The original version of this article, by Ingrid Schulze, appeared on Mongabay
This summer, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expected to approve a new higher education strategy which the country has developed with the World Bank and other international donors. The shape of this educational reform initiative will be critical to Congo’s future in many ways. It could finally offer Congo’s long-suffering people
a route into the 21st century. It will also help determine the future of the DRC’s forests.
Nearly half of the Congo Basin’s remaining rainforest is in the DRC – yet the critical role of Congolese experts in forestry, agricultural science, wildlife management and other rural sciences in protecting this forest is not widely recognized.
As one Congolese graduate student observed, the DRC has a “void” in agricultural and forestry research. Due to years of war and decades of economic crisis and mismanagement, most of Congo’s colleges and universities are severely underfunded and in disrepair. The country is short of experts who can investigate the ecology and economic potential of Congo’s forests and their biota, and provide an objective basis for setting priorities for protection and use of forest resources. While universities in Kinshasa and Kisangani do have some internationally funded programs to increase the number of biologists and other specialists, the number of graduates is nowhere near what is needed. Foreign scientists and consultants are not a substitute for Congolese experts.
Moreover, competent rural science graduates who can advise local farmers, communities and administrators on forestry, sustainable agriculture, wildlife management, and rural development issues are also desperately needed. The DRC’s national agricultural extension service, which should be integral to this process, has been broken for decades. A 1990 USAID report described it as underfunded, without the means to provide farmers with proven crop varieties and advice on agricultural practices, and tasked more with imposing particular crops on farmers and collecting taxes than helping them. There is little evidence that this has changed significantly since the end of the Congo war in 2003.
Continue reading on Mongabay.
Image Credit: Depths of Forest, courtesy of flickr user Bobulix. Congo Basin map, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Imagico.