Meet McKenzie Johnson, assistant professor in NRES studying environmental policy within conflict
McKenzie Johnson.
McKenzie Johnson
Photo by Provided by McKenzie Johnson.
March 7, 2019

From classifying mosquitos in the Amazon to conserving natural resources in a war zone, Dr. McKenzie Johnson brings significant international experience to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), where she recently joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.  

Johnson is also a recent recipient of an ACES International Seed Grant for a project she will initiate this spring: “Environment and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding in Colombia.”

Classifying mosquitos in the Amazon

While completing her M.A. degree at Columbia, Johnson discovered her passion for field work.

“I worked on an ecological project in Peru, specifically investigating the diversity of mosquitos in the Amazon. Daily challenges such as bringing dry ice to the jungle I had to figure out for myself; I had no one telling me what to do. This is when I realized I had a natural talent for field work.”    

Protecting ecology in Afghanistan

After completing her Masters, Johnson worked in Afghanistan for the Wildlife Conservation Society, where she led a project to help create Afghanistan’s first protected species list. Johnson also spearheaded a collaborative project to design a Protected Area System Plan for Afghanistan.   

“In Afghanistan I developed an appreciation for the politics of conservation which led to a desire to conduct research situated at the intersection of environmental politics and conflict. I also honed my ability to adapt to difficult field conditions.”

Understanding mining conflicts in Ghana and Sierra Leone

As a recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship while at Duke University, Johnson worked in rural Ghana living with local communities to examine the relationship between mining and conflict. Additionally, Johnson received fellowships to conduct research in post-Ebola Sierra Leone. Her dissertation published in 2017 was titled “Strong Institutions in Weak States: Institution Building, Natural Resource Governance, and Conflict in Ghana and Sierra Leone.”

International work in ACES

Johnson’s varied experiences and passion for environmental conservation are a natural fit in the College of ACES where she is teaching an introduction to environmental and social justice and working on two major research projects related to environment, conflict, and peace.

In Colombia, with assistance from the ACES International Seed Grant, she has initiated a collaborative project with a colleague at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Columbia. The goals of this project are 1) determine how the implementation of a recent peace agreement will impact local institutional capacity to govern common-pool resources and 2) examine to what extent a focus on natural resource

governance in Colombia can contribute to building a stable and lasting peace. She will be traveling to Colombia over spring break to begin the project.

Her other research project involves exploring the politics of the Dakota Access pipeline in the United States. Johnson is particularly excited to apply insights from her research in the Global South to this project. She notes that a central goal of this research is to “dismantle ideas that the Global North has greater capacity for neutralizing natural resource conflict relative to the Global South.”  

In the future, she’d like to further examine and compare the drivers of informal mining in South America and Africa. “People seem to think that mineral extraction has greater potential to drive conflict in Africa relative to South America, but at the local level, I see lots of the same issues and drivers,” she says.

Applications for ACES International Seed Grants are solicited each semester. The current deadline is March 15. Find more information here.

The Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad is also accepting applications with a deadline of March 25. Find more information here.