|Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 18, Number 3, 1997 (UNU, 1997, 98 pages)|
Opportunities for Earthwatch field research studies
The Earthwatch programme offers an opportunity for qualified developing-country investigators to obtain research support for worthwhile projects which can make use of expatriate volunteers for limited periods of time. While this approach is not applicable to all nutrition field stud ins, it has proved valuable for some.
Earthwatch, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1971, will award over US$2.9 million in field research grants in 1997 to 135 projects around the world. Earthwatch ranks with the National Geographic Society and the World Wildlife Fund as one of the largest private sponsors of field research expeditions in the world. Despite its size, Earthwatch is a little-known funding source in international nutrition circles. Over the next few years, however, the visibility of Earthwatch is likely to increase as the organization continues to expand its support of projects that focus on food and nutrition issues worldwide.
The mission of Earthwatch is to improve human understanding of the planet, the diversity of its inhabitants, and the processes that affect the quality of life on earth. As such, the organization supports field research in a wide range of disciplines, including public health and sustainable agriculture as well as archaeology, folklore, and musicology. A major thrust of programme expansion efforts in recent years has been in the direction of research that investigates food and nutrition issues in their cultural, economic, and ecological context. Multidisciplinary approaches to topical issues that involve transnational collaboration on the part of principal investigators have been especially targeted for support.
The most unique feature of Earthwatch is the process by which it raises the funds necessary to support field research projects. Earthwatch has a global membership of over 35,000 individuals, who join the organization to have the opportunity to work as nonspecialist volunteer assistants on field research projects internationally. The volunteers who are chosen for participation in the projects pay for the privilege of assisting principal investigators with their fieldwork. All of the funds awarded to principal investigators are derived from the contributions of these volunteers. Volunteers donate their money and time; researchers receive both funds and labour.
It is important to note that although volunteers are generally not trained in the researcher's specialty area, they are well-educated people in their own right. Volunteers range in age from 16 to 85, with an average age of 45. One-third of volunteers hold bachelor's degrees, 40% hold graduate degrees, and 10% hold professional degrees. The volunteers are primarily English-speaking and are recruited by Earthwatch's field offices in the United States, Australia, England, Germany, and Japan. Volunteers elect to join Earthwatch projects because they are interested in contributing to the solution of the challenging problems of our time and learning from the field research experience.
How are Earthwatch-supported projects usually designed? Because Earthwatch volunteers are not specialists in the field of project inquiry, they must be assigned tasks that are discrete and doable by an intelligent, enthusiastic novice. Volunteers have, for example, weighed and measured children under five years of age in anthropometric surveys; mapped villages for cluster sampling purposes; interviewed mothers about their food consumption practices; collected seasonal prices of food items in local marketplaces; shadowed villagers in Cameroon on energy expenditure surveys; and observed and recorded the daily activities of women in time allocation studies. These are but a few examples of the possibilities for integrating volunteers into appropriate data collection tasks. Often, volunteers are paired with in-country counterparts, and activities are carried out by a cross-cultural team of two. The presence of outsiders in the field setting can serve as a real incentive for in-country personnel to perform well, and the visibility of the research effort is frequently enhanced within the community as a result.
A typical Earthwatch-supported project incorporates volunteers into two or more consecutive two week teams of 4 to 15 volunteers. During the first 2 days of each team, volunteers are oriented and trained for the tasks at hand; the remaining 12 days are devoted to data collection, daily debriefings, and quality control sessions. Since Earthwatch grants are awarded on a per capita basis, it is important that at least 15 volunteers be utilized on a project over the course of a field season. With this number of volunteers, the field grants become meaningful in amount and capable of underwriting basic field research costs. The grants are designed to cover transportation of the Principal Investigator to the site, in-country transport, food and accommodation for staff and volunteers, stipends for in-country counterparts, equipment, and supplies. Earthwatch does not pay salaries or overhead. Grants average $800 per capita, and range in amount from $16,000 to more than $100,000.
The Center for Field Research is the research programme development affiliate of Earthwatch. The Center's Program Officer is responsible for soliciting proposals in public health, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and anthropology. Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw is the Earthwatch Advisor for the Earthwatch Food and Nutrition Program. Readers of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin who are actively engaged in, or anticipate beginning, field research projects are urged to contact Earthwatch. Proposals from advanced scholars of any nationality, covering any geographic region, are welcome. Proposals are received and reviewed year-round and should be submitted one year in advance of field dates.
For further information, contact
Center for Field Research at Earthwatch,
680 Mt. Auburn Street,
Box 9104, Watertown, MA 02272, USA.
Telephone: 617-926-8200 × 128;