Better late than never. Google translates this as “Mejor tarde que nunca“. In the beginning of the summer we said we’d offer brief descriptions of our research. To date, I’ve worked on my project for a little over a month. So I’m a bit behind with my blog post. Well, this is it. Mejor tarde que nunca!
I visited southwestern Nicaragua for the first time in the summer of 2008. Over a 2-month period, I interviewed 94 community members living in tropical dry forests (seasonal forests with lush, spiny vegetation) to understand local ecological knowledge (LEK) and help frame implications for current and future conservation efforts in this region of the country. To be brief, LEK is commonly described as knowledge that develops from peoples’ interactions with their environment, which are guided by local culture, beliefs, practices, and communication within and across generations. The 2008 research demonstrated that residents were able to identify and report changes populations for many animals in the area, including mammals, birds, and 2 lizard species. In addition, men identified slightly more animals than women, possibly because men are more likely to have employment that takes them near or into the forests such as farming and logging.
What my plans are for the summer:
To build off this previous work, my current project focuses on the interplay of LEK with natural resource conflicts in the same region of Nicaragua. The purpose of this summer’s work is to identify how these conflicts affect the development of knowledge and how knowledge is used to interpret these conflicts. I am intentionally using the vague phrase “natural resource conflicts” because this project is a collaboration between myself and community members, where participants are identifying current environmental issues affecting their lives in real time. For example, local droughts are affecting water availability in the area, drying wells and stunting crop sizes. And many have tied the drought to plantations of non-native teak trees (Tectona grandis), stating how the trees’ deep roots are absorbing most of the water from the region’s watershed. Yet, these trees provide employment opportunities supported by a multinational agroforestry business, highlighting the economic incentives for maintaining teak plantations. Through this collaborative projects, residents and I will apply 3 methods to cover multiple angles on the interplay of LEK with conflicts: 1) interviews with community-recommended participants; 2) using disposable cameras to photograph objects, scenes, and events that represent these issues; and 3) working with study participants to identify locations to place camera traps (see Margot’s post below) to similarly document the issues at hand (which will predominately be human-wildlife interactions, such as jaguars attacking livestock or animals eating crops). These 3 approaches will offer oral histories and visual records of LEK, framing a detailed picture of the knowledge and experiences linked to emerging conflicts affecting ecologically and culturally rich, yet economically marginalized communities in Nicaragua and hopefully elsewhere in Central America.
Where I stand now and what I’m doing:
My work has been going slower than planned. Sporadic rain storms crept in, making several of the camera trap volunteers reluctant to trek out on the muddy slopes. These storms provided a much needed respite from the drought; farmers necessarily cancelled plans to work with me in order to take advantage of the extensive rain to plant rice and other crops. Nevertheless, 12 interviews (ranging from 1 – 3 hours in some cases), 13 disposable cameras, and 4 camera traps later, I’m starting to see some patterns develop. Not surprisingly, agriculture is one of, if not the main way, for residents to interact with and learn about the surrounding forest and wildlife, with oral histories, casual observations, previous work with local and foreign researchers, and schooling (e.g., certifications) also playing a part. Through these mediums, residents have identified 4 consistent conflict-related themes: 1) human-jaguar conflicts; 2) the pros and cons of burning croplands; 3) the financial and psychological effects of the drought; and 4) linked to the drought, the intricately sensitive relationship between teak plantations, economic well-being, and environmental sustainability.
I plan to stay in the same community (El Carmen, Nicaragua) for the next few weeks, likely until I leave in mid-August. I will continue interviews, handing out disposable cameras, and set the remaining 4 camera traps to hopefully catch some wildlife (we already recorded a coatimundi, Nasua narica, and a very poor image of a Central American agouti, Dasyprocta punctata) and other conflict-related scenes. Lastly, I am arranging a community meeting to discuss my project with more residents, recruit more participants, and evaluate and share my results thus far. I’ll be back with more news sooner rather than later!