My experiences while growing up in several countries in Africa fostered my optimistic vision of an African continent. This vision contributed to my interests in working in the field of applied research and education in rural sustainable development at the local and regional levels in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am interested in understanding the effectiveness of market-based approaches to community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) for biodiversity conservation and rural development. I am so excited and thankful to be actively involved in the Applied Biodiversity Science program at Texas A&M University. I believe that the ABS program offers a unique opportunity for graduate students who are interested in conservation to broaden their outlook and gain a richer perspective on this challenging subject.
I received my bachelor degree from Warren-Wilson College in Asheville, NC in Environmental Economics with a minor in Spanish. During my undergraduate studies I completed my internship with a cooperative of cultivators of organic produce in Chalatenango, El Salvador. The Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA), which focuses on developing community-based businesses to promote rural development, funded this program. While there, I met some amazing people and leaders of the community who taught me about the different methods of organic agriculture. I also learnt about the different aspects of community-based businesses in respect to how they are able to compete with other conventional businesses and the internal challenges they may face.
I received my M.Sc. degree from the University of South Carolina in sustainable tourism development. For my Master’s thesis, I studied the impacts of tourism on the environment (especially in parks and protected areas) and rural communities. My research involved the impacts of tourism on the livelihood of the Gullah community of Hilton Head Island.
I am currently a PhD Student in the Community Development program within the Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences department. For my doctoral research I want to address the following questions: (1) have the co-management of some parks and protected areas in Senegal been effective using environmental indicators and local perceptions, and if so, why? (2) how can market-based and participatory approaches to CBNRM positively influence the development of those areas while maintaining the integrity of the environment and the local social systems? Understanding these aspects is important in order to design effective conservation and development strategies that are focused on livelihood diversification and increased economic opportunities for dwellers in and around protected areas. I also intend to carry out a non-market valuation of a national park in Senegal as part of influencing the country’s national policies for park management.
My vision as an African conservationist and rural development advocate is the strengthening of West-African national parks and protected areas, as symbols for biodiversity conservation and contributors of rural development, while keeping alive the cultural diversity of the continent.