Burning Questions Fellowships Spring/Summer 2019 Award Winners

Overview of the Fellowships

Why do we offer these fellowships?

  • The fellowships support academic researchers who are interested in:
    • Helping front-line persons tackling negative impacts of global industrial food animal production (especially in low- and middle-income countries) deepen their understanding of the many complex issues involved.
    • Examining these impacts and issues for the researchers’ own scholarly purposes.
  • The fellowships are also aimed at benefiting front-line persons by offering them academic research findings, perspectives, and suggestions relevant to “burning questions” some of them have asked.

What will the winners produce during their four-month award period?

  • The main task of a fellowship recipient during the award period is to prepare one Guidance Memo in plain language.
  • Guidance Memos are documents prepared specifically to assist front-line persons who are the end users, written from the perspectives of academics.
  • Topics addressed in Guidance Memos are directly relevant to “burning questions”.
  • Guidance Memos’ primary objective: To provide sound information and clear explanations that deepen front-line persons’ understanding of the issues addressed; to highlight key considerations that they may not be aware of; to offer practical advice that helps their decision-making and work.

Recipients of Awards

(Arranged alphabetically by last name)

Ioulia Fenton

Location: United States
Academic field: Anthropology
Award category: PhD Candidate

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period
The transnational, national, and local drivers of the growth of industrial poultry in Guatemala, in particular:

  1. The growth strategies of (i) domestic producers of industrial chickens and eggs, (ii) fast chicken restaurants (e.g. Pollo Campero) since 1970s.
  2. Guatemala’s participation in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 which has increased poultry imports from the United States.
  3. Guatemala’s domestic policy context that impacts both industrial poultry and traditional backyard rearing practices, including health and safety.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • Tackling the hugely complex issue of drivers of industrial food animal production in a particular country in a clear and measured way, focusing on several key factors and developments.
  • The Guidance Memo will be informed by the extensive interviews of persons in Guatemala working to improve the country’s food system that Ioulia conducted over 16 months.
  • The Guidance Memo will provide useful information that can be hard to obtain, for example:
    – Synthesis of studies as well as gray literature on industrial and backyard poultry production, distribution, and consumption in Guatemala.
    – Review of existing government laws and policies on the industrial poultry industry in Guatemala.
    – Consolidating examples of poultry industry’s self-proclaimed national health, social and economic goals.
  • Ioulia’s commitment to sharing her research with local advocates in Guatemala.

A Few Words from the Winner
“The call for applications to the Burning Questions Fellowship proved a serendipitous moment for me. I had been looking for ways to disseminate my research in more accessible forms for both front line persons and the general public. The Fellowship provides the support that I need to write about the under-researched and underreported topic of industrial chicken in Guatemala.” (Ioulia Fenton)

Kate Hartcher

Location: Australia
Academic field: Veterinary science
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  • Generate information on improving layer hen welfare in China that is of practical use to local producers by focusing on collaboration with Chinese farmers as well as animal welfare experts who can help develop best practice poultry production in that country.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • Consultation with local Chinese producers and animal welfare experts when gathering information and doing the research.
  • The work done with the fellowship award directly enhances Chinese farmers’ knowledge of best practice, and provides them with the training and information so they can do it themselves.
  • The association of this work with an existing project to raise farm animal welfare standard in China.
  • The Guidance Memo will be translated into Chinese.

A Few Words from the Winner
“The Burning Questions Fellowship highlights the importance of both researching real-world problems as well as communicating these to the people on the ground, the end-users – an important and often overlooked aspect of research. I am honoured to be one of the recipients of the fellowship. It is an invaluable opportunity to broaden the scope of my work and affect change in animal welfare internationally. My research looks to develop resources with Chinese producers and researchers to improve the living conditions for millions of layer hens in China, and empower local producers to make change.” (Kate Hartcher)

Matthew Hayek

Location: United States
Academic field: Environmental science and engineering
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  • Synthesize scientific literature on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of various forms of food animal production systems.
  • Explain why models used to generate estimates of GHGs in these scientific literature are not very robust and contain errors that often go unreported. Point out that high-quality measurements that do exist consistently demonstrate that industrial animal agriculture’s emissions are actually higher than typically estimated.
  • Describe how global expansion of industrial animal agriculture, predominantly in low-and-middle income countries, will undermine commitments under the Paris Agreement to keep emissions below critical warming thresholds.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • One of the most potent claims that is often used to justify operating animal agriculture on an industrial scale and which front-line persons have a hard time refuting is that “sustainable intensification” causes less climate change impacts than raising animals in other ways. The Guidance Memo aims to show that this may not always be true. It “will use clear, non-technical language to show how rarely-discussed atmospheric measurements can cast doubt on widely-accepted modeled estimates of GHG emissions, and what the implications are for the expansion of industrial animal agriculture in many countries”.
  • Synthesis of relevant scientific literature for front-line persons is very valuable.

A Few Words from the Winner
“I applied for the Tiny Beam Fund fellowship because it was a rare opportunity to help deepen scientific understanding for people working toward more sustainable and humane food systems, allowing my research to make a tangible impact. The fellowship is also structured to support ongoing research activities for investigators. Few opportunities as robust as this exist that can empower stakeholders with that knowledge directly, while simultaneously advancing scientific discourse.” (Matthew Hayek)

Aaron Kingsbury, Ho Ngoc Son, Ha Thi Hoa, Kieu Thi Thu Huong

Location: United States (Kingsbury), Vietnam (Ho, Ha, Kieu)
Academic field: Human geography (Kingsbury), Environment (Ho), Agriculture (Ha), Rural development (Kieu)
Award category: PhD Team

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  • Explain the practices of smaller-scale pork production operations in the north of Vietnam region and tease out factors that enable or limit their success. This also includes documenting indigenous knowledge in animal husbandry.
  • How to build linkages between smaller-scale producers and more urban restaurants and consumers in that part of Vietnam.
  • How to increase the income and agency of rural ethnic minority women farmers in north of Vietnam.
  • Within the above context, four aspects will be given the highest priority:
    1. Explain how industrial-scale operations are affecting smaller-scale farmers in negative ways.
    2. Give advice on how to promote higher animal welfare practices in smaller-scale farms.
    3. Formulate a strong argument on how supporting smaller-scale farmers contributes to halting the spread of industrially-produced meat.
    4. Give advice on how to support the maintenance of more economically, socially, environmentally, and ethically sustainable forms of production in marginalized communities.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • The involvement of academic researchers in Vietnam as team members.
  • The research work is to be informed directly by the opinions of small-scale farmers (specifically rural marginalized ethnic minority women farmers).
  • The Guidance Memo will give its readers a real-life illustration of the interrelationship between small and industrial producers, of how far one can go with the strategy of limiting industrial production by supporting small local producers.

A Few Words from the Winner
“As a team, we care about how changes in animal production affect both the animals and members of rural communities. As academics, we aim to use our positions to make progressive changes in the world. The firsthand data we gather and the results it produces will provide needed voices for more marginalized communities globally as part of a larger effort to limit the spread of industrial livestock production. We aim to have a meaningful impact on the lives of members in local communities, on the efforts of advocates, and on the decisions of policy makers.” (Aaron Kingsbury, Ho Ngoc Son, Ha Thi Hoa, Kieu Thi Thu Huong)

Rachel Mason

Location: United States
Academic field: Plant and soil science
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  • What has the scientific community concluded about the climate change effects of industrial vs. non- industrial cattle production in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)? What is still controversial, or simply unknown?
  • How does this academic understanding compare to the “mainstream narrative” of livestock and climate change among the policy-makers, corporate executives, and others that front-line people deal with?

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • The Guidance Memo will give more clarity to an important issue that advocates often find confusing, namely, whether or not there is consensus among scientists that industrially-produced cattle in LMICs have more or have less climate change impacts than other production systems. This confusion makes it difficult to voice support for non-industrial systems forcefully and confidently.
  • The Guidance Memo will aim at providing very practical and concrete information (e.g. there will be “talking points” for activists).

A Few Words from the Winner
“For the last few years I’ve been thinking more and more about how we can have good food, happy people and animals, and functioning ecosystems, all at the same time. Although I originally trained as an astronomer, I decided to make a radical career change, going back to school to learn as much as possible about sustainable agriculture. The Burning Questions Fellowship links my abilities as a researcher with the needs of people who are doing vital work in the field, and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to help make a difference.” (Rachel Mason)

Alexandra Navarro

Location: Argentina
Academic field: Communications and journalism
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  • The social representations (cultural paradigms, common beliefs, etc.) of meat consumption, of vegetable consumption, and about vegetarians in the Latin America region, especially Argentina.
  • Most effective strategies to generate an adoption of and long-term adherence to a plant-based diet in the Argentinean and Latin American cultural context.
  • The main challenges faced by activists and donors who work to promote plant-based diets there for environmental, animal rights, and social responsibility reasons. And practical solutions they can consider.
  • Note: The Guidance Memo will be written in Spanish, and translated into English.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • Issues pertaining to a particular low- and middle-income country /region are explained by a researcher who resides in that country /region.
  • Addresses the thorny issue of meat and plant consumption within a specific country, region, culture. Decreasing society’s meat consumption is often advocated as essential if industrial-scale facilities are to be curbed. But this is incredibly challenging. Such consumption is partly but strongly driven by local culture, customs, and circumstances. That means one needs to understand and handle each place on its own terms. Alexandra’s Guidance Memo will contribute to a better understanding of what’s happening and what can be done in Argentina and Latin America.

A Few Words from the Winner
“To have won this fellowship means to me an invaluable recognition and confidence in my ability to offer solutions to the problems that we face. It means the opportunity to share the knowledge that I have developed in my doctoral research, and it represents the opportunity of sharing academic knowledge with those who will be able to work on real solutions. It is an honor to me being the voice in Latin America that highlights the problems and tensions we face regarding meat consumption. I encourage researchers who are currently working on key issues for future generations to make all possible contributions to reach the best solutions.” (Alexandra Navarro)