Natural Resources and Rural Livelihoods

Theme lead: Prof Dan Brockington

Understanding the complex relationships between people and the natural world is vital to making decisions about how best to manage our natural resources, and how to make this management fair and equitable between countries and across society. In recent decades there has been an increasing focus on bringing environment and development together in ‘win-win’ scenarios. Particularly as many of the poorest and most vulnerable groups within society are dependent upon natural resources for their livelihoods, the relationships between environment and society are critical to making decisions for socially and environmentally just development.

Researchers within this theme focus on a range of issues, including climate change (particularly policies to address and human capacity to adapt to environmental change), environmental governance and natural resource management and their implications for developmental states.

Working across the environment-development nexus, our research is interdisciplinary and draws on insights from around the world, but with a consistent focus on the social, cultural and political contexts that surround people’s relationships with the natural world and how it is managed. You can read some of our blogs or listen to a podcast here.

Current projects


Researchers: Prof. Rosaleen Duffy

Levels of poaching and trafficking of some of the world’s most iconic species have increased. NGOs, national governments and international organisations have claimed that wildlife trafficking generates ‘threat finance’ – that is that it funds organised crime and terrorism. But the evidence for this is sparse – and we need to develop a much better understanding of whether there is a relationship between them.

BIOSEC – Biodiversity and Security: Understanding Environmental Crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance – is a four-year project, funded by a EURO 1.8million European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant. The Prinicipal Investigator is Professor Rosaleen Duffy, Professor of International Politics at the Department of Politics, University of Sheffield. Alongside the PI, the wider project team comprises two PhD studentships, two Post-Doctoral Research Associates and a project manager. BIOSEC also has an Advisory Board comprising of academic and non-academic partners who have relevant research and policy interests. Running until August 2020, BIOSEC will look into what constitutes an environmental crime, the responses by the European Union to the illegal wildlife trade, and how new technology is being used to tackle poaching and trafficking. The project aims to generate new data on the illegal wildlife trade to demonstrate the ways that biodiversity protection and security are linked, as well as providing new approaches to understanding the links between the two.

Find out more on the project website.

Longterm livelihood change in Tanzania

Researchers: Prof. Dan Brockington, Dr. Olivia Howland

This research project tracks long-term changes in prosperity and livelihood in Tanzania over the past 30 years. We revisit families which have been surveyed in the past and document changes to their prosperity and well-being as well as discussing the reasons for these changes. We are doing this because this covers a period of economic growth in Tanzania, for which there is very little data as to how that growth affected rural areas. We want to understand the relationship between national level economic growth and rural change. The project is funded by the ESRC-DfID

Find out more on the project website.

Studying African Farmer-led Irrigation

Researchers: Prof. Dan Brockington

International commitment to funding African Irrigation is rising as a response to increased food prices and continuing low productivity of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa.

This research project, funded by ESRC – DFID, brings together a team of social science researchers and irrigation scientists from the UK, Europe and Africa. The project seeks to understand if current investment by farmers in small-scale irrigation can offer a model for broad-based economic growth in rural areas of Africa.

A clear systematic analysis of existing initiatives will inform policies to generate growth in agricultural productivity, give a greater understanding of social and economic consequences, of changing land and water rights, and the choices of technical and financial support required.

Professor Phil Woodhouse and Professor Dan Brockington discuss the research project in a podcast from the Global Development Institute.

Find out more on the project website.

The Implications of Green Growth for Different Natural Resource Users in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania

Researchers: Prof. Frances CleaverProf. Dan Brockington, Dr. Brock Bersaglio

The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) was launched in 2010, as a model for achieving green growth through agriculture-led development. SAGCOT authorities use the term ‘green growth’ to describe efforts to intensify and expand both the agriculture sector and its benefits in rural society, while prioritizing the conservation of natural resources, reduction of climate change vulnerability, and control of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to SAGCOT, smallholder farmers are primary beneficiaries of green growth. Yet little research has tried to determine how the pursuit of green growth inside SAGCOT actually impacts smallholder farmers, let alone different natural resource users. The goal of this research, therefore, is to determine how the pursuit of green growth impacts different natural resource users inside SAGCOT, as well as how different groups act in response and why. The research will focus on artisanal miners, farmers, fisherfolk, and pastoralists, although consideration will also be given to wage labourers contributing to the production of hard and soft natural resource commodities. Towards this goal, this research will (1) investigate key changes to natural resource governance, institutions, and management since the launch of SAGCOT, (2) document different natural resource users whose livelihoods have been or might be impacted by such changes and how, and (3) analyse how and why natural resource users experience such changes differently, as well as the various factors that shape their responses.

Through a case study of Mbarali Cluster in southwestern Tanzania, the researchers will scrutinize the strategies, technologies (i.e. mechanisms), and programmes being used to pursue green growth, drawing attention to the experiences, perspectives, and responses of natural resource users often ignored in high-level decision-making processes. This will involve the use of key informant interviews, formal and informal interviews, focus group discussions, site visits, and primary and secondary sources. This approach responds to the urgent need to understand how the pursuit of green growth impacts different natural resource users inside SAGCOT, for better or worse. When complete, the research findings will be disseminated through academic articles, a working paper and research report, and social media.

Political Ecology Reading Group: for meeting subjects please see the schedule below.


Wednesday 30th May, 12:30 – 14:00 in Room D3C of Geography.

Title: Blockchain and the Global South, with guest Dr Kate Symons (University of Edinburgh)


Wednesday 13th June, 15:15 – 17:00 in Room D3C of Geography.

Title: Protected Areas and Poverty in the Brazilian Amazon, with guest Bowy den Braber (University of Sheffield)


Wednesday 27th June, 15:15 – 17:00 in Glass Meeting room in ICOSS.

Title: Social Representations of the Environment, with guest Dr Marina Requena (University of Sheffield)