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Training a new generation of Congolese forestry researchers

A young man studies in the botanical gardens at the University of Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR
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A young man studies in the botanical gardens at the University of Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), education initiatives are transforming the classroom experiences of aspiring researchers.

Among the innumerable casualties of the decades-long series of conflicts and instability in the DRC, education is one of the most overlooked. Even now, the amount of research into the wartime impact on the country’s education system is very limited — but one thing is certain. If, for decades, going to school posed more safety risks for children than staying at home or in hiding, achieving further degrees was out of the question.

As the fourth most populous country in Africa (and second largest by size), the DRC is now making its way toward recovering its social and economic health, and educating its people is an increasingly crucial component to success. Only with empowerment through knowledge and capacity development can the Congolese, and the research and development organizations and businesses that employ them, impact the growth of the country — and the sustainable use of its natural resources and landscapes.

Making up for lost time

The DRC has the world’s second-largest area of contiguous tropical forests after Brazil, and those forests are distinguished by their rich biodiversity. But, there has long been a lack of trained personnel to care for and manage them properly. In 2005, the country’s entire forestry research cadre comprised just six people with Master’s degrees; in comparison, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) employs more than 8,500 PhD holders. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), has since trained 115 Master’s students and 15 PhDs.

Goods are seen for sale on the banks of the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Learning tools

University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) Rector Prof. Dr. Toengaho Faustin Toengaho says his vision is “to serve the needs of the Congolese society.” To accomplish this, he has proved an exemplary policy champion of the curricula reforms, such as an innovative Master’s-level natural and social science curriculum and an international PhD program. Both programs align capacity-building efforts with the national License, Maîtrise, Doctorat initiative (Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD program, shortened to LMD) in a bid to improve land governance in the future.

UNIKIS now has partnerships with universities and research organizations in France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Belgium, and in-classroom innovations and novel teaching methods continue to heighten the impact of these programs. There’s now an electronic library, joint local and international supervision of students, UNIKIS staff trainings, article-based thesis requirements and an annual Science Week event. The Ministry of Higher Education has since adopted a similar model to Science Week and all the universities and faculties in the country promote scientific research and innovation.

To further aid student growth, a local “accompanying committee” has tracked student progress and helped students develop scientific writing skills, public speaking skills and the confidence to submit their research to publications. Since 2013, students have submitted 31 articles to international peer-reviewed journals. Perhaps the work of Congolese students will influence not just their own country, but others as well.

By D. Andrew Wardell and Gabrielle Lipton, originally published at CIFOR.org

Further Reading

  • Molinario, G., Hansen, M.C. and Potapov, P.V., 2015. Forest cover dynamics of shifting cultivation in the Democratic Republic of Congo: a remote sensing assessment. Environmental Research Letters 10
  • Nackoney, J., Molinario, G, Potapov, P., Turubanova, S., Hansen, M.C. and Furuichi, T., 2014. Impacts of civil conflict on primary forest habitat in northern Democractic Republic of Congo, 1990-2010. Biological Conservation (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2013.12.033
  • Zhuravleva, I., Rurubanova, S., Potapov, P., Hansen, M., Tyukavina, A., Minnemeyer, S., Laporte, N., Goetz, S., Verbelen, F. and Thies, C., 2013. Satellite-based primary forestry degradation assessment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2000-2010 Environmental Research Letters 8 (2013) http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024034

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by the European Commission, Global Climate Change Alliance (Forests and Climate Change in the Congo) and European Commission Delegation-Kinshasa (11th European Development Fund, DRC).

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  • Structured Stakeholder Engagement Leads To Development Of More Diverse And Inclusive Agroforestry Options

Structured Stakeholder Engagement Leads To Development Of More Diverse And Inclusive Agroforestry Options

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Authors: Emilie Smith Dumont, Subira Bonhomme, Timothy F. Pagella, Fergus L. Sinclair

There is a lot of interest in the contribution that agroforestry can make to reverse land degradation and create resilient multifunctional landscapes that provide a range of socio-economic benefits. The agroforestry research agenda has been characterized by approaches that promote a few priority tree species, within a restricted set of technological packages. These have often not spread widely beyond project sites, because they fail to take account of fine scale variation in farmer circumstances. New methods are needed to generate diverse sets of agroforestry options that can reconcile production and conservation objectives and embrace varying local conditions across large scaling domains. Here, we document a novel approach that couples local knowledge acquisition with structured stakeholder engagement to build an inclusive way of designing agroforestry options. We applied this approach in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where armed conflict, erratic governance and poverty have resulted in severe pressure on forests in the Virunga National Park, a global biodiversity hotspot. Around the park, natural resources and land are severely degraded, whereas most reforestation interventions have consisted of exotic monocultures dominated by Eucalyptus species grown as energy or timber woodlots mainly by male farmers with sufficient land to allocate some exclusively to trees. We found that structured stakeholder engagement led to a quick identification of a much greater diversity of trees (more than 70 species) to be recommended for use within varied field, farm and landscape niches, serving the interests of a much greater diversity of people, including women and marginalized groups. The process also identified key interventions to improve the enabling environment required to scale up the adoption of agroforestry. These included improving access to quality tree planting material, capacity strengthening within the largely non-governmental extension system, and collective action to support value capture from agroforestry products, through processing and market interventions. Integrating local and global scientific knowledge, coupled with facilitating broad-based stakeholder participation, resulted in shifting from reliance on a few priority tree species to promoting tree diversity across the Virunga landscape that could underpin more productive and resilient livelihoods. The approach is relevant for scaling up agroforestry more generally.

Experimental Agriculture, 2017

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0014479716000788

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  • Setting the stage for agroforestry expansion in Eastern Congo

Setting the stage for agroforestry expansion in Eastern Congo

Entrance to the Virunga National Park, Rutshuru, North-Kivu, DRC. Photo by E. Smith Dumont
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Entrance to the Virunga National Park, Rutshuru, North-Kivu, DRC. Photo by E. Smith Dumont
Entrance to the Virunga National Park, Rutshuru, North-Kivu, DRC. Photo by E. Smith Dumont

By Joan Baxter, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

It’s a tall order solving the myriad developmental challenges in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where years of conflict have caused so much human suffering and environmental upheaval. Today the province is plagued by rampant deforestation and land degradation and hence low agricultural production, while also having to cope with high population densities and urbanization rates.

These can all be tackled, according to the provincial Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Livestock and Rural Development, Christophe Ndibeshe Byemero, if agroforestry forms the basis for a strategy for sustainable agricultural development.

The Minister was speaking at a workshop held earlier this year in the provincial capital, Goma, to examine ways to develop and expand agroforestry in the area. Organized by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The workshop brought together 46 participants from a wide array of local, national and international organizations, with strong representation from civil society groups from many parts of the Province. It marked the culmination of three years of agroforestry research in development in the region that aimed to develop a socially inclusive strategy for scaling up agroforestry and tree diversity.

According to Thierry Lusenge of WWF in the DRC, the time is now ripe to recognize the importance of agroforestry in helping populations adapt to and mitigate climate change, reduce deforestation and improve food security.

Looking back and learning…

Smallholder farmers in Lubero Territory in North-Kivu Province, DRC, cultivate steep and heavily degraded slopes resulting in low agricultural productivity. Photo by E. Smith Dumont/ICRAF
Smallholder farmers in Lubero Territory in North-Kivu Province, DRC, cultivate steep and heavily degraded slopes resulting in low agricultural productivity. Photo by E. Smith Dumont/ICRAF

The workshop was the last of three held in the region as part of the project, Forests and Climate Change in the Congo (FCCC), funded by the European Union and led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The agroforestry component of the FCCC project, led by ICRAF, was a part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

It built on the knowledge gleaned from previous workshops and acquired through interviews with diverse groups in the area, bringing together participants from four territories in North Kivu. Participants looked back at their agroforestry accomplishments over the past three years and at lessons learned from the diverse projects they’d been part of.

Deogratias Mumberi Kyalwahi of the women’s conservation group, Femmes Actives pour la Conservation de la Faune et de la Flore (FACF), presented findings from a project to establish agroforestry and improve agricultural production around the city of Beni, as a way of reducing human encroachment in the neighbouring Virunga National Park.

Virunga is a World Heritage site that boasts 2,000 plant species as well as endangered animal species including the iconic mountain gorilla.

Fataki Baloti, representing the youth conservation group Jeunes pour des Ecosystèmes décents et l’Assainissement de la Nature (JEAN), spoke of their work to achieve food security and combat malnutrition, by integrating livestock production and agroforestry, which improved relations between local people and the Congolese wildlife authority, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), which is responsible for the national park.

Farmers working with youth conservation group JEAN experiment with passion fruit and Grevillea robusta in, Musienene, Lubero, North-Kivu. Photo by E. Smith Dumont
Farmers working with youth conservation group JEAN experiment with passion fruit and Grevillea robusta in, Musienene, Lubero, North-Kivu. Photo by E. Smith Dumont

Improved human welfare around the park, with more – and more diverse – tree cover that provides income, environmental services and contributes to food security, is critical for preserving the park and for peaceful, constructive interactions between nature conservationists and local people.

Other participants highlighted peri-urban agroforestry projects around Goma to combat poverty and malnutrition – introducing shade trees in coffee systems in the Beni territory, trees for improving soils in Rutshuru territory, and promoting raising and selling tree seedlings in Lubero and Kirumba towns.

Emilie Smith Dumont of ICRAF explained that agroforestry “while not a panacea, can contribute to making livelihoods and landscapes more sustainable”. She emphasized that it involves many different practices suitable for different people and places, such as planting trees on contour slopes, establishing windbreaks for pastures or fodder banks, fruit trees in orchards and homegardens.  These include diverse tree species adapted to different environments and to specific needs of the farmers themselves.

Removing barriers to adoption

The local NGO, PACOPAD, works with schools to promote planting of passion fruit and tree tomatoes, aiming to grow vitamin-rich fruit and improve nutrition. Photo by Subira Bonhomme.
The local NGO, PACOPAD, works with schools to promote planting of passion fruit and tree tomatoes, aiming to grow vitamin-rich fruit and improve nutrition. Photo by Subira Bonhomme.

Participants agreed that while significant progress has been made in collecting information on promising native tree species for agroforestry in the region, and in developing practical tools, including a technical agroforestry guide that helps people to put agroforestry knowledge into practice, some key changes in policy and practise are needed for further agroforestry expansion and development in the region.

They identified seven major issues that need to be addressed in an integrated way – gender, markets and commercialization, governance, availability of and access to quality tree planting material, improving agroforestry know-how given low literacy rates, threats such as fire and pests, and, cultural realities.

Gender and tenure at the fore

Women farmers trade at the evening market in Kitchanga, Masisi, North-Kivu, after a day in the field. Many members of the community are internally displaced and farming marginal land with no tenure security.. Photo by E Smith Dumont.

Two issues – tenure and gender – emerged as perhaps the most pressing constraints.  On theissue of gender, Vea Kaghoma of the league of women’s smallholder organizations in DRC, Ligue des Organisations des Femmes Paysannes du Congo, was adamant and unequivocal. Speaking at the closing of the workshop, she said women, who constitute the majority of farmers and traders, should be at the heart of all agroforestry efforts in North Kivu and that the participation of women’s organizations is indispensable if these efforts are going to succeed.

Women farmers trade at the evening market in Kitchanga, Masisi, North-Kivu, after a day in the field. Many members of the community are internally displaced and farming marginal land with no tenure security. Photo by E Smith Dumont.
Women farmers trade at the evening market in Kitchanga, Masisi, North-Kivu, after a day in the field. Many members of the community are internally displaced and farming marginal land with no tenure security. Photo by E Smith Dumont.

Emilie Smith Dumont of ICRAF concurs. “Without secure land tenure, especially for women, it is difficult to progress to the next step of really scaling up agroforestry in DRC,” she says. Farmers cannot begin to envisage making long-term investments in their land health or in tree planting if they do not have secure access to land.

Spreading the word

Dumont Smith is greatly encouraged by the momentum that emerged from the workshops, and at on-going work by participants to put into practise what they have learned over the past three years.

Wilson Kasereka Kabwana, president of a group to support and consolidate peace and development in North Kivu (Programme d’Appui à la Consolidation de la Paix et le Développement or PACOPAD), reports that his group has now developed a nursery for several agroforestry species. They work with local communities and schools to spread the word on their value for nutrition, as medicine or for the environmental services they provide.

Mone Van Geit, Project Manager International Programs, WWF Belgium, says the idea is to continue to cultivate the strong partnerships that were forged during the FCCC project, with strategies that will permit WWF to support local communities in diversifying species and practices to address a broader range of stakeholder needs. When it comes to energy woodlots, which she says remain a key priority for WWF around the park, diversification and inclusion of native species will be high on the agenda. This will require innovative approaches to test mechanisms for incentives and trials for species carefully designed and evaluated.

Fergus Sinclair who leads the systems domain at ICRAF said he hopes that ICRAF, WWF, their partners in DRC, and new ones with an interest in tenure, gender and markets, will be able to secure support for multidisciplinary projects that will build on the foundation laid by FCCC and act as the launch pad for agroforestry development in the region.

In the words of the provincial minister, Christophe Ndibeshe Byemero, in ten years, if partners continue to work together, North Kivu could become a veritable “model of agroforestry”.

For more information on this work, please contact Emilie Smith Dumont:  [email protected]

Workshop report: http://www.worldagroforestry.org/output/north-kivu-report-workshop-drc

More about ICRAF’s “research in development” approach can be found in these two blogs: One small change of words – a giant leap in effectiveness! and For every tree a reason — research “in” rather than “for” agroforestry development

More about the FCCC project can be found in this blog: Outside a national park, agroforestry helping to save forests inside the park.

More about the technical agroforestry guide developed for North Kivu as part of the FCCC project: Beyond eucalyptus woodlots: what’s on the agroforestry menu for communities around Virunga? The technical guide (available in French only) is available here: Guide technique d’agroforesterie pour la selection de la gestion des arbres au Nord-Kivu

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  • REDD+ politics – or why it is so difficult to tackle large-scale drivers of deforestation

REDD+ politics – or why it is so difficult to tackle large-scale drivers of deforestation

Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

By Efrian Muharrom, Melaku Bekele, Cynthia Maharani, Pham Thu Thuy, Grace Wong, Maria Brockhaus, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common, where do they differ? And how do a country’s politics play out in managing drivers of deforestation?

Representatives from more than a dozen countries across three continents had the rare opportunity to discuss these and other questions at a recent REDD+ knowledge-sharing event held from 8-10 June in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia.

The three-day meeting, hosted by the Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources at Hawassa University, brought Ethiopian policymakers and practitioners together with researchers from 15 REDD+ countries in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia to present and analyze their progress. Research on REDD+ forms part of the climate change theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Discussions showed that while countries develop their own approaches to REDD+, incorporating national circumstances in their policy design, the challenges they face in avoiding deforestation remain largely similar.

Timing is crucial, but it’s not everything

What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common? Photo: Bruno Locatelli/CIFOR
What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common? Photo: Bruno Locatelli/CIFOR

It would be easy to assume that early-mover countries have already progressed with REDD+ to a stage where ‘payments for performance’ can be made. However, it appears that some early-mover countries – such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – are still struggling with policy design and implementation, meaning that late-comer countries could yet catch up.

  • Laos launched a REDD+ task force in 2008, and has conceptualized REDD+ as a shared responsibility of two ministries, but there is still the classic problem of conflict between institutions, which has created confusion. Overall, REDD+ in Laos is seen as a project, and not as policy development. Things may be changing, however, since a new prime minister assumed office on 20 April and has already issued a moratorium on timber and log exports.
  • On the African continent, Ethiopia recently finalized a REDD+ national strategy, covering REDD+ goals, governance, measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) design, and financing options. REDD+ activities in Ethiopia will be implemented with both in-country and external funding, including through agricultural intensification. The jurisdictional REDD+ project in the regional state of Oromia is now entering its final stage of implementation, with a pledge by Norway of USD 50 million.
  • Papua New Guinea is still in the first phase of REDD+ readiness, despite being one of the first countries to propose REDD back in 2005. The country’s political commitment to tackling deforestation and forest degradation has been questioned — for example, it remains the largest exporter of timber in the world, and continues to back large-scale land conversion plans under a paradigm of ‘green development’.
One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Stumbling blocks on the road to ‘transformational change’

Business-as-usual is a powerful force. Conflicting interests in the agendas of different actors involved in deforestation — across and within ministries, and across levels of governance —can be a major challenge for achieving effective, efficient and equitable REDD+.

Lack of land-use planning, unclear tenure, weak law enforcement and uncertainty over long-term funding were also found to be common challenges. Another was the lack of continuity in commitment from politicians.

Political champions for change are crucial for moving the REDD+ agenda forward. But some of these champions in REDD+ countries have not been able to generate sustainable and institutionalized pathways for change away from deforestation and forest degradation in the course of their terms.


Research on climate change will be the focus of the August Forests, Trees and Agroforestry newsletter. Sign up here to receive the regular update on FTA news.


The politics of the possible

Politics do matter when moving forward with REDD+. Analysis from Indonesia, Guyana, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Brazil and many other countries show that either the political carousel is rolling too fast within election cycles to maintain momentum for change, or the attention span of politicians is too short to carry out major reform.

One example mentioned was Indonesia, which until 2014 rapidly developed a REDD+ mechanism under the leadership of a president with a strong public commitment to mitigate climate change. During this time, a REDD+ national strategy was established, as well as a REDD+ agency with the power to coordinate across ministries, a REDD+ financial mechanism, regulations related to REDD+ implementation, MRV infrastructure and more. Policies were issued, including a peatland moratorium policy, and a one-map policy.

With a change in presidential leadership in 2014, everything seemed to change overnight. The new president, with a strong focus on strengthening governance and economic development, merged the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forestry, dismissed the REDD+ Agency, the Climate Change National Council (DNPI), and the presidential office for development monitoring (UKP4), as the institution where the REDD+ task force was hosted. He then established a Directorate General of Climate Change Mitigation under the new Minister of Environment and Forestry, handing over the tasks of the late REDD+ Agency and DNPI.

Reactions were mixed among participants at the Addis Adaba meeting – some questioned the effectiveness of the first president’s measures in halting deforestation, considering that by 2014 Indonesia had become the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world. They argued that change under the new president presented a possibility for greater ownership over the REDD+ process within the government. Meanwhile, others argued that the changes indicated weakened political will and undermined effective REDD+ policy making. However, all participants agreed that the changes in the political configuration contribute to an unclear future for REDD+ in Indonesia.

Optimists and pessimists

REDD+ gives reason for both cautious optimism and also some skepticism.

Some countries presented successful policy responses to the problem of deforestation, with ‘command and control’ as well as ‘payments for environmental services’ (PES) being part of the more effective approaches. Others mentioned REDD+ as being adopted in education curricula, reviews of natural resource exploitation licenses causing deforestation and forest degradation, capacity-building and technology transfer on conducting forest inventories and MRV as positive policy innovations for REDD+.

One topic that stirred controversy in discussion among country representatives was the strategy of integrating REDD+ into green economy pathways, as adopted by countries such as Guyana, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Participants said that this kind of strategy can ensure that the roadmap for transformational change is more comprehensive in targeting the underlying causes of deforestation, and can help to remove perverse incentives such as subsidies for land-use change driving deforestation and forest degradation.

However, some participants shared pessimistic concerns that with the introduction of ‘green economy’ or ‘green growth’ language, attention moves away from tangible measurable carbon and non-carbon outcome performance to rather fuzzy concepts with very little REDD+ objectives within.

One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil and Guyana, and carries a commitment to move past the pressures of election cycles and business as usual.

In the end, political willingness to break with old habits and powerful interests was highlighted as the most crucial factor for success across all country cases. It takes optimism and commitment for a state to break away from the entrenched interests driving deforestation, and to regain autonomy by enforcing decisions that regulate large-scale international and domestic investor behavior. And it takes an empowered civil society to hold state and business accountable to their commitments and promises.


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