I am associate professor at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp, Belgium, and associate researcher at Nitlapan-UCA (Universidad Centroamericana), Nicaragua. I hold a PhD in Development Studies (University of Antwerp), an Advanced Master in Environmental Sciences (University of Antwerp) and a Master in Business Engineering (University of Antwerp).
During the past fifteen years I have spent most of my time in Nicaragua, working as a doctoral and postdoctoral researcher on social-environmental change in rural contexts funded by the FWO (Flemish Scientific Research Foundation), and previously as the country representative for the Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen. During these years I have worked closely with local (civil) organizations, such as the research and development institute Nitlapan-UCA, various farmer movements, and the environmental NGO Fundación del Río, as well as with several governmental organizations (e.g. Nicaraguan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA)), and academic institutions (e.g. Universidad Centroamericana (UCA)).
My research focuses on the politics of knowledge in conservation and development, on critiques of neoliberal natures and ‘green economy’ proposals, on alternative (transformational) paradigms, social movements and processes related to degrowth, as well as on other processes of (re)imagining and (re)enacting alternative social-ecological futures. More specifically, I focus on the social and environmental justice aspects of climate change and ecosystem service policies in ‘development’ contexts, such as carbon and biodiversity markets, payments for ecosystem services (PES), and green microfinance. Most of my research has focused on Central- and South America, using different strategies mostly inspired by processes of participatory action research (see for example a video on our experiences in Nicaragua). My theoretical approach is interdisciplinary and draws largely from the fields of political ecology, ecological economics, and critical geography.
At the IOB, I am teaching the following courses in the Advanced Master of Development Evaluation and Management and the Advanced Master of Globalization and Development:
- Qualitative Development Monitoring & Evaluation
- Sustainable Development, Climate Finance and the Greening of Aid
- Global Environment-Development nexus
I am also the academic coordinator of the yearly Debating Development series organized at our University .
At the Faculty of Biology and in cooperation with the Institute of Environment & Sustainable Development I am teaching a course on Sustainable Development.
I am also involved as a lecturer in some of the teaching programs organized at our partner institutes in Central America.
I have published several book chapters, opinion pieces, policy briefs, and research articles in a diversity of (academic) outlets (for a full overview see my publication profile on University of Antwerp or GoogleScholar).
- A copy of my doctoral dissertation on critical institutional approaches to analyze the on-the-ground social and political effects of market-based conservation mechanisms can be downloaded here.
- Recently I co-edited a Special Issue on "Beyond Market Logics: Payments for Ecosystem Services as Alternative Development Practices in the Global South" in the journal Development and Change (2020, Volume 51, Issue 1)
Some contributions to opinion pieces / public debate include:
- "Towards a non-extractive and care-driven academia", in: Beyond Development, 17 August 2020.
- "Planet of the dehumanized: Environmentalism that does not center structural inequality is a dangerous nod to both eco-fascists and eco-modernists alike", in: Uneven Earth, 7 May 2020 (also available in Spanish in the journal Ecología Política).
- "Er is meer dan één probleem met Michael Moore's 'Planet of the Humans'”, in: Mo*, 6 May 2020.
- "COP25 climate summit: Action must include divestment, decolonization and resistance", in: The Conversation, 10 December 2019 (also available in French, Spanish and Indonesian).
- "Hoe we nul-emissies écht waar kunnen maken", in: De Morgen, 21 December 2019.
- "Political ecologists in solidarity with Nicaragua", in: Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) Blog, 2 August 2018.
Some key academic publications include:
- Van Hecken, G., V. Kolinjivadi, F. Huybrechs, J. Bastiaensen, P. Merlet (2021) Playing into the Hands of the Powerful: Extracting 'Success' by Mining for Evidence in a Payments for Environmental Services Project in Matiguás-Río Blanco, Nicaragua. Tropical Conservation Science 14: 1-8.
- Shapiro-Garza, E., V. Kolinjivadi, G. Van Hecken, C. Windey, J. Casolo (2021) Praxis in Resource Geography: Tensions Between Engagement and Critique in the (Un)Making of Ecosystem Services. In Himley, M., Havice, E., Valdivia, G. (Eds) The Routledge Handbook of Critical Resource Geography (pp 236-247). London: Routledge.
- Bastiaensen, J., F. Huybrechs, P. Merlet, M. Romero, G. Van Hecken (2021) Fostering bottom-up actor coalitions for transforming complex rural territorial pathways. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 49: 42-49.
- Karpouzoglou T., A. Dewulf, K. Perez, P. Gurung, S. Regmi, A. Isaeva, M. Foggin, J. Bastiaensen, G. Van Hecken, Z. Zulkafli, F. Mao, J. Clark, D. Hannah, P. Chapagain, W. Buytaert, K. Cieslik (2020) From present to future development pathways in fragile mountain landscapes. Environmental Science & Policy 114: 606-613.
- Shapiro-Garza, E., P. McElwee, G. Van Hecken, E. Corbera (2020) Beyond Market Logics: Payments for Ecosystem Services as Alternative Development Practices in the Global South. Development and Change 51(1): 3-25.
- Corbera, E., S. Costedoat, D. Ezzine-de-Blas, G. Van Hecken (2020) Troubled Encounters: Payments for Ecosystem Services in Chiapas, Mexico. Development and Change 51(1): 167-195.
- Huybrechs, F., J. Bastiaensen, G. Van Hecken (2019) Exploring the potential contribution of green microfinance in transformations to sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 41: 85-92.
- Kolinjivadi, V., G. Van Hecken, D. Vela Almeida, J. Dupras, N. Kosoy (2019) Neoliberal performatives and the 'making' of Payments for Ecosystem Services. Progress in Human Geography 43(1): 3–25.
- Van Hecken, G., P. Merlet, M. Lindtner and J. Bastiaensen (2019) Can financial incentives change farmers' motivations? An agrarian system approach to development pathways at the Nicaraguan agricultural frontier. Ecological Economics 156: 519-529.
- Merlet, P., G. Van Hecken and R. Rodriguez-Fabilena (2018) Playing before paying? A PES simulation game for assessing power inequalities and motivations in the governance of Ecosystem Services. Ecosystem Services 34: 218-227.
- Van Hecken, G., Kolinjivadi, V., Windey, C., McElwee, P., Shapiro-Garza, E., Huybrechs, F., Bastiaensen, J. (2018) Silencing Agency in Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) by Essentializing a Neoliberal ‘Monster’ Into Being: A Response to Fletcher & Büscher's ‘PES Conceit’. Ecological Economics 144: 314-318.
- Pasgaard, M., G. Van Hecken, A. Ehammer, N. Strange (2017) Unfolding scientific expertise and security in the changing governance of Ecosystem Services. Geoforum 84: 354-367.
- Kolinjivadi, V., G. Van Hecken, J.C. Rodríguez de Francisco, J. Pelenc and N. Kosoy (2017) As a lock to a key? Why science is more than just an instrument to pay for nature's services. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 26–27: 1–6.
- Van Hecken, G., J. Bastiaensen and C. Windey (2015) Towards a power-sensitive and socially-informed analysis of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES): Addressing the gaps in the current debate. Ecological Economics 120: 117-125.
- Van Hecken, G., J. Bastiaensen and F. Huybrechs (2015) What’s in a name? Epistemic perspectives and payments for ecosystem services policies in Nicaragua, Geoforum 63: 55-66.
- Van Hecken, G. and K. Baker (2015) Crossfire: “Are we using Payments for Ecosystem Services to transfer our responsibility for over-consuming natural resources onto poor farmers in the global South?" Enterprise Development and Microfinance 26(3): 215-221.
- Muradian, R., M. Arsel, L. Pellegrini, F. Adaman, B. Aguilar, B. Agarwal, E. Corbera, D. Ezzine de Blas, J. Farley, G. Froger, E. Garcia-Frapolli, E. Gómez-Baggethun; J. Gowdy, N. Kosoy, J.F. Le Coq, P. Leroy, P. May, P. Méral, P. Mibielli, R. Norgaard, B. Ozkaynak, U. Pascual, W. Pengue, M. Perez, D. Pesche, R. Pirard, J. Ramos-Martin, L. Rival, F. Saenz, G. Van Hecken, A. Vatn, B. Vira and K. Urama (2013) Payments for Ecosystem Services and the fatal attraction of win-win solutions, Conservation Letters 6(4): 274-279.
- Van Hecken, G., J. Bastiaensen and W.F. Vásquez (2012) The Viability of Local Payments for Watershed Services: Empirical Evidence from Matiguás, Nicaragua, Ecological Economics 74: 169-176.
- Van Hecken, G. and J. Bastiaensen (2010) Payments for Ecosystem Services: Justified or Not? A Political View, Environmental Science & Policy 13(8): 785-792.
- Van Hecken, G. and J. Bastiaensen (2010) Payments for Ecosystem Services in Nicaragua: Do Market-Based Approaches Work?, Development and Change 41(3): 421-444.
Supervision of PhD students
I am promotor of several PhD students working on:
- The political ecology of green microfinance instruments in Nicaragua (by Frédéric Huybrechs)
- From geocoded to entangled landscape: Forests, REDD+ environmental rule and everyday practices in DR Congo (by Catherine Windey)
- A comparative analysis of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Nicaragua and Guatemala (by René Rodriguez Fabilena)
- Heterogeneities of farmer rationalities and territorial development pathways: Perspectives for 'microfinance plus' models in Nicaragua (by Milagros Romero)
- Neoliberal conservation and hybrid resistances in Colombia: A scalar political ecology of environmental governance and social-ecological change in the Andean-Amazonian conservation corridor (by Juan Sebastian Velez Triana)
- Political Ecologies of Payments for Ecosystem Services and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Nicaragua and Guatemala (by Danya Nadar)