Student Spotlight: Francine Barchett

Francine Barchett

March 11, 2024

Francine Barchett ’19, M.P.S. ’21, is a doctoral candidate in natural resources and the environment from Benton Harbor, Michigan. She earned her B.S. in international agriculture and rural development and M.P.S. in global development at Cornell University and now studies the cultural components and consumer preferences for hunting in Africa’s wildlife economy under the guidance of Keith Tidball at Cornell.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

I study the cultural components and consumer preferences for hunting in Africa’s wildlife economy. Hunting is one of five key sectors of the continent’s wildlife economy initiative, serves important roles in many cultures, and provides food security to rural areas. Narratives around “trophy” and “safari hunting” may receive airtime but fail to reflect African stakeholder perspectives while oversimplifying a highly complex picture of both hunting and hunters within the continent. I consider: How has hunting within Africa adapted and evolved over time? At what point did elitism and the ethos of safari emerge within hunting? And what trends in society and among new hunters might allow hunting to adapt and evolve as a mechanism for wildlife management, food security, and community well-being?

What are the larger implications of this research?

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to present my work to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, each for different reasons. They both recognize the significant economic and wildlife management role hunting has played in many parts of Africa and the prospect that hunting may be reduced due partly to changing cultural attitudes and participation trends in hunting. My research can thus inform a more objective, data-driven conversation on hunting’s role within Africa’s wildlife economy.

I’ll note here that my research is not “taking sides” on the hunting issue but rather giving a serious look at a complex topic affecting diverse peoples, communities, and wildlife species in 19 African countries.

What does it mean to you to have been selected as a youth representative for the World Food Prize Foundation Council of Advisors?

It’s an immense honor and so deeply humbling! The World Food Prize Foundation showed me that ensuring food is accessible, affordable, and safe for all people is one of the noblest aspirations I can work toward. They’ve also proven to me that my passions can become a career pathway. When I was in high school, their youth programs introduced me to Cornell and its world-class agricultural research programs. That’s the trajectory I ended up on. Finally, the World Food Prize Foundation activated my love for teaching. Through their globally renowned institutes in New York, Michigan, and Iowa, I’ve helped mentor over 500 high schoolers on their own research projects and career pathways linked to STEM for the social good. To be recognized for my work and now be able to give back in this way is thus very meaningful.

What will this selection allow you to do?

I will support and advise the World Food Prize Foundation on their various projects and activities as the premier global organization and meeting hub for nutrition, food security, and agriculture.

One major role I will play is helping determine who becomes the World Food Prize Laureate. The World Food Prize has often been dubbed the Nobel Peace Prize for Agriculture, as it’s $500,000 given to someone who has done something extraordinary to address world hunger, poverty, and/or food insecurity. Beyond that, I will provide input and guidance for the World Food Prize Foundation’s other programs, like their high school youth institutes, which happen in 30 states and several countries; and their annual Borlaug Dialogue, where agricultural executives, policymakers, and heads of state from over 80 countries gather to discuss innovations and paths toward attaining global food security.

President Pollack has designated this academic year’s theme as freedom of expression. What does freedom of expression mean to you?

Freedom of expression means that you can express yourself – your research and work, your culture, your beliefs and whatever else you represent – freely to others, including and especially to those who are different from you. While I may or may not agree with everything you say, I should recognize that your contribution is important and 99.9% of the time I have something to learn.

Since I am studying in the environmental field, it’s been very valuable for me to learn how to collaborate with diverse people. When we consider current political and ideological polarizations, it’s critical that we force ourselves to have difficult conversations and find common ground, especially if we wish to safeguard the future of our shared planet.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

I keep myself busy while doing what I love! I run very long distances, or what some people call “ultramarathons.” Last year, I just crossed qualifying for the Boston Marathon off my bucket list. This February, I am running a 100 miler in Alaska…while pulling a sled! I also love playing accordion and piano music at nursing homes. In the last couple years, I’ve been trying to connect my faith and spiritual beliefs with my environmentalist side. So, a friend and I co-founded the Cornell Faith & Environment Collective and host various events on campus for that.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

I honestly don’t think there’s a better place than Cornell for designing your own degree program. Look at me: I have committee members from the business school, law school, veterinary college, and agricultural college, each contributing in a complementary way to my dissertation. I also love that Cornell is not just about the degree – it’s preparing you for the next stage of your life. I’m grateful to have had so many opportunities to gain teaching experience (kudos to Center for Teaching Innovation) and also to think deeply about academic versus non-academic pathways (kudos to Careers Beyond Academia) after graduation. Oh, and did I mention – Ithaca is gorgeous?!