100 days to Antarctica & my climate change story

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In 100 days I will be joining 80 women in an expedition to the frozen and peaceful continent of Antarctica. Together we will further develop our leadership skills to be a stronger voice in the fight against climate change. How did I get myself into this?

When studying forestry in Peru I was fascinated with the concepts of carbon offsets and carbon sequestration. In the mid 1990s, the markets for carbon credits were truly emerging globally. An article about oil tax by Marc Dourojeanni, Emeritus Professor at my alma mater, UNALM, caught my attention because of its simplicity. One dollar per barrel x 1 billion barrels produced = 1 billion dollars for conservation. But how do we implement this? Why oil producing governments haven’t tapped into this opportunity?

While studying forest policy I realised how cumbersome changing legislation is in Peru. My thinking then shifted to practical solutions on the hands of common people. Twenty years ago, I dreamed about using the internet to offset carbon emissions from air flights and to protect patches of Amazonian forest with only click. Nowadays, these two dreams have become common practice. We are spoiled by choice and sometimes confused by the amount of choices we have. I am lucky to be friends with an Amazonian conservation heroine, Ms Tatiana Espinosa, founder of ARBIO Peru, who offers the option of protecting patches of the Amazonian forest with one click.

My interest for climate change grew as I completed a Masters in Ecological Economics at Edinburgh University and published my very first journal article in 2005:  “Valuing the impacts of climate change on protected areas in Africa“. Suddenly I became “the expert” within my small office team in Kenya, I got forwarded every article on climate change and honestly, I got a bit saturated. I was more interested in practical solutions, not in reading and discussing it more and more. Funny enough, when I got back home in 2008-9, I coordinated a project on Research agenda on Climate Change and later, organised a 100 people workshop on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. The topic was truly haunting me.

Moving to Australia the following year meant I was even closer to investigating on possible “solution”. Yet, the Australian climate change policy fiasco -lucky me, right?- that happened during the time of my PhD research (which deserves a separate post) got me a bit disillusioned. My thesis studied if farmers maybe interested in planting trees for biofuels, capturing carbon on the roots, getting compensated for carbon sequestered and getting income generated by the biofuel crop. Sounds good, in theory, but without a carbon price, the whole economic assessment didn’t make sense. A negative result still a result though. After growing more grey hair, I decided to move back to my core, the forestry industry, and to a country with better carbon policies (or so I thought). New Zealand was the chosen one.

A new country, a new beginning. It has been fascinating to be part of a relative horizontal society, with probably lesser egos and more willingness to discuss issues than anywhere else I have lived. Yet, carbon policies are still sector specific and do not currently fully address the elephant in the room, emissions from agricultural production. I have also learnt here that cultures who care for their mokopuna (grandchildren) can also become very profitable in the present. So here it’s the big deal: WE CAN DO THIS: people, planet and profits.

Motivated by one of my PhD supervisors, the amazing Deborah O’Connell (Homeward Bound 2016), I applied and got a place in Homeward Bound, a groundbreaking leadership, strategic and science initiative for women in science. The programme includes a year of learning together with a group of 80 women on how to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet. Homeward Bound aims to train 1,000 women in 10 years and ends with a voyage to Antarctica where we will hone our leadership skills, form alliances and learn to communicate better climate change science and our own research. 100 days from today, I will come full circle with this part of my climate change story and ready to open a new, exciting chapter too.

Acknowledgements: Infinite thanks to my employer, Scion, for funding my participation in this learning adventure!

Photos: Left: Homeward Bound, right: Monica Araya (2016).

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PhD status: Submitted

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It did took a while but now I am here. I am definitely a different person from the one who started the PhD journey in May 2010. Though the journey indeed started a while back, when I took ethnobotany and dendrology at university in Peru. My Professor was the only PhD from the faculty back then. Later on, I attended an inspiring career talk by a Peruvian Yale PhD graduate. Fast forward 10 years, I remember when my boss told me “You are ready”. I felt ready, I felt i could do anything, focused and fast, and eager to learn. Unstoppable! … but i did stop for a while, after a short gig in Brazil I decided to pause. After working almost non stop for 7 years, I decided to take a deep breath. A six months deep breath. Then life happened. I met my other half, moved back to Kenya to work and got a PhD offer in Australia. Dreams come true.

So the journey started, this time with my copilot next to me, my husband, my best friend. It has been an amazing experience where I have learnt to question myself, I want to think i have matured as well. Falling off the productivity wagon was not uncommon, my stamina levels sometimes run low, really low. On the upside, I engaged in academic and philosophical discussions about the future of the Earth, volunteered as student mentor, volunteered with the Latin American community, organised a poetry contest. The best part of all: teaching! My dream of teaching at a top uni, even as a tutor, became true. My international students were the best, the most motivated and curious ones. I loved it.

I also discovered a new “me”, I changed my diet for good, started walking more, exercising more, became more self-aware and when I thought I was done with my PhD, I accepted a full time job in another country. Although starting a dream job combining forestry and economics was a blessing, it was very hard to “find the time” to complete my last chapters. The dreamed “clear mind space” never really materialised after work or on weekends. It took me a while to be able to create time as I was never able to “find” time. Being a “solo” mum for 2 weeks when hubby took holidays abroad helped me immensely to finish up. I needed to do everything myself, from breakfast, lunch and dinner, shopping, school drop offs and pick up, take my son to his almost daily extra curricular activities and wait for him, I even managed to fit in a couple of Pilates classes in between. Waking up early to work on my PhD, doing exactly my 8 hours day job, then working on my PhD at a cafe while waiting for my son, and also working on my PhD after dinner. I became a PhD soldier. I feel it was the busiest and most productive time in my life. I don’t think i could sustain that rhythm for a long time though but the experience definitely put me in the right path, the finishing path. So here I am now, my PhD is submitted and gone out to the external examiners for their verdict. Of course, I do have a most interesting submission story but that one deserves its own post 🙂

Using watercolours to get back onto the PhD productivity highway

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The last time I wrote here I was recruiting volunteers for the last fieldwork experience. I was lucky, I met wonderful people, from ANU and other universities, who wanted to gain the experience of talking to Australian farmers and travel in country New South Wales.

Now, a couple of months later, I have finished my data entry (finally!) and am ready to run the econometric models. A PhD is a roller coaster, and sometimes to get back up on the ‘highway of productivity’ you need to do some creative but ‘unproductive’ stuff.

I have chosen to go back to watercolour this year.  I am exploring simple but powerful colour combinations, using Australian rural landscapes,  to remind me of my fieldwork, my data and the  beauty of all of it.  Watercolours have so many meanings to me. First, they are a pathway that I have never given a proper chance to explore but that I admire dearly. Second, as opposed to oils, they do not have a strong smell, and they seem adequate to an ‘on the road’ life like mine. Third, watercolours are not forgiving, if you messed up, you messed up, period. They provide me the chance to experiment,  to learn and explore.  As I do watercolours, I think about my own learning and experimentation personally and career wise.  Finally, by painting Australian landscapes, first using plain pictures and tomorrow, life outdoors painting, in my head, I can absorb and feel my research in a different way.

Below are a couple of the early paintings this term, let’s see what comes out by the end of winter, both paintings and PhD wise 🙂

Yellow cadmiun cricketer by Sandra Velarde, 2013

Yellow cadmiun cricketer by Sandra Velarde, 2013

Australian shed in Googong, NSW by Sandra Velarde, 2013

Australian shed in Googong, NSW by Sandra Velarde, 2013

Join the Spring road trip to rural NSW! – final 2012 trip

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Thank you for your interest in Australian farming and tree planting for energy. I came to Australia in 2010 to learn from Australians, and specially,  Australian farmers. I am now organising the final field trip related to my PhD.  I have invited different groups of people and organisations to join me. The plan is to talk to those farmers who do not usually answer  mail out surveys and to get a balanced picture of their views about tree planting for energy purposes.

Here is the formal invite, if you are interested, please reply to my email below.

Volunteers needed for Research about planting trees for energy in New South Wales (NSW)

Aim of research: This research seeks to investigate farmers’ perceptions of the economics of tree planting for energy purposes across NSW. The methodology consists on surveys and semi-structured interviews with farmers in areas where planting trees for energy and/or carbon farming has been promoted by local governments and/or private organizations.

As part of this research, I have travelled to NSW country side to interview farmers on various dates. To date, I have done a couple of pilots and participated in field days with the first group of volunteers at Canowindra, Condobolin, Bribbaree  and Morongla. Five volunteers joined me at the Australian National Field Days in Orange (16-18 October). We collected 160 surveys and we had a great inter-university and multidisciplinary team from ADFA at the University of New South Wales, University of Western Sydney, Charles Sturt University and ANU (Fenner School) signed up. Thank you for joining!

I would like to invite  people with an interest in forest, agriculture or energy policy and practice, seeking to deepen their knowledge in research methods or seeking first-hand experience in interviewing and survey methods, to participate as research assistants for my last trip to Young at the National Cherry Festival.

I am looking for 4 to 5 people to join:

You are not required to come to all days. Those days which suit you best should suffice. Note that all expenses and logistics will be taken care of. This research has received ethics clearance by the Australian National University, is sponsored by the CSIRO Energy Transformed flagship and the Crawford School of Public Policy. You will also receive a letter detailing the help provided in the research undertaken after successful completion.

My network of international research contacts is extensive and I can provide assistance with career advice, mainly related to agroforestry/natural resource management opportunities abroad, in particular in Kenya and Peru.

To submit your interest, call me: mobile 0466.251623 or email to: sandra.velarde@anu.edu.au with your available dates.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Sandra Velarde
PhD Scholar, ANU

https://sandravelarde.wordpress.com and http://www.westernmagazine.com.au/story/214126/farm-gates-open-to-share-experiences/
I am a Peruvian Forest engineer, ecological economist and agvocator, with 8 years’ experience in international research for development, specialized in carbon, biodiversity, socio-economic trade-offs and scenarios, climate change and REDD+.  I have worked with FAO (Rome, Italy), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) (Nairobi, Kenya), Center for International Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (Belem, Brazil), of the CGIAR and the National Science and Technology Council (Lima, Peru), among others.

AgChatOz-Social media for ag people in Australia

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My PhD research on tree crops for bioenergy in New South Wales, sparked my interest on day to day policy on agricultural issues in Australia. I have become an Aussie ag news junkie :0) Initially an observer, now I am part of a group that shares up-to-date Aussie ag info, comments, insights and discuss openly about agriculture and issues affecting farmers. I have come across this group through social media. I call it a ‘group’ because that is how I about it.  AgChatOz describes itself as  ‘Australia’s forum for discussing all things agricultural’. I would add to their own description, that this forum runs in an open and respectful fashion.

To join AgChatOz , simply log into Twitter™  and use the hashtag #agchatOz. Every Tuesday, from 8 to 10pm (Sydney time), AgChatOz hosts an online discussion. Chat participants answer the questions posted by the facilitators. Anybody can suggest questions in advance as well. Using Twitter™ is relatively simple, but challenging at the same time, because you need to convey your ideas in 140 characters. This can seem daunting to first-timers but let me assure you that with time, you’d get better at it. At any time, you can share info with others who are following AgChatOz using the #agChatOz in Twitter. If you don’t like Twitter™, you can interact through AgChatOz on Facebook as well.

So I have been observing some AgChatOz tuesday chats for the last couple of months. It is interesting that I am having similar insights from the weekly tutorials on ‘Environmental Policy and Communications’ that I run at the Crawford School of Public Policy. I have realized that the more people participate, the richer the dicussion. This week in particular, was special for me, and I bet for many of the AgchatOz participants. The discussions were very rich. One of the questions discussed was:

What does sustainable farming mean to you and how can it be achieved? 

Answers started flowing, built upon, commented, retweeted, it was like a cascade of ideas and feelings about farming and sustainability. So many indeed, that somebody suggested doing a word cloud. What a great idea! One of the challenges with Twitter™ though, is that discussions are deleted soon after. It is a very ephemeral tool and no records are automatically archived. Thanks to my tech-wizz academic skills adviser, Megan Poore, I managed to save the conversation before it vanished from the web using twdocs.  So here it is, a world cloud about the contributions about sustainability made this Tuesday 14th August, 2012 on AgChatOz.

This cloud also shows the many retweets of some answers. Although normally retweets do not imply endorsement, I have used them to correctly reflect the ‘density’ of words responding to the question (how many times a word is repeated). The tweets (without user names) are also available as a text file at AgchatOZ-sustainability-14.08.2012. If you feel creative and would like to play around a bit more, please share what you do by replying to this post, posting to AgChatOz or replying to @sandrinha2021 on Twitter.

Without being too analytical (sorry, I am a PhD student, I am supposed to be like that), I can say that the issues of future, community and profits seemed to be the most relevant across-the-board. Some people talked about succession plans and passing the land in a better shape that it was found. Others focused more on profits and relationships with the community. Somebody mentioned the triple bottom line.

It seems to me that we want it all. But the question is, can we have it? It is a slow process, changing people’s minds. Reconnecting city folks with agriculture, farms, ‘the rural’….concepts that seem so ‘far’ and out there,  somewhere, dettached from the mechanized ‘real’ city world.  Yes, we look at the future with hope. It is not so much about the future though, it is mainly about the present, right here, right now. A fellow PhD student, who happens to be an Australian farmer and innovator, recently told me “stop talking about the triple bottom line and start living it!”  She said that there will be bad years and good years, that you can’t expect to be always profitable, while environmentally sustainable AND benefitting communities. So what I reckon is that you may not be able to have it all at the same time, but over time it is possible, and this is how farmers have survived and adapted to the many weather, policy and financial uncertainties they face.

Thanks to social media, a Peruvian girl like me, living in the ‘big town’ of Canberra is able to connect, in ways I have never dreamed of, across places, groups, ideologies, cosmologies and all the ologies you feel like adding. It feels very democratic to me. I would never have dreamed to read through, and post some questions to farmers and agvocates in Australia using the internet. Fantastic!

If you would like to know more and connect/chat/learn, there will be a live version of the AgChatOz in Canberra on 18th September 2012. There is also a dialogue about Food, Agriculture, Climate, Energy, Topsoil, Sustainability: FACETS on 24th August 2012 in Bathurst and free events in other locations.

Until the next spur of inspiration :0)

Sustainability word cloud AgChatOz

From lakes to dumpsites: A short story about mining in Cajamarca, Peru

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Environmental services are widely undervalued in mining projects in Peru. Recently, Cajamarca people protested against Conga gold mine by the transnational Newmont and Yanacocha companies.  Comments from the Ministry of Environment, Ricardo Giesecke, about the Environmental Impact Assessment has indicated potential irreversible damages to the higher parts of the watershed and the use of two lakes as dumpsites for the gold mine, while the other two lakes will be destroyed to extract gold.

This mine will “significantly and irreversibly transform the watershed, vanishing several ecosystems and fragmenting the rest, so that processes, functions and interactions and environmental services will be affected irreversibly” says the Minister of Environment.

It really hurts to see part of my ancestors’ land (my four grandparents are from Cajamarca) in the verge of destruction. The assimetry of information and power is simply disgusting, a powerful transnational, with the agreement of the Ministry of Energy and Mines vs. poor farmers, NGOs and recently the Ministry of the Environment, on my view, is not fair.

Who is then responsible? Is is the government? Is it Newmont? Is it us? We need to learn our rights and the government needs to help the people to improve their livelihoods according to what they want.  Transnationals are not doing anything illegal but  Peruvian mining laws allow big companies to proceed with projects when people living in the are do not want them. Knight-Piesold, the consultancy who did the Environmental Impact Assessment also holds part of the responsibility for not doing the EIA in a proper way, considering ALL and REAL environmental costs and impacts of the mine.

See an article by journalist Gustavo Gorriti in Spanish at: http://idl-reporteros.pe/2011/11/25/de-lagunas-a-desmontes/

Would this happen in your country?

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Today has been a more positive day than expected.  After complaining too much about this cold spring in Canberra, I received a mass email at uni. This note left at ANU yesterday (see photo) made my day. The writer has unintentionally damaged somebody’s car in the parking lot and he promises to pay for the damages. Good for Australia. They should be proud.

This reminded me of a friend’s story about finding about USD 5,000 on the floor of a bank in Peru some years ago (this is about 20 minimum salaries and would have been a lot more back then).  The ones who fist noticed that she found the money suggested to split it. She was upset.  As she did not trust even the bankers and the policemen, she told all the customers at the bank what she had found and held onto it until the owner came back to the bank. She proved them that there are still honest people around.

Thanks to Mr. Featherstone for reminding me that these things not only happen in Australia but can also happen in my own country, my beloved, Peru. How different the world would be if there were more of these people around? Can you imagine how easier business would run if based on trust, honesty and respect? Down with the red tape!