She tries to unite man and nature

Swiss National Fund / Swiss National Fund

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Johanna Jacobi is Assistant Professor of Agroecological Transitions at ETH Zurich. Meeting with the one who through his work as a scientist tries to unite us with ecology.

“I’ve always been interested in plants and insects. When I was little, I made a lot of collections. Sometimes I let my spiders get loose on the kitchen table. My parents didn’t really like it,” smiles Johanna Jacobi. No surprise that the now assistant professor of agro-ecological transitions at ETH Zurich began studying geography and biology. But very quickly the student realizes that man is missing. She adds social anthropology to her curriculum. For her, the three disciplines are complementary in terms of understanding how humans live on this earth and what is their relationship to the nature that surrounds them.

And what better way to understand it than to meet the communities of the countries of the South? His master’s thesis focuses on the agrobiodiversity of urban agriculture irrigated by wastewater in India. For her PhD studies at the University of Bern, she is researching cocoa farms in the Bolivian rainforest’s resilience to climate change. Then, as part of a post-doc project, she focused on agroforestry, still in Bolivia, where she lived for six years.

Meanwhile, the scientist stumbles upon an international report dealing with agriculture and development. “For me, it was an electric shock. I realized that we need to change the way we do things if we want a future as a society. I said to myself that I wanted to be a part of this effort.” , she explains. She chooses to become a member of ETH Zurich because the position she can achieve allows her to work on both ecological and social issues. His focus: how agriculture can become sustainable and fair. “This problem is basically modern society. Because humans have moved away from nature and from each other,” she emphasizes.

Finding the connection between democracy and sustainability

One of his current research projects, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, focuses on the role of democracy in agricultural value chains. For the scientist, the global food system is in crisis due to unequal power relations because small farmers, women and the poorest do not participate enough in decision-making processes. Research on democracy, however, argues that considerations put forward the public goods and the ecological interests of society. Johanna Jacobi therefore seeks empirical evidence for this theory in the context of food and agriculture based on case studies in the Congo and Brazil with a focus on coffee and soy. Sectors that have a huge global impact both ecologically and economically, the researcher says.

Unite man and nature. Isn’t that a big task for one person? “Anyone can make their contribution. I’m part of it,” she replies firmly. Because Johanna Jacobi shows honest optimism. Even though she is sometimes angry, frustrated, because for her, science shows that there is an urgent need for change. Even though he was sometimes told that his research theme was utopian. Even though it has already received threats by looking at the issue of the use of pesticides in the soybean industry. And although it is not always easy to juggle work and family life.

“What I do makes sense to me,” she says. So much the more meaningful that she herself applies what she believes in: Together with her husband and their two children, she lives in an ecological community in the Black Forest, near Basel. It is also involved in agro-ecological initiatives, for example in urban agriculture projects in Zurich or cooperative agriculture. And she transfers these values ​​to the students she supervises. “I urge them to have the courage, to seek the truth and act with judgment. Science is a wonderful way to help change things,” she concludes.

The text of this news item, a downloadable image and further information are available on the Swiss National Science Foundation website.


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