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Christopher M. Bacom

S.V. Ciriacy-Wintrup Fellow Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley 2008-present

Departments of Latin American & Latino Studies and Sociology
University of California, Santa Cruz – 2007/08

Ph.D. Environmental Studies Department - 2005
Political Economy and Agroecology
University of California, Santa Cruz

B.A. Economics, B.A. Environmental Studies- 1995
University of California, Santa Barbara

I'm an environmental social scientist and agroecologist studying sustainable community development in the Americas. I draw on more than a decade of training in environmental studies and concepts from geography, sociology and ecology to approach questions, such as: how do eco-labels and sustainable agricultures affect rural livelihoods, empowerment processes and natural resource management? Do these approaches enhance citizen-producer-consumer-Nature connectivity enough to reduce inequality and advance environmental justice? And, what is the role of knowledge systems, science and researchers in these processes? I have focused on the agrofood system and how the rapid growth of more "sustainable" foods relates to rural change at the different scales. An ongoing project interrogates the extent to which the combination of bottom up organizing and accesses to these sustainable food networks can reduce the vulnerability of coupled social-natural systems. In addition to analyzing US markets, and value chains, a decade of fieldwork has focused on measuring these outcomes in households and on farms. Much of my work uses coffee as a tangible medium to approach larger questions about how "sustainable" markets and international agreements affect agriculture, ecology and rural development. I have concentrated on socially responsible coffee and principally the fair trade movement and market. Nicaragua has been a great teacher for the past decade. I have also collaborated to extend this research into the USA, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru and Guatemala.


Selected Projects

Participatory Action Research as a Transversal Approach

My conceptual and applied work is rooted in a participatory action research approach. Currently, I'm working with a team of youth from rural cooperatives, information technology professionals, social psychologist, agroecologists and a community health specialist to study how sustainable coffee value chains intersect with rural livelihoods, producer organizations and agricultural landscapes. I used this approach to contribute to the creation of an agroecotourism iniatative in northern Nicaragua. Dr. Ernesto Méndez has emerged as a core researcher partner in this endeavor. Components of this work have been facilitated through my involvement with the Community Agroecology Network.

Sustainability Innovations and Engaged Education

I'm involved in several collaborations focused on sustainability education, research and innovation. This work has primarily concerned renewable energy and local community development in northern California. An interdisciplinary team of faculty from Engineering, Politics, Sociology and Environmental Studies at UCSC leads this effort. Together with the Community Agroecology Network, we are also developing local and international hands-on learning and field-based internships for students. Currently, I'm exploring possibilities for expanding this endeavor at UC Berkeley.

The Social and Environmental Effects of Agriculture and (Fair) Trade in Nicaragua and Latin America

I have started work on these broader questions through the analysis comparing the effects of sales to conventional and fair trade coffee channels. Since 2001, I've created several participatory action research teams uniting organizations and individuals to conduct dozens of events, workshops, 1000+ household level surveys, interviews, focus groups and key informant interviews to answer questions about the social and environmental impacts of participation in Fair Trade and organic networks among small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Latin America. Results are returned to research subjects and then efforts are made to identify bottom up strategies that smallholders, their organizations and NGO allies could use to secure livelihoods, advance empowerment processes and sustain natural resources.

Agro-food System Policy, Standards and Governance

I began this work after leaders in a large association of Latin American and Caribbean smallholder cooperatives asked me to conduct a study and develop a proposal around the minimum prices for Fair Trade coffee. This followed work as an evaluator for a project to build coffee quality improvement labs in Nicaragua. These experiences suggested questions about who governs these greenER food systems; How are standards established and changed? What is the role for Sothern participants in these global agro-environmental certification systems? Are fair trade and organic prices sufficient to cover the costs of sustainable production in different places?

Contact Christopher M. Bacon by email: