Gert Van Hecken

Gert Van Hecken


S.S, S.S.121
Lange Sint - Annastraat 7
2000 Antwerpen, BEL

Short Bio

I am working as a lecturer in International Cooperation and Development at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp, Belgium, and as associate researcher at the research and development institute 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 development NGO Broederlijk Delen. During these years I have worked closely with local (civil) organisations, such as the research and development institute Nitlapan-UCA, various farmer organisations, and the environmental NGO Fundación del Río, as well as with several governmental organisations (e.g. Nicaraguan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA)), and academic institutions (e.g. Universidad Centroamericana (UCA)).

Currently, I am also a Board Member of Oxfam Belgium, and part of the Advisory Commission of the Belgian development NGO Broederlijk Delen.


Research interests

My main research interests lie in the nexus between social and environmental processes, and more specifically in the socio-political dynamics triggered by (international) climate change and environmental policies, such as carbon and biodiversity markets, Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), and green microfinance. I am also interested in alternative (transformational) paradigms, social movements and processes related to degrowth, and decolonial approaches to social-ecological futures.

Most of my research has been focussed on Central- and South America, using multi-disciplinary and mixed methods approaches, mostly inspired by processes of participatory action research for the co-creation of knowledge (see for example a video on our experiences in Nicaragua).

Theoretically, my research mainly builds on insights from political ecology, ecological economics, and critical geography.

Here you can find an overview of the research projects I am currently involved in.



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:

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 on territorial development and environmental governance in the teaching programmes we organize with our partners in Central America.


Key publications

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 free copy of my doctoral dissertation on critical institutional approaches to analyse 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)

My key publications in academic journals include:

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.

Windey, C., G. Van Hecken (2019) Contested mappings in a dynamic space: emerging socio-spatial relationships in the context of REDD+. A case from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Landscape Research, doi: 10.1080/01426397.2019.1691983

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.

My key contributions to opinion pieces and the 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.

"De twijfelachtige kleuren van groen geld", in: MO*, 21 October 2015  (also available in English).


Supervision of PhD students

I am currently 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)