Back from Africa
Museum scientists routinely travel to Africa to conduct research and develop projects in partnership with local institutions.
|Photo : ÉRAIFT|
His latest mission (3-20/03/2012): teach and conduct research on environmental governance in the Luki Biosphere reserve (DR Congo).
Environmental governance is defined as the way in which authority over nature is structured. This is a topic of major research importance for the RMCA, since the macroeconomic future of the DRC depends to a great extent on the handling of its natural resources (forests, mines, water, etc.). A scientific critical analysis of environmental governance is of the essence. This is one of Theodore Trefon’s areas of research.
Based in Kinshasa, the École régionale post-universitaire d’aménagement et de gestion intégrés des forêts et territoires tropicaux (ÉRAIFT) trains a new generation of forest management experts. The European Union provides funding while UNESCO is in charge of operations. Thirty students from 11 African countries are currently learning about topics such as digital cartography, international conventions on wildlife, and the drafting of development plans. Theodore Trefon is in charge of the ‘human science’ aspect of environmental governance. In this capacity, he led a two-week field workshop in the Luki Biosphere reserve, with which the RMCA – in particular the museum’s Wood Biology section – has close ties.
In the heart of the forest
The workshop’s purpose was to find out if it was possible to strike a balance between nature conservation and human development. To earn an income, local residents farm in the reserve, hunt wildlife, produce charcoal, and so forth. The reserve, located only some 25 km from the city of Boma, is crossed by the road linking Boma to Matadi. This has encouraged the proliferation of commercial activities despite their illegal nature.
Trefon is especially proud of and pleased with the compilation of an environmental governance lexicon, created collaboratively without the aid of the internet or dictionaries. Key terms for environmental governance were thus defined for Luki’s specific context.
The group also discussed possible research questions that would allow them to analyse how the local population adapted to the scarcity of resources. This methodology may be employed in the new GEORISCA project on geological risks, which is coordinated by the museum’s Cartography and remote sensing section.
Teacher as learner
Theodore Trefon finds that these workshops are mutually enriching because his students also teach him new things. ‘When I asked them how their environmental ministries were organised, I received very different answers. The context and priorities differ considerably from one country to another. I learned a lot about the institutional management of natural resources in their countries thanks to these discussions.’