What’s the connection between an upstate New York dairy farm and a $3 million study of sustainable development in the Serengeti? Mac economics professor Amy Damon.
A new $3 million, five-year grant from the European Union will enable Macalester development economics professor Amy Damon and her colleagues to identify development policies benefitting all of the Serengeti.
In January, Damon begins a research project with colleagues at the University of Minnesota and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, supported by the grant from the European Union.
“We want to identify policies that help conservation without hurting the people,” says Damon, putting it in the simplest terms. “Conservation in the Serengeti used to be about putting up boundaries to protect the endangered animals. Now, instead, we are working with local people to understand their resource needs, and gathering data to help us determine development policies that both conserve resources and allow people to improve their own health and livelihoods.”
Damon’s early years growing up on the farm inculcated an understanding of crop cycles, weather, animal husbandry and the unpredictable fluctuations of a farming income. An undergrad semester studying in South Africa whetted her interest in agricultural economics abroad. While pursuing her doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Damon immersed herself in complex issues of agricultural development while, during the summers, she consulted to the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations.
The grant plan is ambitious—study the conservation and economic development conflicts around national parks in Tanzania and Zambia to answer questions about food security, health, livelihood strategies and resource conservation. Executing a grant of this size requires detailed planning, so Damon can’t yet be specific about exactly how Mac students might be involved.
Damon will focus on three areas of the study:
- Training local community health workers to provide basic information about and access to birth control, allowing families to improve their health by spacing their children
- Expanding microcredit through community banks known as COCOBAs. By providing information and training, they can help families diversify their resources beyond hunting bush meat (often endangered animals) and beef and goats (which are heavy consumers of resources) to industries such as beekeeping, which are much more sustainable.
- Studying how to improve food security and human health while conserving resources. Improving small scale animal husbandry, for example, by reducing the loss of chickens to disease or predators, would provide more protein and reduce consumption of bush meat.