Burning Questions Fellowships 2020 Spring/Summer 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.

2020 Spring/Summer Award Winners

Melanie Sommerville, Shirley Brooks, Tariro Kamuti, Lindokuhle Khumalo

Location: Canada (Sommerville); South Africa (Brooks, Kamuti); Norway (Khumalo)
Academic field: Human geography (Sommerville); Geography (Brooks, Kamuti); Social anthropology (Khumalo)
Award category: PhD Team

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. The team titled its application: “Tracing the Emerging Game Meat Value Chain in South Africa”. The title captures succinctly the three key aspects the team will address:
    • Game meat: This is meat from wild animal species such as antelopes. Even though one would not have expected wild animals to be relevant to the concerns caused by producing domesticated farm animals such as chickens and cows, this application makes a convincing case that producing meat from wildlife or “game” in South Africa is relevant to understanding and addressing industrial production of animals raised for human consumption.
    • Value chain: This is significant because the presence of a value chain means formalization of a business model, priority given to profit-making, creation of a system which can be expanded rapidly, etc. In other words, one is not talking about small, isolated groups or communities of persons eating game meat. The applicant in fact suggests that this game meat value chain may very well progress “as a sectoral variant of the agricultural industrialization process.” “Once codified, such value chain may ‘lock in’ and amplify existing circuits of game animal production, trade, and consumption, both nationally and internationally.”
      iii) Emerging: This issue only becomes a serious concern quite recently for those opposed to industrializing animal agriculture. During the past five years or so, there were major changes to investment trends in game farming and to legislation in South Africa that gave unprecedented impetus to this issue.
  2. To document this emerging value chain in the South African game farming sector, the team will focus on issues such as: “government policies that underpin the game meat value chain and the remaining policy barriers”; “existing infrastructure that the value chain will deploy and the new infrastructure that will be developed”; “potential concerns raised by the value chain with respect to disease transmission and food safety”; “ecological and social justice implications of the value chain, with particular reference to a persistent drought in South Africa, ongoing land reform processes, the existence of a highly marginalized class of farm workers, and emerging animal welfare concerns”.

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

  • It not only brings an emerging, little-known issue to the radar screen of those tackling factory farming, it is evidence-based and instructive (not speculative).
  • By documenting and following the recent developments of game farming in South Africa, this application gives one a rare opportunity to see up-close and to understand the complexities of how the industrialization process gets started, how it moves along from one phase to the next, what the enabling factors are. It illustrates the fact that even though certain developments are not “Breaking News”, but more “Watch This Space”, they deserve one’s attention nevertheless.
  • The applicant aims “to provide front-line persons with practical advice and recommendations that can be used to steer the emerging value chain towards environmental sustainability, social inclusivity, and the maximization of human health and animal welfare.”
  • Disseminating the Guidance Memo to communities interested in this issue before the end of the award period is actually written into the applicant’s planned timeline.
  • It is a collaboration of academics from different countries / continents, and various levels on the academic career ladder (from PhD student, post-doc researcher, to senior scholar).

Wlodzimierz Gogloza, Radoslaw Pastuszko

Location: Poland
Academic field: Law
Award category: PhD Team
Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. The key, overarching topic and purpose is to show that the European Union (EU) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “constitutes the main institutional driver of the ongoing intensification of animal farming in Bulgaria and Romania” [middle-income countries], “and that similar changes are likely to follow in the livestock sectors” of (i) EU candidate countries (ECCs) [mostly middle-income, e.g. Albania, Serbia, Turkey] and (ii) countries which have signed Association Agreements with the EU (CAAs) [all middle-income, e.g. Georgia, Moldova]. The applicant believes that “a good understanding of [CAP’s] aims, measures and consequences is necessary to counteract the negative effects it has on farmed animal welfare [in Europe]”.
  2. For Bulgaria and Romania, details on tracing the amount of public subsidies that benefit the animal farming industry in these countries are to be provided.
  3. These sub-topics will also be addressed:
    • Policy determinants of structural changes in animal farming in Bulgaria, Romania, ECC and CAAs.
    • The effect that CAP has on small-scale and subsistence-oriented animal farming operations in Bulgaria, Romania, ECC and CAAs.
    • The (in)adequacy of the EU laws protecting farmed animals in light of the ongoing intensification of animal farming.
    • Institutional barriers and opportunities for animal advocacy organizations in influencing the CAP and its implementations.

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

  • Interrogating an element that plays a key role in driving the intensification of animal agriculture in an entire region of the world is of great interest to Tiny Beam Fund (which encourages the use of a holistic, systems approach and the pursuit of root causes to understand problems). It is even more intriguing and significant when that element is embedded in the core of a region’s political system.
  • It has a very clear objective, namely, to provide evidence that “the ongoing intensification of animal farming in Europe results to a very large degree from the EU CAP”.
  • It will provide practical, realistic suggestions “on how to reduce the negative effects that the EU agricultural policies have on farmed animal welfare, by adopting the ‘best practices’ developed within the current CAP framework”.

Serena Stein

Location: United States and Brazil
Academic field: Anthropology
Award category: PhD Candidate
Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. The focus is on understanding four different groups of stakeholders involved with the issue of intensive beef production in Brazil. These four groups are increasingly in conflict and polarized. Moreover, it is unclear whether the claims made by each group can be substantiated, adding to the conflict and confusion. The four groups are: (i) Those in favor of industrial production of cattle. (ii) Those in favor of extensive pasture-based systems of raising cattle. (iii) Those advocating reduction in beef consumption. (iv) Those experimenting with crop-livestock intensive grazing systems under regenerative agriculture principles.
  2. The work to be done and the resulting Guidance Memo will be framed in terms of a “reality check” on the various conflicting and competing claims being made about the industrial model and alternative systems of beef production. It will look at different dimensions of these claims: Economic (e.g. cost effectiveness), environmental (e.g. GHG reduction, biodiversity conservation), political (e.g. governmental policies), social (e.g. conscientization projects) dimensions and alternatives.
  3. The goal and aim of the work is:
    • To collect the various claims by delineating the four groups, reviewing publications, interviewing 2-3 stakeholders in each group (probing “the respective groups’ positions, rationales, experiences, and actions”), then scrutinizing and interpreting the collected information objectively.
    • To explain tradeoffs and “illustrate how maximizing particular objectives can undermine others, even within the same group”.
    • To give clear recommendations and guidance on “how to reduce the harm to climate and environment caused by raising cattle in Brazil in ways that are locally-situated, practical, that accord with reality”.
    • To provide realistic approaches and “explore in-depth how simplified solutions face constraints in practice”.
    • To encourage new collaborations, pointing to “areas where front-line persons can initiate projects in partnerships with government scientists, nutritionists, media specialists, and various agencies in Brazil” because “delays and challenges are also caused by government’s lack of skilled personnel to implement policies, and not solely a lack of financial support or political will.”

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

  • The applicant does not “take sides”, but instead view ALL sides objectively, and put all their claims through an impartial “evidence mill” and a “reality check” process to see which assertions come through intact and which ones fall apart. This kind of judicious, independent review is a very important goal of the Burning Questions Initiative.
  • Although nonpartisan, the applicant does indicate clearly the practical implications of various positions (without advocating strongly for specific ones), how these positions hold up in real-life and what trade-offs proponents of them have to make when the rubber meets the road. And one of the applicant’s key goals is to clarify disagreements and identify tension spots among the four groups of actors so that the present polarization among them can be diffused.
  • An unusually broad mix and range of topics are addressed.