Science and practice #4: Environmental economics and conservation with Priya Shyamsundar

In this episode Michael speaks with Priya Shyamsundar, lead economist at the Nature Conservancy. Priya speaks about her career trajectory that led her to the Nature Conservancy, and about her current position. They discuss the history of economics and social science at the Nature Conservancy and in Conservation more broadly, and Priya describes the increasing appreciation for the role that humans play in conservation that has occurred across many conservation organizations, but also that there remains a dominance of natural sciences simply in terms of how many natural scientists vs. social scientists are employed at the Nature Conservancy. 

Michael and Priya also talk about a specific project that Priya has been involved in called the Prana (“breath”) project, dealing with agricultural residue management in rural India. There, the massive burning of residues after harvest each fall has created large-scale smoke and air pollution problems. Priya, along with a previous guest of the podcast, JT Erbaugh, have been working with local partners in India to conduct focus groups and a baseline survey to understand the preferences of local farmers for how best to address this issue. The interview concludes with a discussion of the factors that make it more or less likely for farmers to adopt new farming strategies, and Priya mentions a finding that the most significant factor in affecting whether or not a farmer adopts a new technique is whether people in their social network have adopted it as well. Just like many social behaviors, adoption can be contagious.


Priya’s website:

Cool green science website that Priya mentions: