Researcher Profile: Jill Caviglia-Harris
Edited by Cassie Sevigny
The Connections between Water and Rural Production project (CAP) investigates whether and which farmers adapt their production systems when they experience changes in rainfall, what adaptations they make, and whether these adaptations reduce income losses expected when drying occurs. Improved understanding of these responses will inform efforts by government agencies and civil society to help farmers adjust to changes in water availability. This profile is based on an interview with Co-Principal Investigator Jill Caviglia-Harris, edited for length.
Why and how did you become involved in this project?
This project began as my dissertation work in 1996. I interviewed farmers throughout the six municipalities in the greater Ouro Preto do Oeste region about their use of sustainable agricultural methods and (among other things) estimated the probability that farmers would adopt these methods. Since then we have added different team members and disciplines into the fold. The interdisciplinary nature of the project is its strength: perspectives from people of different backgrounds and cultures increase the creativity of our approaches while the range of disciplines raises the quality of the work we do.
What is your favorite part of being in the field?
I enjoy the physicality and people parts of field work. I enjoy getting up early, visiting farms, traipsing around the open Amazon and seeing what is going on; how things have and have not changed. I enjoy talking with the farmers, learning about their lives, hopes, and struggles. I also enjoy working with the students who are with us in the Amazon for the first time and the Brazilian students we hire to conduct our surveys. I enjoy seeing how much they learn from the process, how the data comes together in real time, and don’t mind the chaos that happens when working with so many people on such an audacious project. Much of my career is spent behind screens running data analysis, writing papers, and answering emails. The field work gives all of this purpose.
What has been the biggest challenge of performing research?
The biggest challenge of the current project: getting the data together and into a format we can use. We collected over 4,000 different pieces of information from our 1+ hour surveys. Before we can use this information we have to edit, clean, and organize the data and create variables. We also need to create metadata (variable definitions, variable names, etc.) in different formats that the diverse team members can use and share.
What’s one thing you’ve learned while participating in this project?
The most important research finding that I’ve learned to date (for the work Fernando is leading) is that the rainfall in our region is impacted more by forests outside Rondonia than those inside. And although Rondonia is quickly developing, I’ve learned that the culture and the people are as amazing as when I first began this work. Brazil’s culture of positive intent is one worth emulating. People and relationships are placed above all else.
Why do you think this project is important?
Our findings will be groundbreaking: we are the only team that can combine a household panel covering a 23-year time period with GIS, hydrological, and climate data to learn more about the impact of deforestation on the hydrological cycle and the impact of these changes on human welfare. The results will inform Amazonian policy for many years to come. More important is the impact that we’ll have on our collaborators in Brazil and the impact they will have on elevating our results. We are investing a large amount of resources into mentoring and training students in the region who we are certain will become important Brazilian researchers of the future.