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Queens Anniversary Prizes 2015

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Valerie Nelson

Social Development Specialist
BA Hons., MSc
Livelihoods and Institutions Department
Natural Resources Institute


Valerie has worked in international development since 1992. Initially she worked in Belize on a forest planning and management project, conducting field research in Mayan and migrant communities and in Mexico she was a research fellow at an agricultural research institute of the University of the State of Mexico. She then joined Oxfam GB's policy department, evaluating their South-South Environment Learning Programme, before moving to NRI in 1996. While at NRI she has worked as a social development specialist on a wide range of research and consultancy projects in agriculture and natural resources management across Latin America, Africa and Asia. In the last decade she has focused on sustainable and ethical trade, including a range of impact studies on fair trade, sustainability standards and corporate codes of conduct. Several of these studies were funded by DFID to inform policy-making in relation to ethical trade and sustainability standards, including early studies in the late 1990s on the impact of cocoa, cotton and brazil nuts comparing conventional and ethical value chains. Other impact studies have been commissioned by Fairtrade organisations and ISEAL. The methodological innovations which Valerie, in collaboration with Adrienne Martin from NRI, have developed in our DFID and Fairtrade commissioned work has influenced Fairtrade's approach to participatory theory of change development, the use of theory based evaluation, case oriented comparative analysis and mixed impact design as well as methods. Other ESRC-DFID funded research on fair, ethical and sustainability standards focused on the politics and governance dimensions. Valerie also led an NRI study in 2010 on the climate change implications for fair trade and collaborated with Anne Tallontire at the University of Leeds on a major assessment of standards in agricultural trade. . She is currently leading a new NRI programme on Sustainable and Equitable Trade and is the leader of the evaluation unit of a new DFID trade and global value chains catalyst fund being implemented in Kenya and South Africa (horticulture) and Bangladesh (garments).

Climate change adaptation has also been a focus, including studies for ODI, FAO, UNDP and CIAT-Africa on gender and climate change issues and biofuels. She has also been part of action research on climate learning in Africa (CDKN) and in a project innovating with participatory video, climate modelling and farmer study tours. In 1996-98 Valerie collaborated with Dr Su Braden, a pioneer in participatory video, to innovate in the use of participatory video in Malawi, supporting community enquiry and advocacy on livelihoods and rural energy issues.

Research/Scholarly Interests

Valerie is interested in understanding how sustainable and equitable trade can be facilitated in the light of global challenges around food security, climate change, and economic development. She is keen on conducting further action research participatory learning and communication.

Current and Previous Funded Research Projects

Responsibilities within the University

  • Research, consultancy, training
  • Lead for the Sustainable and Equitable Trade Programme at NRI

Selected Publications

Recent Conference Presentations

  • Tallontire, A and V. Nelson (December 2012) 'Narrative framings and power dynamics in private standards and global agri-food chains'. Governing sustainable agriculture through multi-stakeholder initiatives', CIRAD, Montpellier, December 2012.
  • Nelson, V and A. Martin (November 2012) 'Assessing the poverty impact of sustainability standards'. NRI and ISEAL co-hosted workshop, University of Greenwich.
  • Tallontire, A and V. Nelson (2012) Fairtrade political dynamics and narratives and the implications for worker and smallholder empowerment'. FTIS and GeoFair Trade Final Conference, Liverpool, UK.
  • V. Nelson and A. Tallontire (2010) IDS STEPS Conference 'Pathways to Sustainability: Agendas for a new politics of environment, development and social justice'. Presentation entitled: 'Pathways of Power in African agri-food chains'.

External Recognition

  • Council member of the UK and Ireland Development Studies Association (DSA)

Contact Information

Valerie Nelson

Natural Resources Institute

University of Greenwich

Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom.

Tel: +44 (0)1634 883156

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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