Kia ora, bula and welcome! This instalment of our Graduate Stories features, Dr Mohseen Riaz Ud Dean. From 2008 to 2010, Mohseen was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India and studied the ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ (TEK) of farmers in the state of Bihar. His Masters of Environmental Science thesis was entitled: Loss of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Central Bihar, India: A Case Study. In 2014 Mohseen decided to embark on his PhD journey and recently received his doctorate at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato (University of Waikato) under the supervisory team of Dr Keith Barber, Dr Fiona McCormack and Dr Fraser Macdonald.
Tell us about yourself:
I am originally from Nausori, Rewa, Fiji and a direct descendant of the Girmit community, with nearly three decades of residence in the country. I am currently employed by the Fiji National University as a Senior Instructor responsible for teaching and research in the academic fields of Environmental Management, Green Productivity, and Occupational Health & Safety.
What drew you to anthropology?
My first and second degree had been in Environmental Sciences. I wanted to learn something new, do something exciting, and look at things/issues using a different lens. Because my thesis is concerned with the historical experience and technical knowledge of an ethnically distinct, relatively small but historically important (for Fiji) Girmitiya sugarcane farming community and their relationship with a global industrial agricultural complex, and because it involved, in large part, ‘participant observation’ methods, it was thought appropriate for my research to be supervised within an anthropology programme. I felt a need to document the plight of my own community, locate it in wider historical and political-economic contexts, critique past and present management by largely non-local powers and agencies, and recommend solutions grounded in my understanding of local perspectives and needs.
What are you working on?
My PhD thesis, Smallholder Sugarcane Growers, Indigenous Technical Knowledge, and the Sugar Industry Crisis in Fiji,is an interdisciplinary study that draws upon the agronomic, ecological and social sciences to analyse the current crisis facing the sugar industry in Fiji. Its particular focus is the livelihood crisis facing the smallholder sugarcane growers, and it explores the potential of their local and traditional farming knowledge as a source of solutions for both crises. It argues, however, that present proposals for reforming the sugar industry in Fiji are wedded to the industrial agricultural paradigm and a globalized corporate food regime that is the source of the problems it currently faces and which threatens the future of the smallholder sugarcane farming system along with its local traditional knowledge. The thesis draws inspiration from Agroecology as an agricultural paradigm alternative to the conventional industrial paradigm to advocate for greater attention to be given to smallholder sugarcane growers and their local and traditional farming knowledge in seeking solutions to the crisis of the sugar industry in Fiji.
How have you found life as a graduate student?
Exciting, challenging, thrilling, and at times a never ending World War III!
What are your current influences?
My whānau at the anthropology programme at the University of Waikato has really influenced my knowledge and work. I have been able to bridge the gap between science and social science. The support of my supervisors has been great and I am honored to have pursued my doctorate under the guidance of my supervisors who are anthropologists themselves. While I have always looked at issues from a scientific perspective, I am now able to look at the same thing from a social science perspective, through an anthropological lens - this gives me a sense of greater connection to the environment, people and nature.
Since Anthropology (as a program of study) is underrepresented in Fiji, my aim is to develop this academic discipline, if I can. For this to happen, we will need to recognise this academic discipline and what it can offer for national development.
Conference Paper Presentations:
Dean, M. R. U. and Yogesh, N. 2017. The Socio-economic Status of the Fijian Sugar Industry: Past and PresentParadox.International Conference: Indian Indentureship & Girmitiya Descendants: Past, Present and Future.University of Fiji, Lautoka, Fiji.
Dean, M. R. U. 2016. The Impacts of ‘Leaseophobia’ on the Development of the Sugar Industry and in Particular the GirmityaCommunity of Fiji.DevNet Conference: Pacific Currents Global Tides. VictoriaUniversity of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
Dean, M. R. U. 2016. ‘Leaseophobia’: The Consequences of Land Tenure Systems on the Sugar Industry andthe GirmityaCane Farming Community of Fiji.South Island Symposium. University of Canterbury and LincolnUniversity, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Dean, M. R. U. 2016. Research Methods and Techniques: Challenging the Traditional Norms of Inquiry.FASS Post Graduate Conference. The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Dean, M. R. U. 2016. Income and Food Security: The Case of Fijian Sugar Cane Small-Holders.Sixth International Conference on Food Studies. University of California, Berkeley, United States of America.
Dean, M. R. U. 2016. Major Issues Facing the Fiji Sugar Industry.Pacific Post Graduate Talanoa Coordinated by Vakatele Pacific Research Network, Auckland University of Technology. University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Workshop Paper Presentation:
Dean, M. R. U. 2018. The Sugar Industry of Fiji: Problems requiring Innovation.Asian Productivity Organization (APO) and National Productivity Centre of Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.