Burning Questions Fellowships Recent 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 industrial food animal production deepen their understanding of the many complex issues that are involved, especially those concerning low- and middle-income countries.
    • Examining these impacts and issues for the researchers’ own scholarly purposes.
  • The fellowships are also aimed at benefiting persons who are addressing these negative impacts. Some of them have shared their “burning questions” with us.

What do fellowship recipients do during their four-month award period?

  • The main task of a fellowship recipient during the award period is to prepare one report (6,000 – 7,000 words) in plain language which we call Guidance Memo.
  • Guidance Memos’ primary objective: Provide sound information and clear explanations that deepen front-line persons’ understanding of the issues addressed; highlight key considerations that they may not be aware of; offer practical advice that can help them with their work.
  • Topics addressed in a Guidance Memo are directly relevant to “burning questions”.
  • Fellowship recipients can also undertake other research work of their choice during the award period, but that work should be related to the topics they have chosen for their Guidance Memos.

2020 Fall/Winter Award Recipients

Timothy Clark, Stefano Longo

Location: U.S. (Clark); U.S./Sweden (Longo)
Academic field: Sociology (Clark); Sociology (Longo)
Award category: PhD Team

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. Trends and data related to global aquaculture.
    • Figures and tables to show the meteoric rise of farmed (as opposed to wild-caught) fish as a global food commodity, which kinds of species are farmed most at industrial scales, which nations farm the most fish.
  2. Ecological impacts of aquaculture.
    • The Guidance Memo will categorize the ecological risks according to each farming method and species of fish.
  3. Mapping of global farmed fish supply chains, and highlighting concerns in supply chain management for farmed fish.
    • The Guidance Memo will map out major aquaculture supply chain operations, provide models of large-scale, industrial aquaculture supply chains that detail the most powerful firms, the most engaged nations, which regions / actors benefit the most economically from these relationships, and which nodes in the chain are most difficult to regulate.
  4. Review of current pragmatic approaches to improve management and regulation of supply chains.
    • Private sector and governments have come up with ways to deal with seafood sustainability. But what are their strengths, limitations, and opportunities? The Guidance Memo will review private sector tools and public sector regulations aimed at improving the management and regulation of seafood supply chains, particularly ones pertinent to aquaculture.

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

  • The topics are good fits for a “burning question” that ranks as a top priority (the question: “What are the numbers of fish being farmed globally? What farming systems are used? And how do the global supply chains for farmed fish work? ”)
  • The review and assessment of tools aimed at improving supply chains management and regulation will be of practical use to
  • The provision of easy-to-understand data and information will be of wide interest. Such information is very hard to come by because global aquaculture supply chains are incredibly opaque and complex.

Allison Gray, Tony Weis

Location: Canada
Academic field: Sociology (Gray); Geography (Weis)
Award category: PhD Team

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. comparative assessment of meat production and consumption, and the potential impacts of plant-based meat products in six countries (U.S., Germany, Brazil, China, India, Nigeria). The assessment consists of three steps:
    • Analyze the characteristics of each country’s livestock production and consumption over time, including the level of industrialization and the key corporations.
    • Examine the players involved in the development of plant-based meat in each country.
    • Compare the six countries, noting key differences in livestock and plant-based meat production and consumption patterns, and suggesting developments in the plant-based meat arena that can potentially curb the rise in meat consumption and environmental harm.

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

  • These assessments will be very useful for understanding the big global picture. There are very few overviews and comparative analyses of meat production and consumption across countries of different income levels – even in academic studies – let alone in plain language written for laypersons.
  • The issue of plant-based meat is a hot topic right now. A multi-country comparison will be of interest to a range of NGOs promoting it.

Karen Hudlet Vázquez

Location: U.S.
Academic field: Geography
Award category: PhD Student

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. A case study: The resistance of the community of Homun against a 49,000-pig farm in the state of Yucatan in Mexico which has now been suspended from operation by the government for over three years.
    • The case will be analyzed to understand the “frames” and “framing” involved – how different stakeholders inform and react to each other and change over time. Stakeholders in this case include: Communities directly affected by the pig farm, consumers, small-scale producers, environmentalists, companies, and government authorities.
    • The purpose of the analysis is to understand: 1. What are these frames (i.e. what are the views of various stakeholders) and how do they interact? 2. Which frames have been more useful than others in garnering media attention to mobilize society against the pig farm? 3. What scientific research, evidence, and knowledge is helpful in supporting certain frames? 4. How have certain frames – especially the use of litigation – been successful in supporting resistance?
  2. The Guidance Memo will also give suggestions on building networks and exchanging information among groups /organizations situated in high-income and low/middle-income countries as well as within a region such as Latin America.

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

  • The case is very much about the “here and now” (not an old case with little relevance for today).
  • NGOs are very interested in actual examples and practical steps of building networks and alliances. The analysis of an actual current case that also includes recommendations on how different groups can share information and cooperate fits the bill perfectly.
  • The applicant writes that there is “no single strategy” to oppose industrial farms or to orchestrate an informed debate about the impact of these facilities, but by learning from others and sharing information, local actors faced with such a farm coming to their neighborhood for the first time have “an opportunity for shortening the learning curve”.

Maria Cristina Yunes

Location: Brazil
Academic field: Agriculture ecosystem
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. The Guidance Memo will gather, analyze, and present information that address two key questions:
    • Are members in Brazil’s livestock production sector aware of practices related to animal welfare that the public are concerned with?
    • What are the sector’s views and attitudes towards the potential impacts from the use of gene editing technology on the welfare of farm animals in Brazil?
  2. Information will be gathered from livestock farmers, veterinarians and animal scientists working for the industry, extension agents, industry professionals, etc. associated with animal agriculture in Brazil.

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

  • The applicant’s recognition of the need to understand the views of those working in the livestock industry in order to improve the welfare of farm animals and to have constructive discussions among all stakeholders.
  • Gene editing is a fast-developing technology that has the potential to seriously impact industrial farm animal production (for better or worse). It is important to hear from those from the industry about their attitudes towards this new technology’s opportunities, risks, and benefits.

Christian Henderson

Location: The Netherlands
Academic field: Development studies
Award category: PhD Holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. The Guidance Memo will examine the means through which corporate food systems (including that associated with industrial animal agriculture) became entrenched into three middle-income Arab states: Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco. These key aspects will be examined:
    • Formal institutional incentives (e.g. privitizations, subsidies) and formal arrangements such as trade agreements and various mechanisms of market access.
    • Informal relations that allow market access for agribusiness capital, such as elite social networks of company managers and state officials. (These networks are a distinct characteristic of the corporate food system in the Arab region and they create an alliance of powerful stakeholders that determine national policies over agriculture.)
    • Different capitals that have shaped the Arab agribusiness food system, and how both Western and Gulf investment have played a role in deepening industrial food in the region.
  2. The Guidance Memo will also include “actionable information” and “pressure points” on which NGOs can mobilize.

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

  • Corporate food systems in Arab states are shrouded in mystery, and not that many laypersons understand them. But understand one must if one is to tackle meat corporations involved with that region.
  • “Actionable information” will be valuable to NGOs.

2020 Spring/Summer Award Recipients

Melanie Sommerville, Shirley Brooks, Tariro Kamuti, Lindokuhle Khumalo

Location: Norway (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 industrial animal agriculture, 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

Guidance Memo

  • Title: “The impact of European Union Common Agricultural Policy on the intensification of animal farming in Bulgaria, Romania, and the countries that have signed association agreements with the EU”
  • Keywords: European Union. Bulgaria. Romania. Policy. Government subsidies. Animal welfare.
  • What We Learned From It:
    • Animal farming has intensified in Bulgaria and Romania (both are middle-income countries) in recent years. Many more animals are now reared in large farms that use intensive production practices, while the number of small farms have dwindled.
    • The Guidance Memo charts the significant shift toward intensification, and explains why its key driver is the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). CAP payments and subsidies and their unequal distribution to recipients have triggered deep structural changes in the animal agriculture sector in the EU, chief of which is the livestock industry taking advantage of the favorable climate and generous handouts to intensify production.
    • At the same time EU animal welfare regulations are not robustly enforced and not comprehensive enough to protect all farm animals. Consumers in the EU, however, are strongly in favor of better treatment of farm animals.


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 in understanding 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 aims to 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.

Explore Past Awards