• Water Production Connections

Researcher Profile: Thais Santiago

Edited by Cassie Sevigny

Thais wearing a sun hat, white shirt with CAP logo, arm resting on a wooden post, standing in front of a mixed-forest/pasture landscape and small herd of white cattle on a clear sunny day.

The Connections between Water and Rural Production project (CAP) investigates whether and which farmers adapt their production systems when they experience water variability, what adaptations they make, and whether these adaptations reduce income losses when droughts occur. Improved understanding of these feedbacks will inform efforts by government agencies and civil society to help farmers respond to water scarcity. This profile is based on an interview with postdoctoral researcher Thais Santiago.

Why and how did you become involved in this project?

I worked with Professor Jill Caviglia-Harris during my PhD. We investigated the impacts of the Brazilian Native Vegetation Law (also known as the Forest Code) in the land use decisions of farmers in Rondônia. Soon after, she invited me to join the team that outlined the Connections between Water and Rural Production project. It was a great opportunity to learn and collaborate in a multidisciplinary team that builds its strength based on different perspectives and the collective leadership model. I was also excited to engage with different stakeholders to produce scientific evidence for rural communities from my country.

What is your favorite part of being in the field?

My favorite part is to experience the cultural exchange between people from different realities. Many times in this particular project, I was the bridge between people from Brazil and the USA and I was delighted with the surprise and curiosity from both parties. It was very interesting to observe the impressions about each other and the eyes sparkling when, for example, North Americans discovered a tropical fruit or when students from Rondônia felt part of an international team. This whole process taught me a lot and made me feel fulfilled as a researcher.

What has been the biggest challenge of performing research?

I think we have two big challenges: 1) having the survey data - resultant from long interviews with about 1400 farmers - cleaned, organized and integrated to the previous survey rounds in a format we can use and share; and 2) create a structured and two-way conduit system to provide useful research results to local stakeholders and get feedback from them. This is our vision as a research team and an important piece of our project that needs to advance.

What’s one thing you’ve learned while participating in this project?

I learned a lot about the power of having multiple perspectives aligned to solve complex problems, especially those involving environmental sustainability. This collaborative work requires active listening, empathy and a deliberate effort to build trust. Participating in this project taught me about a collective leadership approach that shares responsibilities and values different knowledge. This is certainly something that I intend to take to my life and professional career.

Why do you think this project is important?

Since its conception, this project has sought to integrate local policy makers, farmers and students to meet their demands and interests. Therefore, it has the potential to generate useful scientific evidence capable of improving the lives of people in our study regions. The project’s importance also lies in the fact that we have a panel data that integrates information from rural producers collected in 1996, 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2019 combined with geoprocessing and climate and hydrology data. This makes an extensive and multidisciplinary database that allows us to better understand the feedbacks between land use, water and well-being in the Brazilian Amazon.