The Workshop for Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa Arlington, Virginia usa 24-26 January 2005
David C. Hartnett1 and Fredrick H. M. Semazzi2
1Division of Biology, Kansas State University,
Manhattan, KS 66506
2Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695
May 14, 2006
Credits: The workshop for Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa was funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering of the National Science Foundation. The workshop was coordinated by David C. Hartnettand Fredrick H. M. Semazzi. The workshop was funded by National Science Foundation Grant OISE-0444295 and the cognizant NSF program official for this grant is Elizabeth Lyons.
Table of Contents
I. Executive Summary 3
II. Workshop Objectives and Rationale 6
III. Workshop Program 9
IV. Results 12
Current status of U.S.-SSA collaboration 12
Unique scientific opportunities in the SSA region 21
Key Issues and Challenges 25
Science themes and research needs 25
Ecology – ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, 26
and land use
Water - aquatic systems, hydrology, and water 28
Climate – climate change, atmosphere-biosphere 30
Social Sciences – socio- bio- physical linkages 31
Operational issues 33
Strengthening Collaboration 33
IT/Communication/Data Issues 35
Equipment and Infrastructure 40
Training Activities and Programs 40
Science: research priorities and key questions and issues 43
Training activities 44
Enhancing multidisciplinary approaches: integration of 45
biological, physical and social sciences
Operational issues 46
IT and Data 47
Strengthening U.S.-SSA collaboration and Networking 48
African Support and Capacity building 50
V. Appendices 53
A. List of participants 53
B. Sample invitation letter 64
C. Framework for working group discussions 67
D. List of acronyms 68
E. List of references 71
F. Poster titles & abstracts 72
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) supports extensive cutting-edge science in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). To reach the full potential and impact of this investment, greater scholarly collaboration between US and SSA scientists and among disciplines, and stronger partnerships among institutions, organizations, and programs funding SSA projects are needed. To address this issue, the Workshop for Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was held January 24-26, 2005. The workshop objectives were to: 1) explore strategies for strengthening scholarly collaboration in science and engineering between the US and SSA and strengthening NSF’s portfolio of sponsored research in the region, 2) articulate and promote the realms of scientific investigation that are best and uniquely suited to the SSA environment, 3) identify and recommend mechanisms to enhance and sustain communication, connectivity, and networking of people and programs, 4) promote multi-disciplinary collaboration and synthesis of results across hierarchical levels, and the capacity building necessary to address important regional and global environmental issues, 5) explore strategies to foster greater interests and expand opportunities for US students and young scientists working in SSA, and 6) build partnerships between the NSF scientific community, other funding groups, and other organizations and agencies that can support the African side of collaborative science.
Key Issues and Challenges: The workshop evaluated NSF-sponsored environmental research in the SSA region. Although this research is contributing much toward conceptual advances in several scientific fields and is providing opportunities for students and young investigators, the potential scientific contributions and broader impacts of SSA research are not being fully realized. One key issue limiting strong scholarly collaboration is inadequate support for African research collaborators and institutions. As a US domestic agency, NSF support is limited to US scientists and institutions, thus other mechanisms, such as partnerships between NSF and other funding agencies or organizations is needed to address this issue. Other factors hindering scientific progress and strong collaboration include: 1) a lack of connection and coordination among projects and programs or a comprehensive approach to addressing scientific questions, 2) lack of adequate infrastructure in SSA, including IT capacity, 3) a lack of sensitivity among the US scientific community to local values and needs of host countries and institutions and African goals for research that will directly address societal needs and provide policy-relevant information to their wider community, and 4) inadequate multi-disciplinary networking and integration of the social, biological, and physical sciences to address important issues Other factors such as institutional disincentives, bureaucratic hurdles, and cultural differences have also hindered progress. There is a need to develop a comprehensive approach to address regional and global environmental issues by enhancing cooperation collaboration across disciplines, regions, and hierarchical levels.
A key challenge is balancing the basic scientific goals of NSF-sponsored research with the need for sensitivity among the US scientific community to values and needs of African host countries and institutions for research that will directly address societal needs and provide policy-relevant information to their wider community. The majority of SSA peoples are engaged in land-based livelihoods, and human welfare and community sustainability in the region are tightly and directly linked to the integrity and conservation of natural ecosystems. Thus, much of the ecological research within SSA is driven principally by societal needs for sustainable, science-based resource management.
An important result of the workshop was the identification of several unique scientific opportunities that SSA provides for advancing basic scientific understanding and for addressing important global issues. In the global context, SSA represents a unique geographic region, comprising a great diversity of ecosystems and people, and unique human-land-water-atmospheric interfaces and interactions for study. With respect to biological, atmospheric, and earth sciences it presents several unique opportunities and resources for advancing knowledge and addressing important regional and global environmental problems. With respect to the social sciences, it is a unique region with strong linkages among ecology, sociology, and economics, and where accelerated economic transition is driving rapid environmental change. It is a globally significant region that host’s world-class research sites and institutions. There is great potential for interdisciplinary studies and for bringing together US and African scientific expertise and knowledge in strong intellectual collaboration. If realized, expanded scientific US-SSA collaboration in the region has enormous potential for addressing some of the worlds most complex and important environmental problems.
Workshop Recommendations: A summary of general recommendations of the workshop is provided below. Further details and specific recommendations are included below in the full report.
Increased Funding for Research in SSA - The workshop identified 5 important scientific issues and themes of high global scientific importance and also relevant to the environment and societal needs of SSA. These include: 1) climate, including atmospheric processes, climate change, climate modeling, and atmosphere-biosphere interactions, 2) biodiversity dynamics, including inventory of biota, loss of biodiversity, invasion of exotic species, population ecology and management of keystone species, and links between biodiversity and ecosystem function, 3) animal and human disease, 4) land-use and land cover change, including ecosystem responses to anthropogenic environmental change, urbanization, effects of change on human livelihoods, and environmental change in savannas and forests, 5) water issues and water resources, including study of river basins and wetlands, water and human health, and trans-boundary issues. Water distribution, quantity and quality are also areas with high potential for integration of hydrological engineering. It is recommended that NSF increase support in these areas where research investment in the SSA region is most likely to have the greatest impact and yield significant new scientific understanding of key environmental processes and problems.
Enhanced Support for Multi-disciplinary Research Integrating Biological, Physical, and Social Sciences - There is a critical need for increased support for multi-disciplinary SSA research that effectively integrates the social sciences with the biological and physical sciences to solve important environmental problems. Continued and expanded support is recommended for NSF programs such as Biocomplexity and Coupled Natural-Human Systems to advance our understanding of the linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem function and sustainability, and human societies. These programs are crucial in providing a mechanistic understanding of ecological patterns and processes, and their implications for global change, biodiversity dynamics, and society, and for the development of sustainable land-based human livelihoods. Development of new interdisciplinary networks and increased funding for multi-disciplinary modeling is also recommended.
Enhanced Training and Student Opportunities - The provision of greater funding opportunities for students, post-doctoral researchers and other young scientists to conduct research in SSA was recommended as a key to fostering sustainable, long-term collaborations and scientific progress. Expansion of distance learning programs available to both US and SSA students was also recommended as an effective approach to help build a true international community of scholars focused on SSA
Improved Communication, Coordination, and Networking - Specific operational strategies were recommended for strengthening collaboration between US and SSA and enhancing the communication and networking of researchers within and between regions. There is also need for creating more opportunities for graduate students in the US and Africa to building professional relationships among themselves. These include establishment and maintenance of a web-based directory/database of SSA scientific personnel, institutions, and programs involved in environmental research and training in SSA and the development of research networks around important research themes.
Enhanced IT – The need was identified for enhanced investment in data rescue/digitization programs, promotion of a culture of free sharing of data through policies and incentives, development of long-term observations, clearinghouse databases for archiving data for supporting interdisciplinary collaborative research, and expansion of digital libraries. Improved IT infrastructure and greater use of IT is required to support interdisciplinary collaboration in the key areas of training, literature & data management, computing, and distance learning. Future efforts should focus on enabling network infrastructure, ready access to new technologies, well-trained local support and ongoing educational opportunities for local scientists and engineers. In addition to training scientists, enhanced training programs for technical and support staff are recommended as crucial for the success and advancement of science and engineering in the SSA region.
Funding Partnerships – Given the constraints of the National Science Foundation and other US funding agencies, it was recognized that the formation of formal funding partnerships between NSF and other international agencies and organizations, SSA partner governments, and NGOs is needed to provide adequate and balanced support for strong US-SSA scientific and training collaboration. It is strongly recommended that the NSF seek formal partnership with other organizations and foundations that have strong and complementary commitments to science and development in SSA. Enhanced coordination between NSF and other organizations supporting environmental research as a foundation for sustainable development would be a critical component of a broad strategy to implement National Science Board recommendations to enhance collaborative science and engineering in developing countries. A formal partnership between NSF and USAID would be logical and synergistic, as USAID aims to improve human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, and NSF can most effectively provide the needed sound scientific basis for sustainable development in SSA. It is also recommended that NSF, as well as US institutions, should formally engage with regional networks such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the New Programme for African Development (NEPAD) as an effective means to enhance coordination and foster greater support for US-SSA research collaboration and networking, and for building capacity within the region.
Changes in NSF Proposal Criteria – Specific changes in NSF proposal evaluation policies were recommended to further foster stronger and more balanced intellectual collaboration and to insure that US scientists fully engage their African colleagues in all phases of the research planning and implementation, and that US scientists demonstrate broader impacts of proposals relevant to SSA. In addition to scientific merit, additional recommended proposal criteria include a) demonstrating relevance and benefits to the host country, including increasing accessibility of results to host countries via appropriate plans for dissemination of results, b) potential for developing sustainable collaborative training and research partnerships and/or capacity building opportunities beyond the period of support, c) appropriate consideration and compliance with laws, regulations, customs and values of the host country and institution, and d) how African collaborators will be fully engaged as partners and sufficient support for their participation.
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) supports extensive cutting-edge science in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The majority of this research is in the general area of the environment. It extends across a range of disciplines and is pushing the frontiers of knowledge on several fronts. NSF support in SSA is addressing important global environmental issues, advancing concepts and theory in the biological and physical sciences, while at the same time providing important scientific foundations for social-economic development in the SSA region. The potential scientific and broad impact of NSF’s investment in Africa could be maximized further by greater scholarly collaboration between US and SSA scientists and stronger partnerships among institutions, organizations, and NSF programs funding SSA projects. The full potential of NSF-sponsored research in SSA can be realized through building a stronger international community of scholars and partnerships among agencies and organizations to address important global and regional issues.
The National Science Board (NSB) recommended that the NSF strengthen international cooperation in science and engineering with developing countries. However, a key constraint of the NSF, as a US domestic federal agency, is that it is unable to fund non-US institutions or non-US scientists. Thus, it is clear that the NSF cannot accomplish this objective alone, and the NSB recommended that the NSF develop partnerships with other funding groups that can provide complementary support by funding foreign collaborators and institutions. To address this issue, and to explore ways to strengthen NSF’s portfolio of awards in SSA, the Workshop for Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa was held January 24-26, 2005 in Arlington, VA. The workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation. The participants for this workshop included 29 scientists from 10 Sub-Sahara African countries, 51 NSF-funded scientists (Principal Investigators) representing several disciplines and many universities and research institutions from throughout the US, 14 US graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, and 20 representatives from US and international agencies and organizations. Principal Investigator (PI) meetings have been conducted by several NSF programs as an effective tool to enhance interaction and collaboration. This meeting was the first to have a regional focus and the first that was broadly multidisciplinary, involving NSF-supported scientists with awards from several NSF directorates and representing several disciplines (e.g. ecology, atmospheric sciences, anthropology, sociology, and engineering). This report is produced for the National Science Foundation, other agencies and organizations, and the community of US and African scientists and scholars working in SSA.
The specific objectives of the workshop were to:
Explore strategies for strengthening scholarly collaboration in science and engineering between the US and SSA and strengthening NSF’s portfolio of sponsored research in the region.
Articulate and promote the realms of scientific investigation that are best and uniquely suited to the SSA environment
Identify and recommend mechanisms to enhance and sustain communication, connectivity, and networking of people and programs
Promote multi-disciplinary collaboration and synthesis of results across hierarchical levels, and the capacity building necessary to address important regional and global environmental issues
Explore strategies to foster greater interests and expand opportunities for US students and young scientists working in SSA.
Build partnerships between the NSF scientific community, other funding groups, and other organizations and agencies that can support the African side of collaborative science.
Background: The need for Enhanced US – Africa Collaboration
NSF supports a diverse and extensive array of cutting-edge scientific research in the countries of SSA. Some of the most competitive programs at NSF are funding leading investigators and high quality research throughout SSA, and are providing great research opportunities for students and young investigators. NSF support for research in SSA has been increasing in recent years in terms of the number of awards, number of countries included, and total funding. The volume of NSF support in the SSA region exceeded $23 million during the past 5 years. The majority of this investment is in the area of environmental research and it extends across a wide range of science disciplines, with the potential to make very significant contributions to social-economic development in the region and yield solutions to both regional and global environmental problems. The potential broad impact of much of this work is currently limited, however, due to limited or no interaction and collaboration at the level of the individual research projects, and at the level of the NSF programs funding SSA projects. Recognizing that major discovery often occurs at the interface of individual disciplinary endeavors, there is strong and urgent need to build an international SSA community of scientific scholars in the general area of the environment to realize the full potential and impact of NSF support. This need has been recognized by the National Science Board (NSB), which has encouraged the NSF to strengthen international cooperation in science and engineering with developing countries.
The workshop focused on environmental science in SSA for a number of reasons:
1) Environmental research focusing on SSA aligns with the National Science Board (NSB) recommendations that NSF strengthen international cooperation in science and engineering with developing countries, and with the research priorities of many African nations where environmental research is increasingly needed for sustainable, science-based resource management. It also aligns with scientific interest in environmental research and education and current NSF support in that more than 75% of NSF’s research support in Africa is allocated to environmental research, including a diverse array of programs in Biology, Geosciences, Engineering, SBE, MPS, OISE and others.
2) In many academic disciplines, but particularly the sciences, intellectual relations and academic cooperation between the US and Africa lags behind that of other regions. This limited scholarly collaboration is due to social, economic, and political constraints and challenges, including intellectual, institutional, and ideological diversity of scholarly cultures and capacities (Zeleza, 2002). A focus on SSA will help enhance US-Africa intellectual collaboration in the sciences.
3) In a global context, SSA represents a unique geographic region, comprising a great diversity of ecosystems and people, and unique land-water-atmospheric-human interfaces and interactions for study. It is a globally significant region with respect to biodiversity, geosciences, and atmospheric sciences, and hosts world class research sites and institutions (e.g. Serengeti, Lake Malawi, Gobabeb, Cape Floral Kingdom, Okavango Delta, Kruger National Park, Inhaca, Marion Island, Maputaland and others). The SSA region provides unique opportunities for advancing general understanding of environmental processes and patterns, the development of new theories and models, and our development of a predictive understanding of ecosystem responses to global change.
4) There are numerous research areas and regional and global environmental issues of mutual interest and importance to both SSA and the US, and a significant knowledge base is already being built by researchers in the region. Enhanced collaboration between US and SSA scientists can yield not only advances in our scientific understanding of the environment, but our capacity to address key environmental issues in developing regions around the world. The combination of these factors and enhanced collaboration between US and SSA scientists can yield major advances in our scientific understanding of the environment and our capacity to address key environmental issues.
5) Scientific research in SSA can contribute significantly to our fundamental understanding of ecological processes and the global environment. Due to the congruency of many ecosystem types in North America and SSA and the similarity in the array of environmental processes and patterns characteristic of systems in these two regions, enhanced cross-continent research can yield significant advances in our understanding of the degree of generality or system-specificity of ecological principles and environmental effects (ecological rules and contingencies sensu Lawton, 1999). For example, comparative studies of congruent SSA and North American grassland ecosystems are providing crucial understanding of the generality of ecological principles and ecological rules and contingencies that govern terrestrial ecosystems and the services they provide. Studies of atmosphere-biosphere interactions and other processes in SSA can add significantly to our understanding of global processes. Holistic and multi-disciplinary study of SSA environments can also provide greater scientific understanding of complex coupled human-natural systems. Where collaborative, cross-continent comparative studies have previously been undertaken in an integrative approach, they have enhanced our general understanding of ecosystem ecology and environmental management.
6) The region consists of mostly developing countries where rapid economic transition is driving rapid environmental change. Rapid alterations of key ecosystem drivers (e.g. natural disturbance regimes in forests and savannas, hydrological regimes in rivers and wetlands, keystone species, atmospheric processes), and social, economic and political changes (e.g. rapid urbanization, trans-boundary environmental transitions) are occurring within the region, posing numerous significant scientific challenges and potentially altering the role of SSA in the changing global environment. It is a region with strong linkages among ecology, sociology, and economics, and where basic human welfare is intimately related to the integrity of natural ecosystems and sustainable natural resource management. Current policy-making regarding environmental issues and conservation planning and implementation in Africa are often poorly informed by good science, and many globally important environmental issues are trans-boundary issues, requiring strong scientific collaboration and coordination both among countries and among regions.
There have been no previous mechanisms or efforts to link and coordinate multi-disciplinary research among African countries or between Africa and the US. There have been a few recent programmatic efforts to foster greater cooperative research in some areas. For example, the Environmental Long-Term Observatories Network of Southern Africa (ELTOSA) is a network of country environmental observatories and long-term ecological research networks encompassing the natural environments and their socio-economic context in southern Africa (Biggs et al. 1999, Henschel et al. 2003). ELTOSA was recently initiated to promote the understanding of long-term environmental processes and episodic changes in SSA at the local to global scale, to facilitate cooperation among scientists and resource managers, improve connectivity between country programs, and to assist with advising funding agencies in southern Africa. ELTOSA is beginning to form stronger linkages with the US and other regions through the International Long-term Ecological Research (ILTER) program. In addition, a few programs have addressed specific questions at the regional or continental scale (e.g. the SAFARI Campaign), but there have been no efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to address regional and global environmental issues by enhancing cooperation and intellectual collaboration across disciplines and hierarchical levels.
A general goal of this SSA workshop was to increase broader understanding, among researchers and across disciplines, of the SSA environment and its global significance. We are optimistic that the broader impacts of the meeting will include an enhanced partnership among researchers and educators to effectively integrate discovery, teaching, training and learning, to address regionally and globally important scientific questions and challenges pertaining to the environment in SSA.
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