Soils, war, life

Putumayo is located in the Andean-Amazonian foothills of southern Colombia. An extremely biodiverse region, it was also an epicenter of the U.S.–Colombia War on Drugs which, until recently, included aerial spraying of illicit coca crops.

When UC Santa Cruz cultural anthropologist Kristina Lyons began her fieldwork in Putumayo, she intended to research the public health and environmental consequences of the herbicide, glyphosate, that rained down from the sky.

Instead, after almost twelve years working with small farmers, soil scientists, state officials, and others, Lyons ended up following the practices that make life possible in a criminalized and poisoned ecology. "The farmers I met pushed me to transform my research questions, and to think about how life is being cultivated in the midst of war," she said.

Lyons' work, "Decomposition as Life Politics: Soils, Selva, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the U.S.­–Colombia War on Drugs," was published in Cultural Anthropology and garnered the Junior Scholar Award from the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association.

In post-conflict Colombia, after a peace agreement between leftist guerrillas and the government, Lyons continues to examine the complexities of science, nature, and justice.