The university is less than a decade old, and has produced only a couple hundred graduates. Yet in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one educational institution is already changing the country's conservation paradigm.
Through a variety of classes and projects, the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB) is transforming the way local communities manage their natural resources while providing critical new employment and development paths.
Through its wide-ranging programs, TCCB prepares its students for a variety of employment opportunities after graduation. Many graduates return to their home communities to work as field researchers, protected area managers, wardens and rangers.
Rethinking Forest Use
The forest of the Congo Basin is the second largest block of connected rainforest in the world. Its sheer size (1.7 million kilometers, or more than 650,000 square miles – about the size of Alaska) has made the forest a haven for rare species such as the okapi (Okapia johnstoni
), the bonobo (Pan paniscus
) and the Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri
Unfortunately, a history of civil war and poverty has made it difficult for most local people to sustainably use and manage the forest's irreplaceable resources, such as food, fresh water and fuelwood. Forest destruction threatens more than local livelihoods – it also has profound implications for global climate change. Tropical forests like those of the Congo Basin absorb massive quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, a service which makes their protection all the more important.
Rising to the challenge, a federation of eight local conservation groups known as UGADEC has recently taken major steps to enhance conservation efforts while improving people's lives. Together with Conservation International (CI) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the group has been instrumental in establishing and managing a forest corridor the size of West Virginia.
In 2003, as part of a broader vision to nurture future conservationists, residents of the nearby village of Kasugho helped to construct the first buildings of the TCCB campus. The school has been accredited by the national government since 2006.
TCCB is primarily a capacity-building program, giving students the skills they need to become the next generation of conservationists. It also acts as a platform for other community development initiatives, such as education, health and micro-enterprise.
In addition to basic course requirements, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and research methodology, the conservation curriculum requires students to specialize in one of three areas: research and conservation biology; conservation and management of protected areas; or education, communication and information. They must also take classes in computer skills, ecotourism, statistics, logic, and even psychology, which help them to work more effectively with the local people. Classes are also offered in other disciplines, including economics and medicine.
So far more than 200 students have graduated from the university, and more than 400 students – many of them on scholarship – are currently enrolled.
A World of Opportunities
Through its wide-ranging programs, TCCB prepares its students for a variety of employment opportunities after graduation. Many graduates return to their home communities to work as field researchers, protected area managers, wardens and rangers. Those who specialize in communication learn skills to work as outreach workers and conservation journalists.
Not only do the university's various projects benefit graduates and their families (through employment opportunities), but they also help the community as a whole, improving access to important resources for hundreds of local people. A health clinic and secondary school have been built to support the local community, and a hydroelectric station (constructed in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute) provides electricity for nearby residents.
Another one of TCCB's unique outreach projects is the radio station, which is managed by students and recent graduates. With a more than 20-mile broadcast radius, the station airs messages relevant to conservation efforts, as well as entertainment and international news programs.
Successful conservation efforts often require changes in human behavior, like reducing charcoal use, using more efficient cooking technologies or improving agriculture. Radio broadcasts use a popular medium to educate the public about new technological and agricultural options and training opportunities, as well as family planning practices.
Local Education, Global Impact
CI-DRC Senior Director Patrick Mehlman has supported the TCCB university initiatives for seven years. He is optimistic about the continued expansion of the program, including its involvement in the emerging carbon finance market. "Recently, with the support of the Disney Company, CI has launched a project to stop deforestation in the area and generate revenue through the sale of carbon credits," Mehlman says. "We are doing all the training for this project through the university, with graduates gaining employment as forest monitors."
Most importantly, all of TCCB's efforts serve to improve livelihoods and health and to promote conservation – all important elements of a broader vision that focuses on improving human well-being.
FEATURE: Graduation Day in the DRC
The Tayna Center for Conservation Biology has been generously supported by USAID's Central Africa Program for the Environment (CARPE), gifts from the Dian Fossey Fund, the Jane Goodall Institute, and a variety of donors from CI. We would like to especially thank Jane Gale for her important contributions to the TCCB. As of January, 2010, Fonds Français pour l'Environnement Mondial (the French Fund) has begun a two-year program of support for the university.