Knowledge for a sustainable world

BA Hons., MSc, PhD
Professor Valerie Nelson
Professor of Sustainable Development, Social Development Specialist

Livelihoods and Institutions Department

Natural Resources Institute, Faculty of Engineering & Science

+44 (0)1634 88 3156

Professor Valerie Nelson has a first degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Rural Resources and Environmental Policy from Wye College, University of London, and a PhD from the University of Greenwich in Global Supply Chain Sustainability Initiatives: Impacts, Governance, Systemic Constraints and Regenerative Alternatives’.

She has worked in international development since 1992, initially in Belize on forest planning and management, conducting field research in Mayan and migrant communities, followed by research at an agricultural research institute of the University of the State of Mexico in indigenous communities in the central highlands of Mexico. Following a 6-month stint in Bavaria supporting partnership development between European, Latin America and Asia protected areas, she joined Oxfam GB's policy department, evaluating their South-South Environment Learning Programme. Valerie joined NRI in 1996 and has since conducted social and transdisciplinary research on agriculture, land, rural development, and environment in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the UK.

Valerie has led significant research projects and conducted action research in connection specialist areas, including: Participatory rural development; Sustainable livelihoods and the social dimensions of agriculture, natural resources management and landscapes; Gender, intersectionality and climate change adaptation; Smallholder agricultural adaptation and climate change resilience; Governance and politics of sustainability in global value chains; Fair trade and sustainability standards; and Sustainable supply chain initiatives and responsible business; Land rights and governance; Social learning and multi-stakeholder processes; Regenerative and alternative economies and biodiversity; Transformative Change. Early work included pioneering of the use of participatory video in natural resources management in Malawi (1996-1998).

She has led the NRI Sustainable Trade and Responsible Business Programme since 2013. She also leads the NRI Political Ecology and Culture Research Group which explores food, landscapes, biodiversity and economies through political ecology, sociological, human geography, and anthropological lenses. She is an IPBES expert contributing to the Values Assessment and Scoping Study on Business and Biodiversity, plus the Transformative Change Assessment (lead author).

She has also led multiple complex evaluations and research studies, including multi-country studies, on the following: Fairtrade impact; Sustainability standards and poverty impact; Corporate codes of practice and poverty impact; Trade and global value chains via social and economic upgrading; Responsible, accountable, and transparent enterprise; Forest landscapes and finance; Climate resilience and sustainable agriculture; Human rights and environmental due diligence. She has recently co-facilitated a Learning Cycle for the LandCollaborative, involving 12 national land governance stakeholder platforms in Africa and Asia on engaging the private sector for responsible agricultural investment and is evaluating a sustainable rubber initiative involving multi-stakeholder platforms in Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar. She is currently investigating regenerative development and everyday practice,

High level consultancies have been undertaken for, amongst others, UNDP, EC, Irish Aid, DFID (now FCDO), Dutch Government, ISEAL, ILO, BEIS, Defra, Welthungerhilfe, Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance, Oxfam, CGIAR etc.

Valerie is interested in understanding how sustainable and equitable production, trade and consumption can be facilitated in the light of global challenges around food security, biodiversity loss, climate change, and inequality. She is researching, amongst other things, land rights and governance, sustainable landscapes and bioregions, indigenous enterprise, regenerative economies and practice, rights of nature, and transformative change, social learning processes in evaluation and multi-stakeholder processes.

  • Mid-term Review of Welt Hunger Hilfe Multi-actor approach for sustainable natural rubber.
  • Evaluation of Dutch Government programmes against child labour and for responsible business.
  • Co-facilitator Learning Cycle on engaging private sector for responsible agricultural investment for LandCollaborative.
  • Review of the global CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme (2020).
  • Impact of Human Rights Due Diligence and Living Wage/Income as a Human Right on Workers / Smallholders; Bread for the World, FairTrade Advocacy Office (2019-20).
  • ILO Study, Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises Programme Evaluation.
  • DFID Sustainable Intensification for Africa Research Programme. Wyg-NRI consortium. Social learning and equity, including study in 5 countries.
  • Theory based evaluation and Randomized Control Trial, Better Cotton Initiative, Andhra Pradesh, India (ISEAL).
  • Evaluative learning for the FCDO Partnerships for Forests Programme (Part of a team led by LTS)
  • Team leader for the FCDO Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning on the Responsible, Accountable and Transparent Enterprise Programme.
  • Team leader for the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning of the FCDO Trade and Global Value Chains Initiative
  • Team leader for the Evaluative Learning on the EC Malawi Global Climate Change Resilience Alliance (GCCA) programme
  • Team Leader, Empowerment of Drylands Women. A study on Gender and Drylands focusing on issues of Resilience, Land Rights and Governance (UNDP)
  • Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement or CIRCLE Programme – Quality assuror. FCDO Programme, 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.
  • Assessing the poverty impact of sustainability standards (Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade) in Kenyan and Indian tea and Ecuadorian and Ghanaian cocoa' (FCDO funded, 2009-2013).
  • Assessing the impact of Fairtrade in cotton: Senegal, Mali, Cameroon and India. Fairtrade Foundation and Max Havelaar, France in collaboration with IDS, University of Sussex (2009-10)
  • Climate Learning for African Agriculture (CLAA). Team member in a two-year project funded by FCDO'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
  • Team Leader: Assessing the Social Impact of Codes of Practice in Kenyan cut Flowers and South Africa wine industries (2002‐2005).
  • Farms of the Future: Climate Change adaptation project involving climate modelling, participatory video and farmer exchanges (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, CCAFS funded project).
  • Politics and governance of private standards (ESRC-FCDO) research in collaboration with the University of Leeds
  • Ethical Trade and Forest Dependent People research project (DFID), Forestry Research Programme. Multi-country action research project including South Africa, Solomon Islands, Ecuador, and Peru.
  • DFID Forestry Research Programme – Malawi Rural Energy and Livelihoods. Action Research and participatory video innovation.
  • Sustainable use of wildland resources in the Serengeti Ecosystem. Social development specialist. DFID Animal Health/Livestock Research Programme.

Book Section


Edited Book

Working Paper



  • Research, consultancy, training.
  • Leader of the NRI Sustainable and Equitable Trade Programme.
  • Research group lead – Political Ecology and Culture (food, landscapes, economies).
  • NRI Sustainability Group Lead / Coordinator.
  • Council member of the UK and Ireland Development Studies Association (DSA) (6 years)
  • Co-convenor of the DSA study group on business, development, and environment.
  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), contribution to Values Assessment
  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body, Expert in Scoping Study on Business and Biodiversity Methodological Assessment
  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) contributing author to Transformative Change Assessment
  • Co-lead for NRI in International Land Coalition
  • NRI representative in the OECD FAO Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains. Co-convenor of Climate and Development DSA Study Group (2009-10)
  • Co-track chair of the Sustainable value chains track of the International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference (2016- 18).
  • NRI representative in UK NGO consortium developing an adaptation standard (2008-10) adopted by Fairtrade International.
  • DFID transport resource centre policy group, social development advisor (2002-3).
Send an Email