Understanding the Adoption of Sustainable Natural Resource Management Practices and the Role of Ecological Design Within the Milieu of Chronic Conflict and Political Instability: A Case Study of Smallholder Households in Nimba County, Liberia

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Title: Understanding the Adoption of Sustainable Natural Resource Management Practices and the Role of Ecological Design Within the Milieu of Chronic Conflict and Political Instability: A Case Study of Smallholder Households in Nimba County, Liberia
Author: Van Der Wiele, Cynthia Fay
Advisors: Sarah T. Warren, Committee Member
Toddi A. Steelman, Committee Member
Robin C. Moore, Committee Co-Chair
Shishir Rajan Raval, Committee Chair
Abstract: This dissertation is about the adoption of sustainable natural resource management (NRM) practices, in particular about rural, subsistence-level smallholder households' decision-making within the milieu of enduring disorder and persistent poverty. The goal is to better understand the role of design—broadly considered as a decision-making and problem-solving activity or intervention that affects quality of landscape and quality of life—in such a context. The overarching question is whether and how external assistance, within the field of community and environmental design, can be used more effectively to enable smallholder households to secure their basic needs, promote self-reliance, and adopt sustainable NRM practices as a means of breaking the unending cycle of natural resource degradation and persistent poverty. It is indisputable that the attention of the relief and development community should focus on making interventions both relief and development-oriented. A sustainable livelihoods framework served to illuminate the interrelationships between households and biophysical and social landscapes, and the corresponding constraints and opportunities to adoption of NRM practices. Three fundamental themes of this dissertation are: (1) the interaction between natural resources and rural livelihoods; (2) the influence of chronic conflict and political instability on rural livelihoods; and (3) the role and mission of community and ecological design. While the sustainable livelihoods approach has been applied in many locales around the world, there is a dearth of information in settings experiencing chronic conflict and political instability and how this milieu affects rural households' decision-making and ability to make conservation investments. This research was accomplished with a case study of 55 individuals from four villages in upper Nimba County, Liberia, who attended an 18-week Integrated Pest Management-Farmer Field School (IPM-FFS). The training included seven low-external input and sustainable agriculture (LEISA) practices and two productive conservation practices. A grounded theory approach with complementary research techniques to incorporate qualitative and quantitative data collection was employed. Respondents completed in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Photo-documented field observations and interviews with key informants were used to verify and supplement data provided by IPM-FFS participants. Two dominant themes emerged from the data: (1) whether or not the NRM practices were compatible with perceived or real vulnerability; and (2) the role of household assets in promoting or inhibiting adoption. Permeating these two themes are relationships with cultural traditions, beliefs, and power that can help explain how households are positioned with respect to vulnerability and assets, and whether they adopted the NRM practices. Chronic conflict and political instability present a challenge. Providing 'developmental relief' to households and communities is akin to ecosystem recovery following a perturbation. The flux between periods of peak crisis and stability present numerous opportunities for 'developmental relief' interventions beginning with training opportunities in refugee camps. The grounded theories regarding adoption under uncertainty are: 1) potential NRM practices must be compatible with predominant livelihood strategies and address sources of vulnerability; 2) anything that increases a household's exposure to risk—or their perceptions of exposure to risk—will seem less attractive, even if it could potentially provide dependable and lucrative sources of income; and 3) NRM practices will not succeed without a commitment to low input requirements—especially financial requirements—for households to be able to adopt. Appropriate ecological design interventions include context-specific agro-ecosystem diversity, farmscaping, and the use of home gardens for small-scale experimentation of new NRM practices.
Date: 2004-12-01
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Design
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/5438

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