New University Course Curriculum Promotes Sustainable Forest and Resource Management Across the Congo Basin

Professor Francois Hiol Hiol, the coordinator and director of the Regional Center of Specialized Training in Agriculture, Forestry, and Wood (CRESA Forêt-Bois) in Cameroon, is responsible for ensuring his students graduate equipped to address the daunting challenges facing the forests of the Congo Basin. The governments of Central Africa face many challenges regarding their forests and natural resources, including minimizing the environmental impacts of logging concessions and extractive mining, curbing destructive slash and burn agriculture, protecting endangered species, and reducing inefficient charcoal fuel production. A lack of targeted and region-specific materials meant that Professor Hiol Hiol and his students often used teaching materials that were out of date, not linked to regional curriculum, and often did not take into account the region’s unique challenges and cultural norms.

Professor Hiol Hiol (right) poses with Babi-Levieux Nabwenge Bangulu, a recipient of a Master’s scholarship in Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Landscapes, facilitated by the U.S. Forest Service and sponsored by USAID and the U.S. Department of State. Photo courtesy of Eva McNamara, U.S. Forest Service International Programs

Under the United States Agency for International Development’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), the U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with USAID, recognized the need to take a more holistic approach to resource management in the region by addressing resource management objectives and challenges at the landscape level. Based on this, the concept of developing a series of landscape-scale resource management guides was born. To ensure regional relevance and adoption, the U.S. Forest Service and USAID worked with the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) to develop four regional planning guides focusing on landscape-scale resource management, including community-based natural resource management, extractive resources, integrated land use, and protected area management. The guides resulted from a collaborative process, during which communities, academics, conservation organizations and government policy officials across the Congo Basin region provided input, ensuring the training materials would offer a well-rounded and comprehensive approach to natural resource management planning. Once completed, the guides went through an in-depth national validation process in the six most forested countries in the region, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo, as well as regional validation.

For Professor Hiol Hiol, one of the most important things about these guides is that stakeholders from around the region were consulted. “If we want to be successful in protecting our forests, we have to work together as a region. Forests and natural resources don’t acknowledge country borders, and it is more effective for us to work together to create integrated management strategies than to waste energy working separately towards the same goal. These guides are not only essential in helping us harmonize our regional university curricula, but also our forestry practices across the region.”

Giving students targeted and region-specific resources will strengthen natural resource management across the Congo Basin. Photo courtesy of Eva McNamara, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.

The guides became so invaluable in the region as a reference for addressing natural resource management through a landscape approach that the network of Forestry and Environmental Training Institutions of Central Africa, a regional entity responsible for supporting higher education related to forestry and the environment, embraced the guides as an important teaching tool.  It is currently introducing university curriculum modules based on these guides to allow for more harmonized university curricula across the region. This includes the development of an e-learning module to make the material more widely available to universities, practitioners, and governments throughout the region.

For Professor Hiol Hiol, the guides, which were officially published in 2015, have been a valuable tool for him, his colleagues, and his students. “Before, we would teach traditional forest management to our students as we had learned in school many years ago. But now we know that there are much better, and sustainable ways to manage our forests and resources, as are outlined in these guides,” he said. “We now teach our students to think of these forests as ecosystems—complex, rich, and full of valuable biodiversity. They are not just static entities, and in order to protect them, we need to manage them in ways that respects the needs of populations and the needs of the forests.”

Claude Kachaka, the director of the network of Forestry and Environmental Training Institutions of Central Africa, agrees, and believes that, “Encouraging students to communicate and collaborate across the Central Africa region is an essential step in protecting and preserving our valuable natural resources.”  The new curricula, and the guides upon which they are based, provide students throughout the region with important new tools with which to learn and collaborate for more effective natural resource management.

USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) has worked since 1995 to help protect and preserve forests and biodiversity within the region. Building capacity of higher education institutions is an essential step in ensuring that there is relevant environmental management and policy expertise at national and regional levels. As an implementing partner, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs is committed to working with universities in the Congo Basin region providing technical assistance to improve their ability to educate the next generation of forest and natural resources management experts.

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