Strengthening Resilience to Environmental Challenges: PANGEA Consultation Workshop

BY RINYU MCLAURA BEKWAKE

Tropical forests cover about 10% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and are vital to our planet’s health. They help to regulate the global climate and are home to over 3 billion people and an abundance of plant and animal species. To the untrained eye, all tropical forests may look the same, but they differ significantly from region to region. However, deforestation, climate change, and unsustainable land use practices are common threats to all forests and the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them.

 

To help protect these forests, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is developing the PAN Tropical Investigation of bioGeochemistry and Ecological Adaptation (PANGEA) research campaign. PANGEA’s goals are to advance scientific understanding of tropical forest regions, train a generation of scientists from the tropics to lead scientific efforts and improve capabilities for monitoring carbon, biodiversity, and agriculture using remote sensing. LBA, a similar research campaign that took place in Brazil succeeded in training over 1000 researchers from the Amazon and provided valuable data that continues to inform high-level decision-making processes.

 

With support from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), an initial consultation workshop was held in February 2024 in Yaoundé to introduce the project to the tropical forest research community, solicit feedback on the campaign design, discuss priority scientific questions, and identify and discuss existing efforts that align with the goals of PANGEA.

The Co-Director of the Center for Tropical Research and the Congo Basin Institute, Elsa ORDWAY, addressed the participants during the PANGEA consultation workshop. Photo by Rinyu Mclaura Bekwake.

Over ninety researchers, scientists, scholars, and experts from Central Africa and beyond participated in the hybrid event. The diversity of participants and constructive feedback was a highlight of the workshop. 

 

“It is very nice to see people from the research community across Central Africa; the level of enthusiasm and engagement has been very motivating and a sign that there is an interest and demand,” commented Elsa ORDWAY, who is the Co-Director of both the Center for Tropical Research and the Congo Basin Institute and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Los Angeles.

 

During the workshop, the PANGEA team shared an overview of the research campaign, its objectives, and the successes of similar campaigns in different habitats. During working group sessions, participants shared their expectations of the project. They were also able to share insights on scientific knowledge gaps, and how the PANGEA campaign could improve research.

USFS Central Africa Technical and Field Coordinator, Dr. Rene SIWE during a panel session. Photo courtesy of Rinyu Mclaura BEKWAKE.

In a panel session, Dr. René Siwe, USFS Central Africa Regional Technical and Field Coordinator, shared highlights from USFS programming in protected area management, community forestry, and the mapping and assessment of carbon stocks in peatlands. Dr. Siwe also presented opportunities for scientific collaboration with PANGEA, including further research on the vulnerability of forest species, assessing the regeneration capacity of logging concessions, enhancing the accuracy of carbon stock biomass estimation through satellite imagery, and monitoring reforestation endeavors in Central Africa.

 

Responding to why the team chose Central Africa for the first consultation workshop, Michael KELLER, a Research Scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, said, “We are interested in tropical forests, and Central Africa is the region we know the least about. Therefore, it is the best place to start to improve our knowledge of the region.”  

Participants at the PANGEA meeting. Photo by Rinyu Mclaura Bekwake.

This workshop was an opportunity to lay a foundation for collaboration and partnership to promote expert initiatives to address biodiversity conservation, environmental challenges, and climate adaptation efforts in tropical forests. The PANGEA team held another consultation workshop in Washington D.C. in April, and is planning another in Asia, as well as hosting additional virtual thematic working group sessions and stakeholder consultations.

 

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (USAID/CARPE), SilvaCarbon, the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (USAID/SWAMP), and various programs supported by the U.S. Department of State, USFS works with national and regional institutions to build capacity, promote sustainable forest management, and facilitate research to estimate greenhouse gas emissions and carbon stocks in tropical forests and wetlands. USFS is committed to fostering research collaboration with international, national, and local partners to advance scientific understanding of the region and enhance the conservation of Congo basin forests.

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