Farm workers tend rows of red and green lettuce in California.

UA Researcher Awarded $95,000 for Work On Social Impacts of Drought

Thursday, February 2, 2017

By Abby Dockter, Institute of the Environment

Christina Greene, a PhD student in the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development and a 2014 Carson Scholar, was awarded a $95,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA. Her research focuses on how drought in California has affected rural communities in the state’s Central Valley.

The NIFA Fellowship provides Greene with a stipend for two years of research and travel for fieldwork. NIFA Fellowships fund “outstanding pre- and postdoctoral students in the food, agricultural, natural resources, and human sciences” to expand their research, teaching and technical skills, according to the program’s website.

Greene’s research specifically examines the San Joaquin Valley, where most community members work in the agriculture industry, either migrating seasonally or remaining year-round. According to the Human Development Index, which assesses each congressional district by income, education and access to health care, the district in which Greene works is the lowest-ranked in the country.

“The drought has been extremely difficult for these communities on a number of different levels,” Greene said. First, it affects the number of available jobs, as fewer workers are needed to tend smaller yields. Five years of severe drought also has directly reduced water availability for many residents, as water prices have increased and domestic wells have gone dry. “In East Porterville, people would have to go to the community church for showers,” Greene said.

Drought monitoring primarily measures physical indicators of drought, and although the information collected addresses social impacts of drought, much uncertainty exists over how to measure those impacts on communities, Greene said. Economists have used the number of jobs lost as an indicator, but agricultural jobs are frequently short-term, and this measurement does not necessarily reflect the true impact, she added. Greene hopes her research will suggest more useful indicators and suggest policies to alleviate the effects of drought.