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Go fish

Kelly Greenfield is the winner of the 2011 Harris Centre/Aldrich Conference Award for Socio-Economic Impact of Research.


By Rebecca Cohoe

“Aquaculture is a source of fish for the world. It’s going to be important to reach the millennium development goals to eradicate hunger and to alleviate poverty by 2015,” said Kelly Greenfield.

Interestingly, Ms. Greenfield isn’t a biologist or scientist: she’s a PhD candidate in sociology, and this year’s winner of the 2011 Harris Centre/Aldrich Conference Award for Socio-Economic Impact of Research.

“My work looks at the social, cultural and economic implications of the incorporation of various types of technology into existing farming systems,” explained Ms. Greenfield. “The Cambodian farmers I work with have traditionally grown rice, but the Marine Institute has brought over a project incorporating aquaculture technologies so that they can integrate their farming systems into a rice and fish farming operations.”

The system is quite simple, but a new idea to the region: “The farmers dig ponds on the rice farms and fill them with fish. Once the rains come, the ponds overflow and they flood the rice paddies, so that the fish are able to swim freely throughout the paddies acting as a natural pesticide and fertilizer. When the water recedes, the fish return to the ponds, becoming a source of protein for the farmers and their families,” said Ms. Greenfield.

Of course, the new system has had major social impacts within the community.
“I’m looking at the incorporation of the technology through a social lens, which isn’t really something that has been done before,” said Ms. Greenfield.

While it is important to establish the technical and environmental impacts of the project, Ms. Greenfield believes that there are many areas of importance that those sorts of empirical measures just can’t capture.

“We’re all social beings, so it’s important to use that social lens, and incorporate it into projects,” she explained.

One such experience occurred on the day that Ms. Greenfield was conducting her final interviews before returning to Canada.

While interviewing the local vet, Ms. Greenfield felt the first drops of rainwater after sweating through the Cambodian dry season. After an extended drought season, the rice farming community she was studying had become dangerously dry.

“A clap of thunder shook the house, and then the rain came,” she said. “The kids were sliding through the mud, and everyone was singing, and a man came up to me, bowed very deeply and said ‘Thank-you, thank-you.’”

It took her translator’s help for the sentiment to sink in: the man was thanking her for bringing the rain.

While Ms. Greenfield doesn’t claim to control the weather, the moment meant a lot, and emphasized the importance of including social and cultural studies as part of engineering and scientific projects.

“The way I look at it, I don’t think I brought the rain, but they do, and they were very overjoyed. That was definitely the most special day at the field site,” she concluded.