How Are Traditional Cooking Practices Affecting the Environment?

February 9, 2017

A Bass Connections project team traveled to the village of Mandena in northeast Madagascar to investigate the effect of traditional cooking practices on health, air quality, biodiversity and agriculture.

This video highlights the team’s exploration of key questions related to community members’ use of wood and what effect their practices are having on the local forests, including tree and animal species. “The traditional cooking practices in this village represent an environmental health challenge,” explains team leader Melissa Manus, “because most people are using locally sourced firewood for cooking.”

The team’s goal was to work with the local community to produce sustainable data-driven solutions to foster the health of the people of Mandena and their natural environment.

Bass Connections team

The video features team leaders Charles Nunn and Melissa Manus (Evolutionary Anthropology), graduate team members Lydia Greene (Ecology) and Erin Litzow (Environmental Management), undergraduate team members Laura Guidera (Biology) and Tommy Klug (Public Policy Studies and Environmental Sciences) and community team member Desiré Razafimatrata.

Lydia Greene led surveys of Mandena residents to find out what types of wood they’re using and to pose related questions. “Have they noticed a change in the landscape in recent history? Is it getting harder to find wood? Is it getting harder to find the types of wood that they want to use? And then,” Green continues, “we’re also asking perception questions: What do they think about reforestation? Why do they think the forest is important?”

Erin Litzow notes that the team is taking a community-centered approach: “How can this community move forward, but in a way that helps preserve the local environment and the natural capital for future generations?”

The Bass Connections approach is rooted in interdisciplinary collaboration and vertically-integrated teams—for example, undergraduates, medical students, even PhD students, all together on one team where each individual has something unique to contribute. —Charles Nunn

For the full story, including more videos, photos and research results, check out When Traditions Take a Toll, produced by the Duke Global Health Institute.

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