In 1984, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies launched the Tropical Resources Institute (TRI), an interdisciplinary program that supports and facilitates student research throughout the tropical world.
In the three decades since, TRI has sponsored more than 600 Fellows and their student research projects, and helped them publish their findings in the TRI Bulletin and other academic journals. And in so doing, it has helped launch hundreds of careers in tropical forestry across the planet.
To mark its 30th anniversary, we asked several distinguished former TRI Fellows to describe the work they did while they were students at Yale, share what they’re doing today, and reflect on how their experiences with TRI changed their lives.
I conducted my M.E.Sc. research in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, just north of the small agricultural town of Eldoret. I also spent several weeks in Nairobi interviewing government officials and collecting archival data from the Kenya National Archives. My research focused on the ways in which climate variability influenced agricultural development in the Rift Valley, with special interest on the underlying ideological frameworks that led to the development of contemporary cash-crop agriculture in the region.
In my research, I argue that moral ideologies imported by Christian missionaries – in concert with prevalent environmental degradation discourses evoked by the colonial government and settlers – had profound influences on agricultural development in the Rift Valley. I suggest that this agrarian history may limit future strategies for climate change adaptation in Kenya’s agricultural sector. Furthermore, I suggest that arguments about the weather between colonialists and local populations are based in a specific moral framework that is antecedent to, and revelatory of, current debates about global climate change. Taken together, these factors have contributed to the dispossession of land from local populations and the continued conflicts over resources in the Rift Valley of Kenya.
My most memorable experiences at Yale fall, mainly, into two categories: (a) my interactions and relationships with members of the F&ES community, and (b) the tremendous resources available at Yale, especially the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The former was, of course, the cornerstone of my experience at Yale. It was an honor to be surrounded by so many passionate, brilliant, and caring people at Yale, who collectively and individually shaped my worldview. Here, I must make special mention of my advisor, Michael Dove, who has fundamentally influenced the current trajectories of my academic and professional careers. To the latter point above, as we all know, one could get lost in the endless stacks of books, manuscripts, and other resources scattered throughout the many libraries on campus.
After graduating from F&ES in 2010, I worked for several years at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. This was a rewarding experience through which I was able to continue learning about theory, methods, and practice in development studies. I’m currently a doctoral student in geography at Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass. I’ve continued similar lines of research and academic training from my time at F&ES, and the focus of my dissertation research is broadly situated in the field of political ecology, with a focus on resource-use conflicts and displacement in Kenya.