UCLA and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are leading a multiinstitutional initiative to create the CONGO BASIN INSTITUTE (CBI). With a green designed Research and Education Park as its foundation, it will leverage the resources of universities, industry, and development organizations to expand and amplify the capacity of UCLA’s established International Research and Training Center (IRTC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon and its partner organizations to create a research and training hub and test bed for innovative technologies focused on sustainability. As a regional hub for interdisciplinary research, the Center will respond quickly and find practical solutions to critical problems facing Central Africa and create a scalable model for sustainable development. Consortium partners include: the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a global leader in finding solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty; the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), dedicated to improving food security and increased resources for energy, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystem services; Centre Pasteur du Cameroun, a longtime major contributor to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases through research, teaching, and public health initiatives; and all seven major universities of Cameroon. Collectively, these partners have more than 150 years of experience working in Cameroon.
With an emphasis on in-country capacity building, the CBI will expand the existing IITA campus in Yaoundé to include: 1) a distance learning center for U.S. and African students, 2) digital data repositories, 3) technical training and equipment repair facility, 4) remote sensing research and GIS research and training lab, 5) molecular genetics and analytical laboratories, 6) platform/technology test bed innovation facility, 7) an incubator for start-ups and entrepreneurs, 8) lodging and conference center, and 9) logistics and administrative office to assist international participants and help partner them with local researchers. Initial CBI scientific and training programs will focus on three overarching issues facing Central Africa: Water and Health, Food Security and Safety, and Climate Change. We are leading this effort in collaboration with 36 UCLA faculty members from 17 Divisions and Schools and CBI consortium partners. The CBI will be a model for how universities can partner in international development. We have strategically selected Cameroon as our site because it is the “hinge” between Western and Central Africa, both culturally and geographically; it is relatively stable politically; and it is bilingual, with both French and English as national languages. Cameroon will serve as a hub for activities in Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Chad, the CAR, Equatorial Guinea, and the DRC. Consortium members currently collaborate on a range of projects in the region. For example, Center for Tropical Research (CTR), with other NGOs is creating a 1.3M hectare REDD+ project in Cameroon, which is projected to generate 35M dollars in income for the CBI over the next 50 years, and with Centre Pasteur on influenza spillover between wildlife and humans (funded by NIH). IITA has collaborated with CTR on biodiversity projects, and is currently collaborating with ICRAF on multiple projects including a multi year project on food security in Cameroon funded by USDA FFP. ICRAF also co-organized with UCLA a highly successful distance-learning course in Health Science involving African and US students in May 2012.
The CBI will be sustained and scaled through: 1) a fee-for-use strategy (UCLA’s IRTC and IITA have been operating successfully in such a manner for the past three years); 2) investigator-based funded research activities that leverage the integrative nature and facilities to attract research; 3) private-sector partnerships with entities like ForestLive that provide revenue generation through REDD+ and 4) consortium-led development programs. Consortium members have strong established relationships with all major universities and relevant ministries in Cameroon, and with universities in neighboring countries. The CBI will amplify these connections to build a culture of collaboration and innovation and create opportunities for positive transformational change through collaborative research and education between Africans and Americans. The consortium will apply the best available science to human health and environmental issues while bridging gaps among researchers, universities, local and foreign governmental agencies, business communities, and NGOs.
Progress to date
During the past three years the IRTC has assisted more that 800 scholars from 15 countries. The current facility offers one stop shopping for researchers, providing accommodations, assistance with research and export permits, logistical support, and acts as a hub to connect international researchers with local ones through its network. Once the Phase 1 build out of the CBI is completed, activities of the IRTC will be migrated to the CBI. We have established an MOU with the Cameroon Ministry of Education and all of Cameroon’s seven campuses. UCLA and IITA collaborative efforts now operate under a master affiliation agreement that supports all education and research activities. Phase 1 plans for the CBI have been completed by Gensler (Fig. 1). The CBI is supported by multiple grants through NSF and NIH sponsored workshops, undergraduate and graduate courses for UCLA students for the next four years, and CTR is currently collaborating with IITA on major projects examining the impacts of climate change on biodiversity in Central Africa.
The Congo Basin Institute is designed to integrate and expand on the existing IITA buildings and campus to both the east and west. Transforming the IITA campus into a synergistic research campus the new buildings are strategically located to generate relationships between the various programs and the researchers, students, and educators who are planned to have access to the campus. The conference center anchors the new phases at the northeast corner of the site. Furthermore, the conference center is designed to act as a gateway to the new campus and as a welcoming area for people as they arrive for conferences, research, and education.