Yves Pacifique Gakunde, a master’s student in environmental studies at Antioch University New England (AUNE), has been chosen to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), March 30-April 1 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Started by President Bill Clinton in 2005, the annual CGI U gathers together students and national youth organizations to talk about solutions to urgent global issues.
Applicants to CGI U must submit a proposed Commitment to Action. Yves’ proposal involves community-based natural resource conservation in Rwanda, his homeland. He wants to help people who live around and rely on three national parks in Rwanda—Nyungwe, Akagera, and Volcanoes—by developing payment-for-ecosystems service. A payment-for-ecosystems service would offer voluntary incentives like health care, education and some food money to encourage people to protect their natural resources instead of destroying them. He worked on the concept during an internship in Rwanda last summer with the Redirect Rwanda organization, based in the United Kingdom.
“People are forbidden from cutting trees, cultivating or poaching in these forests, but they still need firewood and a place to cultivate and to go into the forests to collect water or honey,” Yves said. “They have been relying on these forests for a long time. It’s unjust to have them stop when they don’t have other resources.” He hopes to make it financially feasible instead for them to sustainably use these resources and get involved in activities such as planting trees, controlling erosion, or reporting illegal activities.
Yves graduated from the National University of Rwanda in 2008 with a degree in biology. His undergraduate thesis addressed matrix and edge effects in phenology of some mountain tree species in the Nyungwe National Forest. Beth Kaplin, AUNE professor of environmental studies, was his advisor for that research. After graduation Yves worked with Beth at NUR on the Conservation Biology Education Project funded by a MacArthur Foundation grant. In July 2010, he began a master’s program in sustainable development and climate change at AUNE and, after graduating in May, plans to enter the PhD program in environmental studies next fall.