Cultivating rural livelihoods around the world
For nearly a billion people, rural poverty promotes land-management practices that maximize short-term gain at the expense of long-term economic and environmental stability. Economics professor Randy Bluffstone travels to nations like Nepal and Ethiopia where he helps village communities identify and adopt more sustainable approaches to managing natural resources, alleviating poverty while improving farms and forests.
FOR THE WORLD'S "BOTTOM BILLION," many of them rural farmers, the struggle for daily sustenance leaves no time to plan for long-term economic security. This struggle also leaves its mark on the land that people need to survive. When forests and farms are utilized for short-term livelihood rather than sustained productivity, the result can be deforestation, erosion, and crop failure.
“Isn’t it amazing that in 2011 people aren’t getting enough to eat?” says economics professor Randy Bluffstone, a fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State. In the 1980s, he traveled to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer. Since then, he has worked to fight poverty by studying how poor people relate to their environment.
In Ethiopia, Bluffstone worked on a ten-year survey of how small-scale farmers grow crops and tend steep hillside plots. He found that many farmers thought they could lose their land at any time to the government—crippling their confidence to invest in better land management. To break this cycle, farmers need services that allow them to save, borrow, and invest in improvements, such as irrigation and erosion control. Building on his research in Ethiopia, Bluffstone has also worked in Bolivia, Nepal, Kenya, and Tanzania.
In Nepal, he received a three-year grant from the World Bank to survey households about preserving, rather than cutting, healthy forests that soak up greenhouse gases. “As far as we know, this is the first analysis of the potential for village forests to remove significant carbon from the atmosphere,” Bluffstone said. Up to 30 percent of the Earth’s forests are controlled by rural communities, and emerging carbon markets may offer incentives for these local people to grow larger trees. The results in Nepal will help inform how other nations can join the ranks of rural climate heroes.
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