The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are leading a multi-institutional initiative to create the Congo Basin Institute (CBI) in Cameroon http://www.environment.ucla.edu/ctr/initiatives/index.html. Leveraging the resources of local and international universities, industry, and development organizations, the CBI will serve as a regional nexus for interdisciplinary research, education, training and technology development focused on critical issues facing the Congo Basin with implications for both the developing and developed world: climate change and its impacts, water and food security, and human and animal health.
With a green-designed campus as its foundation, the CBI is a unique and scalable model that embodies long-term capacity building, sustainability, and finding practical solutions to critical needs. This iconic physical infrastructure will provide additional support for CBI’s programmatic activities and promote long-term social and educational development through the construction of: 1) a distance learning center for US and African students, 2) digital data repositories, 3) technical training and equipment repair facility, 4) remote sensing and GIS research and training lab, 5) molecular genetics and analytics lab, 6) platform/technology test bed innovation facility, 7) incubator for start-ups and entrepreneurs, 8) lodging and conference center for an international community of scientists and researchers, and 9) logistics and administrative office to assist and facilitate local partnerships.
The Congo Basin Institute (CBI) in Cameroon is designed to integrate and expand on the existing IITA campus, transforming it 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, and 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 educational programs.
UCLA’s dedication to building a sustainable and integrative scientific network in Cameroon began four years ago with the establishment of the UCLA International Research and Training Center (IRTC) in Yaoundé (http://www.irtc.ucla.edu). This facility provides lodging for scholars, logistical support, and an environment that promotes scientific exchange and collaboration between African and international scholars. To date, the IRTC has already assisted over 800 scholars from 15 countries in various educational and research endeavors, many of which have resulted in local and regional collaborative projects. Funded through a fee-for-use system, the IRTC is financially self-sustainable; however, the demand for use of the facility has far exceeded its capacity. The creation of the CBI will answer this demand and, more importantly, will create a model that builds on this culture of collaboration and innovation, creating opportunities for positive social, educational, environmental, and economic transformation.
Phase I construction will require an initial investment of 7M USD to upgrade existing facilities and build a distance learning center and dormitories on the existing IITA partner campus. Total infrastructure, programmatic, and operational costs for the CBI are projected at 40M USD, with 17M USD match funds already committed.
The capital program has made rapid progress with significant dedication to legal and strategic development of the CBI and the involvement of Gensler architectural firm, based in Los Angeles, CA. Detailed building renderings of Gensler’s green designs for the CBI can be seen at the following link: http://www.environment.ucla.edu/ctr/pdfs/CBI-Narrative.pdf.
In addition to the scientific, social, and educational investments in Cameroon and Central Africa, the CBI has the potential to generate significant financial investments in the Cameroonian economy. Contractual construction agreements with local organizations and ongoing local management of the facility will require hiring of Cameroonian personnel, a total investment anticipated to range between $4- 6 million USD over a 5 year span. The CBI also offers an appealing landscape to attract potential long- term revenue generating activities, including rental of the lodging and conference facilities and serving as a valuable, multi-dimensional resource for future projects in the scientific, academic, industrial, non- profit, and private sectors.
The validity of the CBI model is highlighted by UCLA’s recent success in obtaining financial support for programmatic activities in CBI’s target areas. In 2012, Dr. Thomas Smith of the Center for Tropical Research and his collaborators at Drexel University and the University of New Orleans received a $5 million USD NSF – Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) award (http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1243524). To date, this award has resulted in annual international professional development, policy, and educational workshops in both Gabon and Cameroon through the Central African Biodiversity Alliance (http://www.caballiance.org/index.html), with more planned for 2015. An emphasis on international scientific and educational exchange is also the highlight of an Africa-UCLA distance learning course on Case Studies in Environmental Health Sciences Cameroon: Environmental Health Challenges and Opportunities.
Collaborative interest in the CBI continues to flourish with over 36 UCLA faculty members from 17 divisions and schools currently engaged in this UCLA/IITA – led consortium. Other consortium partners include the Central and West African division of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which is dedicated to improving food security and increased resources for energy, sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services; the Centre Pasteur-Cameroun, a major contributor for more than 60 years to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Cameroon through research, teaching, and public health initiatives; and all seven major universities of Cameroon. In addition, the California Academy of Sciences, other UC campuses, Drexel University, University of New Orleans, University of Oregon, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Kansas, and University of Maryland are all interested in joining the CBI consortium.