Q&A with Hallie Eakin
Dr. Eakin is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability investigating economic globalization and rural vulnerability to climate change in Latin America. She has previously consulted with the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on projects in agricultural development and adaptation to climate impacts.
What triggered your focus on sustainability?
My interest in sustainability emerged from my undergraduate thesis on the use of seasonal climate forecasts to alleviate drought hardship in Zimbabwe. A few years later, while working in international development, it became clear to me that farmers would need far more than weather forecasts to improve their decision-making, economic status, and food security. The effective use of forecasts depended also on incorporating farmers’ knowledge into the forecasting science and addressing the many cultural, economic, and ecological constraints they face. This experience highlighted the importance of systemic approaches to problem solving, and helped me to better understand what the challenge of sustainability was all about.
What is your most important sustainability-related research project?
I am coordinating an international group of scholars – including a climatologist, agroecologist, economist, and several geographers – in a project that evaluates how policy and climatic risk affect maize production in Mexico. Maize has been critical to Mexican culture and rural livelihoods for centuries. By examining the way rural farming decisions are influenced through factors such as environmental change, migration, urbanization, and market liberalization, we can assess how economic policy and climatic risk affects Mexican food security, not only for households but for the entire country.
How will your research directly affect policy decisions?
One effective way to address social and ecological vulnerability is to understand what vulnerable people value and worry about, as well as their motivations, needs, and priorities — and then communicate this perspective to leaders who can affect policies. My current project aims to open a dialogue in Mexico on the drivers of change in Mexico’s food system and we hope our findings will contribute to international efforts aimed at reducing threats to critical food systems from climate change.
What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?
I am most concerned with the fundamental problem of global poverty and inequality, and its effect on sustainability. Persistent social injustice undermines the ability of society everywhere to live more sustainability.
November 30, 2009