Anthropology PhD Student Awarded NSF Grant to Study Food Security in Caribbean

Dana Conzo (Matt Medeiros photo)
Dana Conzo (Matt Medeiros photo)

Dana Conzo, a doctoral student in the department of anthropology, has been awarded a $25,017 National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant to support her research on food sovereignty and food security in the Caribbean. 

Her dissertation project, “The Cultural and Economic Logic of Small-Scale Farming,” is a political economic study of local food production within a primarily tourism-driven economy. The grant supports one year of ethnographic research on the island of St. Kitts. Under the supervision of professor Krista Harper, Conzo will investigate the economic niche of local farmers, who continue to farm even as economic benefits wane. She will study why people continue traditional livelihoods and self-sufficiency even when it seems to counter economic self-interest. Conzo’s project tests a classic hypothesis in economic anthropology that human economic behavior is often driven by materially irrational but culturally strategic aims.

Conzo will study small-scale agricultural producers and trace the island’s food and economic flows using a range of ethnographic and geographic techniques for data collection and analysis, such as participant observation, interviews, and spatial analysis in ArcGIS. She developed methodological skills through participating in two NSF-sponsored field schools, “Culture and Heritage in European Societies and Spaces” and “Summer training in field research methods.”

Conzo hopes that the project will discover more effective means of navigating food insecurity, improving economic and agricultural policies, and promoting environmental, cultural and economic sustainability in the Caribbean and globally. Harper underscores these broader impacts, saying “Conzo’s project enlarges anthropology’s knowledge of the everyday lives and livelihoods of people living in the Caribbean as they face the challenges of climate change, the ever-expanding tourism sector and food sovereignty.”

Conzo adds, “This award wouldn’t have been possible if it was not for the endless support I received at UMass in the department of anthropology, the Institute for Social Science Research, the Office of Grant and Contract Administration, and by my committee members Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji. I am especially grateful to my advisor Krista Harper, who has been immeasurably helpful and supportive.”