illustration François Libois, when economics rhymes with policy and the environment

Society and regional strategies 5 min

François Libois, when economics rhymes with policy and the environment

A sprig of economics and a pinch of philosophy for a career rich in scientific promise.

Published on 16 February 2018

Between history, geography, economics, law or political sciences, François Libois did not hesitate for long before choosing to study economics, the discipline that he felt could offer him more opportunities and a greater thematic diversity as a future research scientist.

From economics to development….

It was at the University of Namur in Belgium that François Libois gradually started to specialise in the issues of public policies and the economics of development. Having obtained his Master’s degree, he started a PhD in economics – Studies in the Economics of Development and the Environment – which he defended very successfully in February 2016.

During the six years of work for his PhD, he shared his time between teaching and research, as is the custom in the Belgian system, and completed several attachments outside the country (in the USA, France, Nepal and India) for his current and future research projects.

The early signs of a successful career were soon apparent.

As early as September 2015, F. Libois travelled to Paris to work in the Paris School of Economics where, under the supervision of François Bourguignon, he started his postdoctoral project. He was then working on the issue of economic development and institutions. In July 2016, he was recruited by INRA as a Research Scientist and pursued his work at the Paris School of Economics. This stable employment permitted him to plan his work, research themes and collaborations with a certain degree of calm.

…. and from economics to the environment

Like a waltz, François Libois’ research is currently focusing on three areas.

The first continues on from his PhD project, in that he is trying to understand how a change of institution might improve the management of resources and the well-being of local populations. In practice, he is looking at the management of forests in Nepal. They were administered by the state between the 1950s and 1990s, when user cooperatives first developed. The latter now number 18,000 (covering 4000 municipal areas) and they manage about a quarter of all the forests in the country. From resource management to rural development and training in local participatory democracy, Nepal is a textbook case, as it concerns not only Nepal but also India, and particularly the Ganges plain affected by problems of soil erosion and deforestation. At an international level, this case has been highlighted by the United Nations Environment programme as a “success story” that could be an inspiration for other countries.

François Libois’ second research area is more recent. Developed as a result of funding from the INRA metaprogramme GloFoods, economists and agronomists from INRA and CIRAD are addressing the issue of links between perennial crops in South-East Asia and the living standards (income, health, etc.) of local populations. This exploratory project is focusing on the expansion of palm oil cultivation in Indonesia and investigating its effects on the lives of local populations and their relationships with industrial companies or cooperatives.

The third area is concentrating more on applied theory and in the longer term should aim to establish links between current theoretical thinking and economic statistics. This research area has developed from preliminary studies on the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their links with consumers, citizens, companies and governments. The most recent projects have addressed the effect of NGO campaigns on industry. In practice, and again centred around the question of the expansion of palm oil in Indonesia, and François Libois has proposed identifying such campaigns and the companies targeted and assessing their effects on production areas close to the concessions operated by the companies, or even on consumer reactions in France.

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy”

All these ongoing studies in the international sphere have offered François Libois an opportunity to travel to Asia to discuss and collect information from organisations or ministries, as well as from local populations and actors.

Philosophically, he finds it amusing – despite a hint of resignation – that some things in life cannot be predicted although you may influence events, something that he still tries to do.

He is now planning to broaden his collaborations to other fields – such as agronomy or remote sensing – as these are essential to the development of his research topics. He is already planning to increase the scope of his project in Nepal, hoping to initiate field surveys and address issues relative to the accounting systems adopted by cooperatives.

As the high-level athlete that he was until very recently, he is attacking these challenges with appropriate enthusiasm, explaining that in research, as in rowing, you can advance towards an unknown point but will only know where you are going by looking behind you.

Catherine Foucaud-Scheunemann, translated by Victoria Hawken


François LiboisJRU Paris-Jourdan Sciences économiques (CNRS, ENS, EHESS, ENPC, INRAE)



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