Environmental Defense Fund: Cuba Sustainable Ecosystems Fellow

Apply here. (Applications due Friday, January 12, 2018)

Non-U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for this position.

Website: www.edf.org

Location: Raleigh, NC

Fellowship Position

Position title: Cuba Sustainable Ecosystems Fellow

Department: Ecosystems

Reports to: Director, Habitat Markets

Address of fellowship placement: 4000 Westchase Blvd Suite 510, Raleigh, NC 27607

Department Description

The Ecosystems program: EDF’s ecosystems team capitalizes on market-based drivers to assist farmers and ranchers reduce fertilizer pollution, conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife and protect groundwater in the United States – all without stifling necessary agricultural production and economic growth. We now seek to bring this approach to Cuba, where renewed relations with the U.S. are generating both economic opportunities and pressures. For Cuba’s people and economy to thrive, the country must sustainably increase agricultural production while protecting its precious land, water, and wildlife.

EDF in Cuba: EDF has been working to protect marine and coastal ecosystems in Cuba for 16 years, with a particular emphasis on conserving coral reefs and other critical habitats and rebuilding depleted marine fish populations. EDF helped lay the foundation for a world-class network of marine protected areas that will eventually protect a full 25% of Cuba’s coastal waters and we partnered with Cuban scientists and managers to develop Cuba’s first-ever plan to protect declining shark populations. We are now working with fishing communities to develop new fishery management programs that maximize conservation, social and economic benefits. Our long engagement in Cuba provides a solid foundation for the emergence of a Sustainable Ecosystems effort in this dynamic country.

Position Description

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with Cuban experts and stakeholders, is launching a scoping project focused on designing, implementing and demonstrating a new sustainable intensification model to help meet the growing agricultural needs in Cuba while protecting wildlife and waters. We will use lessons learned from our work with farmers and ranchers in the U.S. to design a model that grows more food while improving wildlife habitat, protecting water quality, and ensuring groundwater supply in Cuba. Creating a successful working model in Cuba can also help inspire and accelerate change in other developing countries.

About 60% of Cuba’s land area is identified as existing or former agricultural land with approximately 30% currently under cultivation. How this land is used and managed in the years ahead will determine the future of Cuba’s biodiversity, water quality and ground water resources. If Cuba intensifies agricultural production to meet demand using last century’s unsustainable farming practices, more than half the land area of the country will be threatened, as will downstream bays and coastal areas that provide important habitat for a wealth of marine species.

The next two years will be a time of rapid change and new opportunities across Cuba. Renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba means tourism and trade are set to spike dramatically; Cuba is facing a series of critical choices to meet increased demand for food while protecting its natural resources. To help Cuba increase production without undermining its abundant natural resources, EDF and our partners will explore new models of sustainable intensification that achieve three outcomes:

  • Avoid fertilizer pollution: Countries that transition to modern agricultural practices typically increase synthetic fertilizer use to boost yields, but inefficient fertilizer use can lead to water and air quality degradation. If Cuba adopts an inefficient farming system, the runoff could threaten domestic water resources and coastal waters.
  • Protect biodiversity: Cuba has been called the Crown Jewel of the Caribbean for its exceptional beauty and biodiversity. The future management of Cuba’s rural lands will impact both the existing hotspots for Cuba’s endemic biodiversity and the current habitat for migratory birds that transit to and across Cuba every year.
  • Improve water management: Land management patterns and agricultural irrigation threaten to exacerbate the anticipated increase in rainfall variability due to climate change. Managing the country’s rural lands and aquifer recharge areas will be critical for securing clean and abundant groundwater that is key to Cuba’s agricultural productivity and growing human population.

With close supervision and guidance, the Fellow will provide the day-to-day engagement and leadership on the exploration, design and implementation of a new model of sustainable intensification for Cuba. This is an exciting opportunity to help shape the future of Cuban agriculture, the management of the country’s rural lands and design a sustainable model of intensification for other developing countries.

Examples of specific responsibilities, projects, tasks, and/or duties of the Fellow include:

The High Meadows Fellow will work with a small team of EDF Ecosystems and Cuba program staff to research, design and begin implementing a sustainable agriculture intensification model that minimizes fertilizer pollution, protects biodiversity and secures clean and abundant groundwater.

  • Research: The fellow will spend a majority of their time early in the fellowship exploring existing Cuban agricultural models, landownership patterns and laws, and natural resources (wildlife, water, etc). In addition, the Fellow will research models of sustainable agricultural intensification, lessons learned from past efforts and best practices to consider in Cuba. One or more white papers and/or public presentations are expected from this exploration and research. The time spent on research is expected to decline as the fellowship progresses.
  • Direct Stakeholder Engagement: The fellow, with supervision and support from EDF staff, will directly engage stakeholders both in the U.S. and in Cuba to learn, share and develop new sustainability models. This engagement will be limited at first but is expected to grow quickly throughout the fellowship with an expectation that the fellow becomes the primary point of engagement with multiple stakeholders. This engagement will likely include phone conversations, individual meetings and organized group meetings.
  • Design and Implementation: While research is expected to dominate the fellow’s time during the first half of the fellowship, the goal of the fellowship is to design and begin implementing a sustainable intensification model or pilot project. In coordination with EDF staff and key stakeholders, the Fellow will help design the new model including a proposed implementation plan. Depending on time, resources and the details of the implementation plan, the Fellow will work with staff and stakeholders to initiate the plan.
  • Communication: The fellow will be an active participant in communicating EDF’s engagement on sustainable agriculture in Cuba, including written reports, blog posts, media engagement, internal communications and external presentations.
  • Organization and travel: During the fellowship, the fellow may be asked to organize group meetings, symposium, and exchanges between U.S. and Cuban stakeholders. As needed to conduct research, design and implementation, the fellow will need to travel to other EDF offices, Cuba and other locations to engage staff and/or stakeholders.


The ideal candidate for this position should have coursework and preferably work experience that demonstrates an understanding of ecological processes and ecosystem services including wildlife, streams and wetlands, groundwater and/or biodiversity.

Additional coursework in one or more of the following areas preferred: economics, policy, law,
or international relations.

In addition, experience with or understanding of land management, agricultural systems and/or landowner engagement would be useful but not required for the position.

Proficiency in Spanish and/or international travel experience is desired but not required.

Professional Development

The fellow would have access to professional development opportunities through EDF’s national staff retreat and program retreats. The fellow will be mentored by a cross-program team, including Daniel Whittle, Senior Director in the Oceans Program and lead staff on the Cuba program and Maggie Monast and Katie Anderson, Managers on the agriculture sustainable sourcing initiative.

In addition, the fellow will have opportunity for engagement with other EDF staff as well as external stakeholders in the Raleigh-Durham area including academics at Duke, UNC and NC State. Finally, the fellow will work closely with Cuba experts in country and in the US.

Depending on the interest of the fellow and specific needs of the program, there will likely be opportunity for the fellow to present at conferences and/or publish articles. International travel to Cuba is expected to be part of the fellow’s experience.