Energizing degraded land in the Congo Basin

Text by Ahtziri Gonzalez and photos by Axel Fassio | CIFOR

Located in northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in the heart of the Congo Basin, the Yangambi Research Station was once a thriving center for the study of tropical agriculture and forestry. From the 1930s until independence, this colonial institution was home to more than 700 scientists and technicians working in world-class research facilities, including Central Africa’s most important herbarium, and a well-stocked library and xylarium.

Surrounding rubber, oil palm, banana, and coffee plantations were used for plant breeding and technical innovations – after large areas of forest were converted into farmland.

But decades of political instability and conflict have taken a toll, and despite efforts by the Congolese State to keep the center running, little remains of Yangambi’s former glory. Most infrastructure is worn down and in disuse, while the once-productive plantations have become degraded land.

In tandem with the Research Station, Yangambi’s local economy also declined. Nowadays, most households rely on the exploitation of natural resources for their livelihoods, including logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting, and fishing. This is putting an enormous pressure on the surrounding forest, part of which was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1976.

An important constraint to local economic development is the lack of electricity in the area, according to Boniface Posho Ndoola, Director of the Congolese Institute for Agronomic Research (INERA) in Yangambi. “While families and small businesses rely on wood fuel to meet their basic energy needs, the absence of power supply limits potential private sector engagement and our research activities.”

Read more at AFR100.