Geography Professor Pursues Her Passion for Biodiversity in Tanzania

By Tiffany Molina

Beymer-Farris and a friend tote firewood through the Tanzanian jungle.

“Nchi ya Amani” means the country of peace in Swahili and is used to refer to the African country of Tanzania, a highly biodiverse nation that houses one of the natural wonders of the world, the Ngorongoro Crater. It is no wonder that University of Kentucky Assistant Professor of Geography Betsy Beymer-Farris fell in love with Tanzania when she first visited during her undergraduate career at Wittenberg University.

Before her first trip to Tanzania, Beymer-Farris, a first-generation scholar, had never traveled outside the U.S. “My first experience in Tanzania was 17 years ago. I did undergraduate research and lived in the country, and fell in love with it,” Beymer-Farris said.

“It’s incredibly beautiful, it has some of the world’s most important biodiversity and wildlife,” she said.

Beymer-Farris found her passion in biodiversity conservation. A passion that led her to visit Tanzania every year and to conduct research in a marine park with the highest biodiversity anywhere in the Indian Ocean. Her research focuses on how protected areas policies are conceived and on whose terms. Beymer-Farris’s research seeks to illuminate the voices of those who depend most heavily on these rich marine resources, she explained. In doing so, her research reveals that policies that respect the rights and integrate the knowledge of those people who live and utilize these important seascapes are the ones that succeed.   

“It’s important to understand how these policies are designed and how they influence those in the area. My work tries to illuminate the voices and knowledge of the people who actually live and depend on these resources, so that they are heard,” Beymer-Farris said. “I work hard towards incorporating Tanzanians’ knowledge and experiences into marine protected areas policies so that both biodiversity and people’s rights are protected.”

Beymer-Farris considers Tanzania her home away from home, admitting she misses it whenever she comes back to the U.S. This dedication to the Tanzanian people she works with makes her work that much more valuable.

“Tanzanians are a vibrant, beautiful culture, that I became really passionate about and love working with and learning from,” Beymer-Farris said, smiling.

Through her research, Beymer-Farris realized that the people who use the resources day in and day out, such as small-scale farmers and fishermen, have an incredible amount of knowledge about these resources and changes that are happening to them over time. “What has been so fascinating for me is to respect that knowledge and try to understand it,” Beymer-Farris said.  

“Often times, when I come back to the U.S. and read about it scientifically, I find that their ideas (the people in Tanzania) are much more progressive,” Beymer-Farris said. “Sometimes, it’s exactly on par with what the scientific literature says and sometimes it’s even beyond what we understand from books. This unique knowledge comes from a long history of living in and utilizing a natural resource.”

After spending several years in Tanzania and doing research abroad, Beymer-Farris emphasized the value of her international experience.

“I tell all my students that if you can have the opportunity to study away, you definitely should. It can change your life,” Beymer-Farris said. “I hope that my passion for working in Tanzania inspires students. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to pursue my dream of working in East Africa and to bring my stories and adventures back to my students at UK.”

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: #uk4ky #seeblue


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