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Robert Richardson - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Robert Richardson Robert Richardson

Assistant Professor of Community Sustainability | Michigan State University


An expert in ecosystem services, food security, rural development, and sustainability.





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Dr. Robert Richardson is an ecological economist at Michigan State University with interests in the study of the environment and development, particularly the contribution of ecosystem services to socioeconomic well-being. His research, teaching, and outreach program focuses primarily on sustainable development, and he uses a variety of methods from the behavioral and social sciences to study decision-making about the use of natural resources and the values of ecosystem services. He has conducted research related to agricultural-environmental linkages, household food and energy security, and tradeoffs in decision-making about environmental management in southern and eastern Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, as well as in the USA. His work has been published in Ecological Economics, Environment and Development Economics, and World Development.

Dr. Richardson is a former member of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and former chairperson of the subcommittee on Sustainable and Healthy Communities. He is a former officer and board member of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, and a member of the International Society for Ecological Economics. He is an affiliate faculty member with MSU's Environmental Science and Policy Program, Center for Advanced Study of International Development, Center for Regional Food Systems, African Studies Center, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Industry Expertise (3)

Food Processing Education/Learning Writing and Editing

Areas of Expertise (4)

Sustainability Food Security Ecosystem services Rural Development

Education (3)

Colorado State University: Ph.D.

New York University: M.B.A.

Tulane University: B.S.

Affiliations (4)

  • Environmental Management, Editorial Board
  • Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research, Editorial Board
  • International Journal of Ecological Economics and Statistics, Editorial Board
  • Michigan State University Press, Editorial Board

Journal Articles (5)

Confronting Tradeoffs Between Agricultural Ecosystem Services and Adaptation to Climate Change in Mali Ecological Economics

Kurt B Waldman, Robert B Richardson


Changing climatic conditions present new challenges for agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. Sorghum has proven to be an adaptable and resilient crop despite limited funding for crop development. Recent breeding efforts target hybrid and perennial technologies that may facilitate adaptation to climate change. Advantages of perennial crops over their annual counterparts include improved soil quality and water conservation and reduced inputs and labor requirements. In contrast, hybrid crops are often bred for improved grain yield and earlier maturation to avoid variable conditions. We use discrete choice experiments to model adoption of sorghum as a function of attributes that differ between these technologies and traditional varieties in Mali. Overall, the main perceived advantage of perennial crops is agricultural ecosystem services such as soil improvement, while adoption of hybrid crops is hampered by the inability to reuse seed. Women farmers are less concerned about higher labor requirements associated with perennial crops and the ability to reuse hybrids seeds than male farmers. Farmers prefer traditional sorghum to perennial sorghum and are indifferent between traditional and hybrid sorghum. These findings have important policy implications for understanding tradeoffs that are central to farmer decision making when it comes to breeding technologies for climate adaptation.

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Assessing the Potential for Small-Scale Aquaculture in Cambodia Environments

Robert B Richardson, Murari Suvedi


Fisheries in Cambodia play an important role in supporting household food security and livelihoods throughout the country. Inland fisheries production is largely dependent on numerous ecosystem services, particularly the floodwaters of the Tonle Sap Lake basin, which has been degraded from increased fishing pressure because of population growth and a rising demand for fish. To address the dual problem of food insecurity and overfishing, an integrated food security and climate change program involved the promotion of small-scale aquaculture through semi-intensive pond management. The objective of this study is to examine perceptions of small-scale aquaculture by participants in this program in order to assess the potential for aquaculture to contribute to household food security and conservation of the Tonle Sap Lake ecosystem. Focus group discussions and a household survey were conducted among current and previous fish farmers. Results demonstrate that most farmers continue to practice small-scale aquaculture as a means to supplement household food availability and income. Numerous barriers to adoption of small-scale aquaculture were identified, including access to water, prices of commercial fish feed, selling price of fish in markets and concerns about profitability. Seasonal water scarcity is the most prominent challenge in promoting aquaculture technologies, so aquaculture development should be expanded in areas where there are abundant supplies of water, or where use of water storage techniques is feasible. Aquaculture technology appears to have the potential to contribute to food security, nutrition and household income and to the conservation of the wild fisheries of the Tonle Sap Lake.

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Maize-legume intercropping in central Malawi: determinants of practice International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability

Timothy R Silberg, Robert B Richardson, Michele Hockett, Sieglinde S Snapp


In Malawi, population growth has reduced opportunities for farmers to expand and cultivate new land. The country's primary farming population is comprised of smallholders, many who cultivate monocultures of maize (Zea mays). To reduce negative outcomes from this practice, intercropping maize with legumes has been promoted. The sustainable intensification (SI) practice was once widely used, but has declined in recent decades. Little is known about the determinants of intercropping or its role in agricultural development. The objective of this study was to examine the drivers of intercropping among smallholders. We used multiple logistic regression analysis to estimate the determinants of intercropping based on a survey of 324 households. Smallholders who sold legumes were more likely to intercrop, contrary to literature positing intercropping as a practice primarily intended to enhance food security. In addition, complementary SI practices such as fertilizer, manure and compost application were more likely to have occurred on intercropped fields relative to sole maize fields. Furthermore, smallholder farmers appeared to apply more fertilizer to their intercropped fields relative to their sole maize fields. The study highlights the value of including field-level characteristics and household socioeconomic survey data to understand farming practices as a means to inform agricultural policy.

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Participatory mapping of environmental resources: A comparison of a Tanzanian pastoral community over time Land Use Policy

Amber L Pearson, Amanda Rzotkiewicz, Emiliana Mwita, Maria Claudia Lopez, Adam Zwickle, Robert B Richardson


Community geographic features change over time, and this change can be contentious. Understanding social responses to this change is important for policies related to adaptation to climate change. This paper examines the use of participatory mapping of resources, at two time points, in a Tanzanian community. The results of our mapping (May 2015) were compared to those by a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2009). Differences included boundaries, land use designations and accessibility. These discrepancies may reflect actual changes in resources and livelihoods over time, but also differences in researcher trust and the enabling of participants. Findings suggest that repeated participatory maps, conducted in a trusting environment, are required for long-term planning in places experiencing both climate and social change.

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Understanding Social Capital, Networks & Institutions: A Guide to Support Compost Entrepreneurship for Rural Development Journal of Sustainable Development

Timothy Robert Silberg, Maria Claudia Lopez, Robert B Richardson, Theresa Pesl Murphrey, Gary Wingenbach, Leonardo Lombardini, Taya Brown


Compost micro-entrepreneurship has been used as strategy to increase the incomes of poor and rural farming communities. Nevertheless, several difficulties can arise to sustain these small businesses. The conversion of organic material into compost requires labor, tools and infrastructure. Many poor and rural microenterprises cannot afford all of these inputs to sustain operations. Literature suggests that social capital and collective action can address challenges related to limited resources for communities and small businesses. Little research, however, has explored how coworker characteristics and their cooperative efforts affect the financial sustainability of compost micro-enterprises. The objective of this study was to unveil whether rural compost microenterprises use social capital and/or collective action to address various challenges related to natural and financial capital, and if so, in what manner. A multisite case study framework was implemented using participant observation to identify common challenges faced by compost microenterprises in Chimaltenanago, Guatemala. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were conducted to determine if coworker characteristics (related to social capital) addressed these challenges, and if so, how. Four characteristics related to social capital emerged from a thematic analysis, including 1) raw material access based on coworker occupation, 2) overhead savings from human capital, 3) credit/market-entry granted from social networks, and 4) consumer trust gained from social capital/gender. It appears the investigation and development of compost microenterprises should be more cognizant of opportunities related to coworker characteristics, especially those related to social capital and collective action. As a result, management training can be integrated within entrepreneurship development to sustain urban and rural economies.

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