confined to one large area, spread of pests is somewhat controlled.

The Mountain Pine Beetle. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_pine_beetle#/media/File:Dendroctonus_ponderosae.jpg

The Mountain Pine Beetle. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Mountain_pine_beetle#/media/File:Dendroctonus_ponderosae.jpg

Tom Özden-Schilling spoke to the Environmental Studies Department about the contention between field-based vs computer model based forestry research. With ever increasing technological tools at the fingertips of forestry scientists, the world of “experimental forests” is diminishing. Computer models are thought by many to be capable of turning what used to be a scientific problem into an engineering problem: What features can be put into place in order to grow the most trees at the fastest rate. Unlike experimental forests, these computer models were unable to account for the presence of the mountain pine beetle, which swept through British Columbia’s forests between 2001-2009. More about Özden-Schilling’s is outlined in this blog post of his from 2014.