Knowledge for a sustainable world

BA (Hons), PhD

Professor John Morton has a first degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD from the University of Hull for a thesis on the social organisation of the Northern Beja, a group of semi-nomadic pastoralists in north-eastern Sudan. After working for Oxfam in north-eastern Sudan during 1985-86, he worked as a consultant for a variety of NGOs, UN agencies, etc., including three years as a freelance consultant based in Pakistan. He joined NRI in 1993. He has been Professor of Development Anthroplogy since 2004, Associate Research Director (Social Sciences) 2001-2010 and Head of the Livelihoods and Institutions Department since 2010.

John has led significant projects within his key research fields: the social, institutional and policy aspects of livestock development, particularly among pastoralist peoples; drought management; and impacts of climate change on smallholders, pastoralists and other categories of the rural poor, and their prospects for adaptation. He has also carried out high-level consultancies for DFID, The European Commission, the World Bank, UNDP and several NGOs within these topics. He has field experience in numerous African countries (especially in the Horn of Africa), South Asia and Mongolia. He is fluent in French, and speaks some Arabic.

John is an active supervisor of research students within his fields of expertise, and also teaches at Masters and undergraduate level.

John served as a Lead Author on smallholder and subsistence agriculture within the chapter on Food, Forests and Fibre of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and as such he was recognised as contributing to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC. He has subsequently served as Coordinating Lead Author on Rural Areas for the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 and as Lead Author on Risk Management and Decision Making in Relation to Sustainable Development for the Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

I have two overlapping sets of research interests:

  • The social, institutional and political context for livestock development, and for the development of pastoralist communities. I have worked on appropriate methodologies for livestock research among small-scale communities, on factors influencing uptake of tsetse control activities and ways to disseminate those technologies. I have led innovative research projects on the relations of pastoralist communities with elected parliamentarians in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and on the engagement of the Ethiopian private sector (particularly meat and livestock exporters) in pastoral development. My interest has evolved towards looking at the ways in which the languages and discourses used to discuss pastoralism (by governments, NGOs, researchers and others) structure the prospects for pastoral development, and the practical implications for this for pastoralist empowerment.
  • Impacts of climate change and prospects for adaptation. Through work on droughts and other forms of climate variability in pastoral areas I developed an interest in the impacts of climate change on pastoralists, smallholders and other categories of the rural poor, and their prospects for adaptation. This has been expressed through my work for the IPCC, through my leadership of the project Climate Learning for African Agriculture, and my engagement with African climate change researchers under the DFID-funded CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement) Programme.

Pastoralism Policy and Governance in East Africa: John is part of a network funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, alongside various departments in Makerere University and other stakeholders in Uganda and Rwanda, to identify researchable issues in the development and governance of pastoralism.

CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement) Programme. The programme, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the African Academy of Sciences, developed the skills and research output of early career African researchers in the field of climate change and its impacts, through a unique programme of exchanges between African institutions. It also worked with institutions to develop a coordinated and strategic approach to supporting early career researchers. John led CIRCLE’s Quality Support Component, identifying and providing, from NRI staff and from partners in UK and around the world, international specialists to work with CIRCLE Fellows, their mentors and supervisors, on research planning and dissemination.  John himself worked as a specialist adviser with nine CIRCLE Fellows researching the impacts of climate change on agriculture and rural livelihoods from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Study of the Beef Value Chain in eSwatini (Swaziland); John worked as a social sector specialist on this interdisciplinary study, researching smallholder objectives in cattle production, land tenure, labour and living conditions, gender and food security.

Empowerment of Drylands Women: John was a team member for this in-depth review of the situation of dryland women with respect to land rights, governance and resilience.

Climate Learning for African Agriculture (CLAA). This two-year project funded by DFID's Climate and Development Knowledge Network investigated how climate issues (of both adaptation and mitigation) are incorporated into the policy, planning, management and implementation of agricultural research and advisory services throughout Africa, and how the prospects for this can be improved in future. NRI undertook the project in collaboration with the Forum for African Research in Africa and the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services. John led the project planning, commissioned researchers/facilitators for four country-level case studies with a strong element of action-research, personally backstopped the case-study in Benin, edited outputs (and translated those from Benin) and presented findings at conferences/workshops in UK, Senegal, Brazil and Botswana.

After long involvement with research on technologies to control the tsetse fly and trypanosomiasis in Africa, John was asked to carry out the policy and institutional analysis for an impact assessment and lesson-learning exercise, funded by DFID's Research into Use Programme, on Uganda's "Stamp Out Sleeping Sickness Campaign". This involved interviews with policy-makers at national and district levels, researchers and drug companies, in order to analyse how research information had flowed into the project, and how key decisions had been made.

REF Unit of Assessment Co-ordinator, Anthropology and Development Studies; Member, Faculty of Engineering and Science Research and Enterprise Committee.
  • Lead Author and Co-ordinating Lead Author on successive reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (since 2005). Recognised as contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC in 2007.
  • Member, Peer Review College of the UK Economic and Social Research Council; also peer reviewer for NERC.
  • Member, Farm Africa Programme Advisory Committee since 2014.
  • Consultant Scientific Editor, Tropical Animal Health and Production; regular reviewer for a wide range of high-impact journals.
  • External PhD examiner for Aberdeen, East Anglia, Imperial College London, Lund, Nairobi, Reading, University College London, Witwatersrand.
  • Former Member, Scientific Advisory Panel, Commonwealth Studentships Commission for the UK (2012-2015).
  • Former Council Member, Development Studies Association (2003-2009).
  • Former Trustee, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (1999-2018, Chair of Trustees 2007-2009).
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