This is a brief overview of some of the research that I have been involved in over the past few years.
Forest Governance in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone has a diverse forest geography, with tropical moist forest located across the south-east of the country, and drier savanna woodlands in its north. The control, management and utilisation of these forests has been a heavily contested area of policy and praxis, especially since the early 20th Century, when Sierra Leone was still a British Colony. Examining the dynamics of this forest governance has been core focus for my research for the past five years. My PhD reconstructed the history of forest conservation in Sierra Leone, exploring how earlier colonial perceptions and praxis of forest management still shape contemporary approaches to environmental management in the country. I have also been the lead researcher on a number of large-scale research projects, with funding from the European Union, FAO among other, exploring forest governance in Sierra Leone’s post-civil war era. This has included projects focused on the trade of timber, management of forest reserves and the consumption of non-timber forest products.
Energy Transitions in West Africa
Extending grid-electrification into rural areas has proved to be a perennial challenge in much of West Africa. Given the region's continued rapid urbanisation and increasing constraints on state spending, governments have been largely forced to focus on the challenges of maintaining and expanding urban grid-based service and, as a result, the still more difficult problem of rural electrification has remained effectively unaddressed. For example, households across rural Sierra Leone only have around a 2% connection rate to electrical networks. My research in energy in West Africa has been closely linked with my NGO – Energy For Opportunity – and has drawn upon funding from projects financed by the European Union, DfID and FAO among others. This has included research focus on household energy use and transitions and the impact of village-level renewable energy dissemination projects. I have also been involved in research on fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) – used for cooking fuel – and its emergence as a traded commodity in the post-civil war context in Sierra Leone.
Coal Seam Gas Mining in Australia
The extraction of coal seam gas (CSG) is the subject of substantial public controversy in Australia. CSG is sourced from methane deposits deep underground and is often extracted using mining techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) which involves the creating fractures in the subsoil. The industry, which largely operates in the eastern part of Australia, has subsequently come into conflict with other landholders who are concerned with its potential long-term negative environmental, social and economic impacts. My research on coal seam gas has been with a project led by Dr Kim de Rijke from the University of Queensland. This, among other things, has involved the examination of public submissions for CSG inquiries at the state and federal level. Our research outputs have included a focus on CSG conflicts in the context of the Great Artesian Basin, and (currently underway) looking at how the role of science has been situated and contested in CSG debates.
Water Governance in Mexico
Underneath the Yucatan Peninsula, in the south-east of Mexico, is one of the most extensive aquifers in the world, containing flooded caves systems up to 215 kilometres in length. The importance of this aquifer is emphasised by the near absence of superficial water systems (rivers, lakes) on the Peninsula, meaning that all potable water for inhabitants is sourced from underground. The aquifer is access exposed to the surface through water sinkholes, known as cenotes, which pierce through the land and the nearby ocean floor. My research on water governance in Mexico has been done in conjunction with Dr Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita from the University of the Sunshine Coast. Most of the research has had a historical focus, looking at how the Yucatan’s Peninsula’s unique waterscape has helped to shaped social, economic and political outcomes through the region’s history.