Congo Elephants
Image credit: Flickr, ENOUGH Project. Photo by Nuria Ortega/African Parks Network.

UCLA forges new partnership to promote the conservation and responsible management of the Congo Basin’s tropical forests

The University of California, Los Angeles has officially joined the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP). By doing so, UCLA affirms that their activities in Africa are consistent with the very principles within the cooperation framework of CBFP members to advance sustainable management of forest ecosystems and conservation of biodiversity in Central Africa. Many faculty and staff on campus are engaged in the countries of Central Africa in numerous substantive ways that are consistent with the following CBFP sustainability principles:

Promote the well-being and economic development of local populations through sustainable management of forest and wildlife resources and conservation of the biodiversity of forests

UCLA operates the International Research and Training Center (IRTC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and during the past three years, the IRTC has assisted more than 800 scholars from 15 countries in various educational and research endeavors on wildlife resources and conservation of biodiversity. The current facility provides lodging for scholars, assistance with research permits, logistical support, and acts as a major hub to connect international researchers with local scholars. UCLA is currently in the process of expanding the IRTC, in cooperation with the International Institute of Tropical agriculture (IITA), a global leader in finding solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, on the outskirts of Yaoundé to create the Center for Integrated Development/ Cameroon (CID/C). 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.

Integration of actions into national and regional programs of COMIFAC member states

There are more than 36 UCLA faculty members from 17 divisions and schools currently engaged in building the new Center, with the belief that the CID/C has the potential to become a model for how universities can partner with COMIFAC Member States to further international development. They have strategically selected Cameroon as the 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. CID/C’s consortium members currently collaborate on a range of projects in the region.

Other consortium partners include the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), dedicated to improving food security and increased resources for energy, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystem services; the 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.

Support institutional capacity building and strengthening of the consortium partners

With a green-designed Research and Education Park as its foundation, the CID/C will leverage the resources of universities, industry, and development organizations to expand and amplify the capacity of the IRTC and its partner organizations. The CID/C will act as a research and training hub and a test-bed for innovative technologies, supporting research and training programs that will focus on three overarching issues facing Central Africa: Biodiversity and Climate Change, Water and Health, and Food Security and Safety. Future plans for the CID/C includes 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 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. We believe the new campus will significantly advance many of the key objectives of COMIFAC.

Involve the civil society and the private sector in conservation and sustainable management actions of Central African forest ecosystems and set national and regional consultation processes to assure transparency in the management of the forest environment sector

Consortium members have strong, established relationships with all major universities, relevant ministries and other stakeholders in Cameroon, and universities in neighboring countries. The CID/C will strengthen these connections to build a culture of collaboration and innovation, thereby encouraging positive transformational change through partnership and exchange 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.

Leading these efforts is UCLA Professor Thomas Smith, who is currently directing a multi-institution, five-year $5 million National Science Foundation funded research project centered in Cameroon and Gabon. The overarching goal of this project is to develop an integrated framework for conserving central biodiversity under climate change that is both evolutionary-informed and grounded in the socioeconomic constraints of the region (see http//www.caballiance.org/).

For more information, please contact Professor Thomas Smith (tbsmith@ucla.edu) and Dr. Kevin Njabo (knjabo@ucla.edu).