Jessica Thorn

DPhil Student, Department of Zoology

Assessing the impact of land management strategies of small-holder farmers on ecosystem processes, goods and services, and human well-being in a changing climate

What role can agricultural landscapes play in promoting biodiversity conservation beyond protected areas, sustainable livelihoods and food security? What adaptations to land management are currently adopted by small-holder farmers in response to climatic change and variability, and what are the impacts of these strategies? Can the ecosystem services framework be operationalized at the landscape level to highlight incentives, opportunities and tradeoffs in enhancing the resilience of human and natural systems?

Jessica’s Dphil research attempts to address these questions quantitatively evaluating adaptation strategies (e.g. dry season vegetable farming) and how these impact a range of ecosystem processes (e.g. nutrient cycling, pest and disease regulation), goods and services (e.g. water regulation and supply, cultural services) and human well-being (e.g. good social relations, freedom and choice, physical and psychological health). Situated in South Asia (Nepal) , West Africa (Ghana) and Central America (Hondurus/Nicaragua), she applies space-time substitution to identify current temperature and precipitation analogues for 2030 using downscaled climate models, climatic gradients, and data on environmental covariates. Bayesian network modeling will bring together qualitative and quantitative data to model the direction and strength between these variables, and how this may change when pressed with the impacts of climate change.

Such research offers novel implications, considering small -holder farmers play an influential role in prevailing environmental conditions across the globe – producing 80 % of food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (IFAD, 2012), while two billion people depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods. By developing and testing technical valuation methods  to assess ecosystem service benefits  on farms, it aims to advance knowledge regarding the role of small-holder farming in maintaining ecological function and sustainable food production, and for planning, monitoring, financing and prioritizing climate adaptation strategies.


Recent Relevant Publications: 

Thorn, J. and Oldfield. S. (2012) “A politics of land occupation:  a perspective on state practice and everyday mobilization in Zille Raine Heights, Cape Town”. Journal of African Studies, 46(5): 518-530. doi: 10.1177/0021909611403710.

Thorn, J. (2011) Urban climate adaptation in East Africa: the case of community-adaptation in Mathare Valley Slums, Nairobi. MSc dissertation. School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford: Oxford.

Thorn, J. and Marais, S. (2010) “Lessons learnt from ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in South Africa.” Prepared for Conservation International – South Africa. Report.

Bourke, L., Butcher, S., Chisonga, N., Clarke, J., Davies, F, & Thorn. J. (2009) “Fieldwork stories: negotiating positionality, power and purpose”. Feminist Africa, 13 : 95-105

Thorn.  (2009) The state of substance abuse service delivery in the Western Cape. Prepared for the Provincial Government Department of Social Development, Sub-directorate of Substance Abuse. Cape Town. Report.  June 2009

Thorn (2008) “Urban Transformation and racial integration in Post-Apartheid South Africa – the case of Sybrand Park and Eastridge suburbs in Cape Town.” Prepared for the Department of Sociology of Brown University. Report.