Knowledge for a sustainable world

BA (Hons), PhD

Professor John Morton has a first degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD from the University of Hull for a thesis on the social organisation of the Northern Beja, a group of semi-nomadic pastoralists in north-eastern Sudan. After working for Oxfam in north-eastern Sudan during the famine of 1985-86, he worked as a consultant for a variety of NGOs, UN agencies, etc., including three years as a freelance consultant based in Pakistan. He joined NRI in 1993. He has been Professor of Development Anthropology since 2004 and Co-Lead of the Centre for Society, Environment and Development since 2022. He was Associate Research Director (Social Sciences) 2001-10 and Head of the Livelihoods and Institutions Department 2010-18.

John has led significant projects within two key research fields. One of these is the social, institutional and policy aspects of livestock development, particularly among pastoralist peoples. Since 2017 John has acted as the social sector specialist in three interdisciplinary studies of value chains for livestock products: beef in Eswatini, milk in Burundi, and cashmere in Mongolia. Earlier in his career he made important contributions to the study of drought management among pastoralists in Northern Kenya.

John also researches the impacts of climate change on smallholders, pastoralists and other categories of the rural poor, and their prospects for adaptation. He designed and led a research project on Climate Learning for African Agriculture (2011-13), investigating the actual and potential policies and practices of agricultural research and extension services in the face of climate change. He also worked as leader of the Quality Support Component of DFID’s CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement) Programme between 2015 and 2019.

John has published in a variety of high impact journals, including World Development, Global Environmental Change, Climate and Development, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Climate Change, Disasters, and the European Journal of Development Research.

John has also carried out high-level consultancies for FCDO, The European Commission, the World Bank, UNDP and several NGOs within his specialist research areas. He has field experience in numerous African countries (especially in the Horn of Africa), South Asia and Mongolia. He is fluent in French, and speaks some Arabic.

John served as a Lead Author on smallholder and subsistence agriculture within the chapter on Food, Forests and Fibre of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and as such he was recognised as contributing to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC. He has subsequently served as Coordinating Lead Author on Rural Areas for the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 and as Lead Author on Risk Management and Decision Making in Relation to Sustainable Development for the Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

John has two overlapping sets of research interests:

  • The social, institutional and political context for livestock development, and for the development of pastoralist communities. He has worked on appropriate methodologies for livestock research among small-scale communities, on factors influencing uptake of tsetse control activities and ways to disseminate those technologies. He has led innovative research projects on the relations of pastoralist communities with elected parliamentarians in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and on the engagement of the Ethiopian private sector (particularly meat and livestock exporters) in pastoral development. His work on livestock product value chains has highlighted the importance of the multifunctionality of livestock systems for small-scale farmers and pastoralists in the Global South, and of the importance of the political-economic context, including land tenure, for livestock production.
  • Impacts of climate change and prospects for adaptation: Through work on droughts and other forms of climate variability in pastoral areas John developed an interest in the impacts of climate change on pastoralists, smallholders and other categories of the rural poor, and their prospects for adaptation. This has been expressed through his work for the IPCC, through his leadership of the project Climate Learning for African Agriculture, and his engagement with African climate change researchers at doctoral and post-doctoral level.

John is currently developing research interests in the anthropology of scientific knowledge, particularly as it relates to questions of livestock and climate change (e.g. the use of science on livestock emissions in climate advocacy, and the development of alternative protein foods). He is also interested in concepts and perceptions of risk.

  • Course Tutor for module on Adaptation to Environmental Change, MSc in Global Environmental Change, NRI.
  • Guest Lecturer for module on Transformative Change – Concepts, Theories, and Case Studies, and module on Climate Change, Food Security and Sustainable Development, both for MSc in Global Sustainable Development, NRI.

Occasional lecturer on Qualitative Research, Case-Studies and Ethnography for PhD students.

Value Chain Analysis for Development (VCA4D): Within this EU-funded programme, implemented by Agrinatura, I have served (2017 - ) as social sector specialist in three interdisciplinary studies of value chains for livestock products: beef in Eswatini, milk in Burundi and cashmere in Mongolia (for which I was also Team Leader). In each case I was responsible for reporting on the social sustainability of the value chain, including working conditions, access to land, gender equality, food security, social capital and living conditions, using a mixture of rural fieldwork, interviews with stakeholders, and review of existing documents and data (in Burundi also inputs to design and analysis of a major structured survey), while collaborating with economic and environmental specialists. Each study has contributed to programme planning for EU Delegations. My involvement with VCA4D has also resulted in two journal papers under review, comparing themes of land tenure and livestock across published VCA4D studies.

Livestock State of Play (2021): I researched and wrote this major public-facing document, including an original horizon-scanning of the major issues in livestock development across the Global South, an analysis of major trends in EU cooperation in the livestock, and selected project case-studies. The document was approved as a publication of the EU and is available at

Support to the Moroccan National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) on Climate Change (2020)

This FCDO-funded project aimed to identity capacity-building needs and form a basis for further support to INRA in the field of climate change. With Professor Hans Dobson of NRI, I visited Morocco, holding meetings with INRA staff at HQ and running workshops for research staff at four regional centres, making recommendations for longer term training and capacity-building. Following Covid-related lockdowns in both UK and Morocco, I led the design and delivery of an agreed programme of support to be delivered remotely, comprising training activities (virtual lectures and one-to-one support) in three areas: a) socio-economic aspects of climate change, particularly as they relate to smallholders, and the roles of agricultural research in climate adaptation; b) agri-climate modelling; and c) bioinformatics, a key skill gap for INRA for its work on the genomics of climate-resilient crops and climate-related plant diseases. I personally delivered the first of these. One-to-one mentoring of Moroccan researchers also produced three journal articles co-authored by NRI staff.

CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement) Programme (2015-2019): I worked as leader of the Quality Support Component of this DFID-funded programme, led by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, between 2015 and 2019. CIRCLE supported 100 African early-career researchers in climate-related fields to spend a year in another African institution. The Quality Support Component, which was awarded through competitive bidding, identified and contracted an international specialist adviser to work with each Fellow. These were drawn from NRI staff, from our partners UCL and LSHTM, but also from other UK institutions, Norway, Sweden, Turkey and India. I also facilitated workshops for Fellows, their supervisors and senior management of the participating African universities, and acted myself as advisor to ten Fellows, leading in several cases to highly-cited publications.

(for University of Greenwich)

  • Menyene Nelson
  • Betty Nakiru
  • Mohammed Aman Ogeto
  • Abubakar Ibrahim
  • Molly Foster
  • Catherine Onyenso

(for Royal Veterinary College)

  • Amber Lawes-Johnson

(for Bayero University Kano)

  • Ursula Tumamo Djuidja
  • Co-Lead, Centre for Society, Environment and Development
  • Co-Leader, Climate Change Research Group
  • University of Greenwich Institutional Lead and Board Member, UBEL (UCL, Bloomsbury and East London) Doctoral Training Partnership
  • NRI Institutional Lead, FCDO Expert Advisory Call Down Services: Climate Change, Nature, and Global Health

Member, Faculty of Engineering and Science Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee.

  • Recognised as contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC, 2007.
  • Member of the Peer Review College of the UK Economic and Social Research Council.
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Panel for the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission for the UK (2009-15).
  • Invited to give the Ralph Melville Memorial Lecture for the Tropical Agricultural Association, 2022.
  • Council Member of the Development Studies Association (2003-09).
  • Trustee of the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (1999-2018) and Chair of Trustees (2007-09)
  • Consultant Scientific Editor for Tropical Animal Health and Production (2010-2022).
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