Hello. Introductions are not very easy for me, but because the good experience of coming to Joern’s group happened, here it is.
The name is Aisa and I’m from Asia – the Philippines, to be specific – where the sun shines bright the whole year round, the sea is always near, and there’s plenty of fish. I love fish.
I started in Joern’s group in late May this year, as one of four new PhD students for the ERC-project Identifying social-ecological system properties benefiting food security and biodiversity. Within this project, my research focuses on livelihood strategies of farming households in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia and how these strategies relate to food security and biodiversity, and vice versa. Starting this PhD means a lot to me because of the opportunity it provides to do research on issues I care about (environment, agriculture, poverty), in a place I have dreamed of working in since I was a teenager (a part of Africa).
I grew up in a small, quiet town in a big island called Mindanao. I have memories of catching small fishes in the creek behind our house using fish nets that my friends and I made with our own hands and of putting them in our improvised aquarium. This was when the creek was still clean. There is another memory of my mother doing laundry in a spring not very far. There were three secluded shallow wells on a short slope facing a rice farm. She would always go early to have one well to herself, and the water would always be just enough for the washing of clothes and for us the children, when we come to bathe. We would finish the water to its last scoop. The following day, it would fill again, clean and clear as crystal. I remember fetching drinking water with my brother from a water pump a few hundred meters from our house, and collecting firewood from fallen twigs and branches in a wooded area not far. Many things have changed since, in my small town, as is doubtless the case in majority of the world. The piped water system and liquefied petroleum gas stoves came when I was about 11 and that made a lot of difference in terms of convenience. But I think a lot of other important things were lost in the process. The wooded area gave way to a fruit tree plantation owned by a rich family, which was eventually abandoned. The springs have dried. Our family, as was our town, was not economically advanced. But because of what we had around us, I can say we had a fair amount of what was needed for an active, robust, and good life (the way I define good life). I wonder how economically-challenged families in my home town and in other parts of the world cope, with most of the free amenities (free and clean water for example) now changed or gone.
The kind of life I lived as I was growing up shaped my affinity for what is natural and my desire to understand a bit more about changes in integrated natural and social systems and how they affect people. This led me to study Environmental Science in my bachelor’s degree at the Mindanao State University, and in my master’s degree at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. My research experience has primarily been on social systems: the first looked at communities’ willingness to pay for conserving a watershed and the second was an ex post microscale flood damage assessment in a lakeshore fishing-farming municipality. In 2013, I joined WorldFish as research analyst for the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems where my colleagues and I looked at social norms that underlie differential access to resources and control of benefits from agricultural livelihoods among social groups. These research topics have been quite varied but they are valuable to me for several reasons. The first is for the quantitative and qualitative research skills that these enabled me to develop. The second is for the opportunity to observe a range of environment- and agriculture-related problems in different contexts, and in the process, seeing similarities and patterns.
This PhD position now enables me to further engage and work at the interface of issues that I care about – environment, agriculture, links between natural and social systems, agency of people whose dependence on agriculture make them more vulnerable to environmental and other types of changes, and food security. I intend to engage with the topics in a way that puts people at the center and asks how they participate in the process of changing their landscapes, what factors influence their participation, in turn how they are affected by the changes that result, and how they adapt to the changes through the strategies they employ using the resources at their disposal.
Coming here has also given me the opportunity to work with a vibrant academic group that is diverse in expertise, experience, and personalities, and is highly collaborative, as anyone who visits would not too long after observe.
In the next three years, I and the team will be spending more time in Ethiopia. I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the relationships between livelihood strategies of farming households, how these influence and are influenced by food security and biodiversity outcomes, how these are constrained or enabled by capitals, assets, and resources in context; and in collaboration with colleagues, identify relationships with other factors at higher scales, but that is in the future.