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Grant helps NIU study climate change, farming

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The National Science Foundation awarded a $218,000 grant to Northern Illinois University anthropologist Giovanni Bennardo to lead an international team of scholars in a research project that examines the cultural models of nature held by primary food producers in world regions affected by climate change.

The project involves 15 scholars and six graduate students from 10 universities in the United States, Europe, China and Middle East. They will conduct research at 15 different sites across five continents.

Whether a farmer running an industrial agricultural operation in Pennsylvania, vineyard owners in the Upper Rhine valley of southwestern Germany or fishermen in a coastal Polynesian village, primary food producers feel the impact of climate change more acutely because it affects their daily interaction with the environment, Bennardo said.

“Attempts to deal with climate change typically don’t take into consideration local knowledge, as if it were just a nuisance compared to the available ‘scientific’ knowledge,” he said in a news release. “But if we want to implement any policy about corrective efforts in dealing with climate change, primary food producers are the ones who will be asked to change their behavior first and most profoundly.”

Researchers will visit small-community field sites and investigate cultural models of nature held by different populations of food producers. Cultural models contribute to how people interpret, reason about and behave in their environments.

Field sites include Pennsylvania, Germany, the Italian Alps, Lithuania, Qatar, Japan, the Philippines, Tonga, Amazonian Peru, Ecuador, Kenya, Namibia, China and Pakistan.

“The cultures chosen are representative of areas very sensitive to climate change, such as small islands with rising water levels, drought-prone regions, settlements affected by retreating glaciers, and areas where precipitation patterns have dramatically changed in recent times,” Bennardo said in the release.

The first phase of the research is expected to be completed by September 2014.

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