Research on the Afrormosia tree in Yangambi, DRC – Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR
A new generation of forest researchers in the Congo
Phase two of the FORETS project focuses on public-private partnerships
In all of Africa, the most mammals, primates, birds, amphibians, fish and butterflies are found in the Congo Basin. In northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve, which once housed the world’s largest tropical agriculture institute, has lost much of its major fauna but is still home to endangered tree species such as Afrormosia (Pericopsis elata). But years of conflict in parts of the country and ongoing mining, logging and wildlife trafficking are threatening the country’s dense forests and the millions of people who depend on them.
CIFOR’s Training, Research, and Environment in the Tshopo (Province)
project, known as FORETS, is working to preserve the natural resources of
Yangambi and to
understand local market dynamics, while
improving the living conditions of its neighboring communities.
Funded by the European Union, FORETS has been training graduate and doctoral degree students in sustainable forest management, in partnership with the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS). In its second phase, the project is working with potential investors, private companies, government institutions and development practitioners to identify and kick-start revenue-generating activities, produce renewable energy such as solar and biomass, and seek investment opportunities for the protection and development of the Yangambi landscape and its people.
In 2018, FORETS launched its second phase, building on knowledge gained about the possible threats to conserving biodiversity as well as the opportunities that people, institutions and activities can bring to the Yangambi landscape. Researchers and practitioners have started to implement a strategy to increase food security and income for local households – many of which are below the poverty line and subsist on agriculture and hunting – by intensifying backyard garden production with improved seeds and locally produced varieties, rehabilitating degraded areas, and supporting farmers to keep and plant certain tree species, so that both families and biodiversity can benefit.
One example of this approach is a detailed analysis of the wild meat value chain, conducted with the participation and support of local hunters, that revealed how local knowledge of animal populations can be a powerful and inexpensive way to understand threats to wildlife. Although researchers found that elephants have completely disappeared locally and other mammal populations have been severely depleted, new camera traps did confirm local sightings of chimpanzees. Having gained a better grasp of how the wild meat sector operates, FORETS is working to increase the supply of meat from domestic animals and to better manage hunting activities as a way to relieve pressure on wildlife.
From 6 foresters … to 220: Building knowledge and expertise
In 2005, there were only six people with postgraduate degrees working as forestry researchers in DRC. In 2009, in collaboration with local and international teachers, CIFOR set out to build the next generation of Congolese forest experts with the REFORCO project, a precursor to FORETS. Today, over 220 postgraduate students have been trained, many of them now scientists, university professors, and private sector and government officials.
To ensure that UNIKIS can continue to provide high-quality education, CIFOR and partners are building and upgrading some of its infrastructure, including a 2,500-square-meter building on the site of the Faculty of Sciences. The building, which will house auditoriums and classrooms for hundreds of students from across the country, was built following the highest sustainability standards, and is designed to have a low carbon footprint.
women are stepping into the ranks of DRC’s forest experts
A decade ago, if there were few men earning
graduate forestry degrees in DRC, there were almost no women. Professor
Consolate Kaswera Kyamakya was one of them, completing her PhD during the
REFORCO project. Now she’s clearing a path for other female scientists to
It’s not easy being one of only five women professors at UNIKIS, balancing the rigors of scientific research with family life. But she loves her work and believes in setting an example for other young students with a passion for forest conservation.