Burning Questions
Fellowship Award Winners

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.
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