CPC Fellow Gray launches new project in Uganda about the links between soil degradation and rural poverty

Sep 12, 2012

The research project is called "The Relationship between Soil Degradation, Rural Livelihoods, and Household Well-Being."

Clark Gray, Carolina Population Center Faculty Fellow and UNC-Chapel Hill Assistant Professor of Geography, is the project's principal investigator. His research team includes co-PI Ephraim Nkonya, co-PI Darrell Schulze, and co-Pi Kayuki Kaizzi. The 3-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation's Geography and Spatial Sciences Program and the Office of International Science and Engineering.

Read more about the project in the NSF award abstract. The abstract is provided here for your convenience:

The goal of this project is to better understand the connections between soil degradation and rural poverty. Soil degradation is a decline in the productivity of the soil for agriculture and other uses, and is usually the result of long-term continual agricultural use without the addition of mineral or organic fertilizers. Soil degradation is widely perceived to be a key factor undermining the livelihoods of small farmers, especially in the developing world, who represent a large fraction of the world's poorest households. Scientific understanding of the extent and severity of this problem has been limited by the absence of data that links soil degradation and household well-being.

This issue is of particular interest in parts of East Africa, where rural poverty is endemic, agricultural yields are low and stagnant, and few farmers have the resources to fertilize their fields. To address this issue, this project will consider the case of Uganda, a country where soil degradation and rural poverty are particularly severe. The core of the project is the construction of a new dataset that links changes in soil productivity and household well-being over an 11-year period. Building on a large household and soil survey conducted in 2003, the same households will be re-interviewed, and agricultural plots will be re-sampled and analyzed. This new longitudinal dataset will be analyzed using multivariate statistical techniques to test three core hypotheses: (1) Households with poor soil productivity in 2003 will have experienced more negative changes in well-being and more out-migration over the 11-year period; (2) Households that were poor in 2003 will have experienced more negative changes in soil productivity; and (3) Changes in well-being and soil productivity will be positively correlated when other influences have been accounted for. Findings from the research will advance theories about the relationship between demography and the environment.

Ameliorating soil degradation and reducing rural poverty are central goals of agricultural and development policies in poor countries, but to date these policies have been implemented with little scientific understanding of the connections between these two processes. This project will provide important new insights into the severity and drivers of soil degradation, as well as the contribution of soil productivity to the well-being of rural households in East Africa and other parts of the world where this is also an issue. The results will be disseminated through presentations at scientific conferences and will be made available to policy makers. The project is collaboration between the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Purdue University, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the National Agricultural Research Laboratories of Uganda. It will support two graduate students and will be integrated into existing undergraduate courses at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and at Purdue University.

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