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At Close Range: USU Scientists Earn Gold for Top Journal Paper

Thursday, May. 01, 2014

USU researchers with women in Kenya

In 1999, USU researchers pose with women in the town of Kulamawe, Kenya, whose efforts became a model for the USU-led Pastoral Risk Management project. An article detailing the project received a top award from Association Media and Publishing.

USU faculty members Layne Coppock and Claudia Radel

Layne Coppock, left, and Claudia Radel, faculty members in USU's Department of Environment and Society, co-authored articles in a special issue of 'Rangelands,’ journal of the Society for Range Management, focused on women as change agents.

In 1999, a flat tire on a lonely Kenyan road led Utah State University post-doctoral researcher Solomon Desta and his field team to an enterprising group of pastoral women, who shared an amazing story of overcoming poverty. Desta relayed this experience to his USU supervisor Layne Coppock; the women became models for a long-term project led by Coppock that is transforming thousands of lives in eastern Africa and beyond.

“We searched and discovered similar groups of women and found the narrative to be the same everywhere we looked,” says Coppock, professor in USU’s Department of Environment and Society. “Illiterate, impoverished women banding together to solve problems, and then elevating their livelihoods and communities in the process.”

Coppock, Desta and associates Seyoum Tezera, Mark Mutinda, Stellamaris Muthoka, Getachew Gebru, Abdillahi Aboud and Azeb Yonas recounted this story and other details of the team’s Pastoral Risk Management project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, in a 15-year retrospective published in the December 2013 issue of Rangelands, journal of the international Society for Range Management.

The article, which describes mentorship of Ethiopian women by their Kenyan counterparts, is an expanded and popularized version of an earlier paper published by the team in the Dec. 2011 issue of the journal Science. It received Association Media and Publishing’s Gold Medal for Best Feature Article in a Journal published in 2013 by a non-profit organization.  The team will be recognized during the association’s 34th annual EXCEL Awards Gala May 19, 2014, in Tysons Corner, Va.

“Receiving such an award was totally unexpected — especially when looking at the competition,” Coppock says. “The award is really not about me or my team; we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It is the courage and creativity of these pastoral women that made it all happen. And now — even five years after the project officially ended — when I go back I see them, they are still doing great.”

The accolade highlights just one article in a special issue of Rangelands, an effort initiated by Coppock, dedicated to women as change agents on the range.

“The Society of Range Management has benefitted from an increase in the number of women members in recent decades,” Coppock says. “At the same time, women have also been making progress in rangelands and farming systems around the world, yet the topic of women as change agents hasn’t received a lot of attention. We thought it was time to shed some light on this subject.”

The journal’s December 2013 issue features an array of articles detailing women in Africa, the United States (including Native Americans), Central America, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Australia and elsewhere. They are involved in efforts ranging from animal husbandry, livestock marketing and grazing management to leadership of collectives, as well as pioneers in initiatives for education, policy making and research.

Coppock’s colleague Claudia Radel, associate professor in USU’s Department of Environment and Society, lent her expertise as a gender scholar to the issue. Radel, whose research focuses on labor migration across international borders and its effect on gender roles and the environment, co-authored an article with Coppock on the world’s gender gap in agriculture and natural resources.

“Across cultures, we note aspects of women’s strengths and values that are commonly shared, including the capacity to collaborate, a focus on community improvement, the ability to persevere and being adaptable in the face of changing conditions,” says Coppock, who served as lead guest editor of the issue and co-authored four of its articles. “Although social customs and religious restrictions can limit women’s options in some areas, they share a focus on providing food, clothing, shelter and education for their families.”

Related links:

Contact: Layne Coppock, 435-797-1262,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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