Knowledge for a sustainable world

BA Hons., MSc
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, and a MSc in Rural Resources and Environmental Policy from Wye College, University of London. She has worked in international development since 1992, initially in Belize on forest planning and management, conducting field research in Mayan and migrant communities and 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 worked as a social development specialist on a wide range of research and consultancy projects in agriculture and natural resources management in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Valerie has led significant research projects in her specialist areas, including: The social dimensions of natural resource management; Gender and climate change adaptation; Smallholder agricultural adaptation and climate change; Governance of sustainability in global value chains; Fair trade and sustainability standards; and Sustainable supply chain initiatives and responsible business. She has led the NRI Sustainable Trade and Responsible Business Programme since 2013. Early work included pioneering of the use of participatory video in natural resources management in Malawi (1996-1998).

She has 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; Responsible, accountable and transparent enterprise; Climate resilience; Forests, livelihoods and sustainable agriculture; Governance of Private Standards. High level consultancies have been undertaken for, amongst others, UNDP, EC, Irish Aid, DFID (now FCDO) and ISEAL.

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.

  • 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

Book Section


Edited Book

Working Paper



  • Research, consultancy, training.
  • Leader of the NRI Sustainable and Equitable Trade Programme.
  • Council member of the UK and Ireland Development Studies Association (DSA) (6 years)
  • Co-track chair of the Sustainable value chains track of the International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference (since 2016).
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