Please tell us about yourself

Doctoral candidate Rishi Bastakoti, who did a PhD from University of Calgary (Environmental Policy), had the perfect childhood grounding for his research on the importance of local input into global forestry issues: his family survived on subsistence agriculture in Nepal.

The Vanier Scholarship winner’s rural roots have led him to international studies. In late October, he will travel to Nepal to talk to local- and national-level policymakers about community forestry and carbon-trading issues. “We are trading carbon in international markets, but community interests have not been considered because legally, communities don’t own the forest carbon that they have protected,” says Bastakoti, a doctoral candidate in geography.

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Bastakoti is one of eight researchers at the University of Calgarywho were announced Monday as Vanier recipients.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

Most communities in Nepal are heavily dependent on forests for fuel, construction materials, and foliage that acts as fodder for cattle, he explains. During the 1950s, when the Nepalese government nationalized forests, communities lost their sense of ownership, resulting in extensive deforestation. The lesson? “If people have ownership of the forest, they will protect it.”

During the 1980s, the national government introduced more participatory forest management, but the initiative was hampered by political and economic interests that refused to relinquish control over the most productive forests, Bastakoti says. In 1993, his devotion to the subject prompted him to attend forestry college in Tribhuvan University, Nepal, then work as a local forestry manager. He subsequently obtained a Master’s in Tropical Forestry and Management from Germany’s Dresden University of Technology where he successfully competed for a DAAD fellowship. In 2011, he became a University of Calgary doctoral student after spending a year here as a visiting researcher.

Tell us about your work

“I work as a policy practitioner in Nepal, working with different policy networks and providing policy feedback,” he says. “The more forest you conserve, the more carbon you store for the global environment.”

Bastakoti argues that global interests in carbon-emission reductions, and the local interests of communities, need to be aligned because communities conserve forests to protect their livelihood. He says his studies in Nepal also have global implications because 36 countries are currently piloting carbon trading with support from the World Bank.

When Bastakoti visits Nepal, he hopes to see his parents who still farm in the community of Amppipal, where he grew up – and used to walk two hours each way to school and back. “My kids don’t believe it,” says the father of two boys, aged 13 and nine.

These days, he lives in on-campus student family housing with his children and wife Kalpana, whom he met while they were both doing undergraduate studies.  His walk to work is barely 10 minutes.

While he’s happy with the academic recognition that comes with being a Vanier Scholarship winner, Bastakoti also feels the weight of responsibility. “It’s a big challenge for me to give back to the global community,” he says.