Daniela Miteva doesn’t consider herself an environmental economist, a development economist, or a conservation economist. In fact, she considers herself all three.
“I am an economist working at the intersection of conservation and development. I am very interested in ways to improve human welfare – reduce poverty, make people healthier, happier and wealthier – but I’m also concerned with how we can preserve the natural environment while doing this,” she says. “I want to be recognized as an economist but also make sure that an ecologist, for example, finds my work relevant and credible.”
Miteva, a native of Bulgaria, has conducted research in northern Uganda, Indonesia and recently Mexico and Brazil. One unifying factor, she explains, is that these countries have tremendous biodiversity but they also have interesting social problems that have led to the disappearance of natural ecosystems.
In her research, Miteva models human behavior in the form of companies or households to understand why common policies like protected areas or timber certification may or may not work. As Miteva explains, a lot of policies, especially in developing countries, have implications for not only the natural environment but also poverty alleviation.
Recently in Indonesia, every morning she awoke to the sight and smell of fresh plumes of smoke from burning natural forests. Indonesia’s forests are being converted at an alarming rate into palm oil plantations for cash-generating ventures for the local population and international companies. Though she deemed this experience as truly frightening, she explains that it really gets to the heart of her research goals: how can we make the lives of local populations better and enable economic growth without sacrificing the environment?
“This is where a lot of my work on valuation comes in to supplement the empirical models of land use change: valuing the benefits people get from the natural environment and trying to figure out if we are producing socially optimal levels of these services and how to incentivize people to produce more of those,” she explains.
Miteva is bringing this knowledge to the classroom as the instructor of “The Sustainable Economy: Concepts and Methods,” a required course for all undergraduate students studying in Ohio State’s Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability (EEDS) curriculum. The class combines economic theory with ecology. As Miteva explains, she is teaching students to apply concepts like efficiency to ecological topics such as ecosystems’ resilience. Like in Miteva’s research, the course takes an in-depth look at what it means for an economy to be sustainable, with the goal of understanding of how policy is applied in real-life scenarios.
A graduate of the doctoral program at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Miteva greatly values her experience engaging with a wide range of researchers while in graduate school. She notes that in addition to working with environmental and development economists while at Duke, she shared office and classroom space with those working in the natural sciences, leading to a natural crosspollination of ideas.
“Some of the people I met in the program are my best friends and I bug them all of the time about how to approach a model or concept in the field that they specialize in,” she says. “For example, I am currently working with Duke on an assessment of tenure of different kinds of property rights in Colombia with an ecologist friend who also did his PhD at the Nicholas School. We are trying to figure out the impact of granting property rights to indigenous communities and the trickle-down effect on forest preservation.”
Miteva’s interest in interdisciplinary research is a natural fit for Ohio State’s Discovery Themes, a program, under which she was jointly hired. As a researcher in the theme focused on Sustainable and Resilient Economy, Miteva looks forward to meeting people from across the university and collaborating on groundbreaking research that uses concepts and tools from multiple disciplines to address issues of sustainability globally.
An intrepid traveler, Miteva greatly values her time in the field and considers traveling for both work and pleasure one of her favorite pastimes. When on the road for a conference or field work she always tries to fit in time for sightseeing, often meeting up with friends from around the world. In addition to traveling, Miteva enjoys biking and bird watching in her rare downtime at home.