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Tropical rainforests are home to abundant biodiversity, but the people who live there are often malnourished and poor. Graduate student Gemara Gifford led an expedition last summer  

Supporting Birdlife and People—Together

December 1, 2015

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Tropical rainforests are home to abundant biodiversity, but the people who live there are often malnourished and poor. Graduate student Gemara Gifford led an expedition last summer to the highlands of Guatemala to identify agricultural practices that conserve bird habitats while improving human nutrition.

Gemara Gifford with Guatemalan childrenGemara Gifford with Guatemalan children

A Gates Millennium Scholar and first-generation college student, Gifford was backed by the Sustainable Biodiversity Fund, now in its fifth year. With help from undergraduates and in-country partners, Gifford worked with Q'eqchi' Mayan villages in Guatemala’s cloud forests.

The Towards Sustainability Foundation recently increased funding to the SBF, launching a new mentoring program that pairs graduate students like Gifford with Cornell undergrads on cross-disciplinary projects that encourage biodiversity in the U.S. and abroad.

“In a place like Guatemala, there is incredible potential to improve the lives of people and conserve biodiversity at the same time,” Gifford said. “I am humbled by the kilometers we hiked searching for rare birds, the hundreds of schoolchildren we reached through environmental education, and most of all, the personal growth and responsibility that comes with being an international researcher.”