Table of Contents
Africa has made and continues to make important strides in conservation and conservation biology. Research and training institutions have existed for decades, but today conservation science in parts of Africa is faltering. Collectively, the capacity for conservation science and its application is great across Africa. Yet, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The challenge is to further develop this existing, fragmented capacity, creating linkages among institutions, both at subregional and regional levels, and building on it in order to promote better science in the management and preservation of Africa's spectacular biological diversity.
An international workshop was held on 10-13 September 2001 at the International Livestock Research Institute, in Nairobi, Kenya, to share information about the status of conservation biology in Africa and to discuss ways to strengthen it, especially through regional and international collaboration. Thirty-six participants from 13 countries represented a broad range of stakeholders in conservation biology: national parks management agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), primary and secondary educators, research centres, professional societies, donors, and graduate students.
The workshop was structured around two themes: conservation research and its communication and application, and human resource development. Sessions focused on conservation science in NGOs and public agencies; graduate education; marine science and conservation; invertebrate conservation; long-term ecological research; women in conservation biology; creating an Africa section of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB); and conservation biology in primary and secondary education.
An overall concern for conservation biology in Africa, as elsewhere, is how to translate conservation research into practical action. This requires attention to three areas: communication, setting the research agenda, and directly applying scientific methods to practical problems.
Communication is a clear priority -- both within the research community and between it and other stakeholders. Site-based networks need to be further developed as dedicated platforms for communication and conservation science across Africa. New initiatives are taking form, like Long Term Ecological Research Networks in Southern and Eastern Africa. Efforts are also underway to strengthen existing networks, like the Man and Biosphere network of Biosphere Reserves. AfriMab is the regional network for African reserves, numbering 57 in 28 countries.
Conservation biology should also coordinate with other, more virtual networks in order to avoid duplication of effort. Some are discipline-centered, like those comprising Bio-NET International for taxonomy; others are NGO based, like the East Africa Wildlife Society and Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.
There is also great need to better communicate conservation science to managers and policymakers; to communicate the successes of conservation research and how research is done. Regional pilot efforts should develop and institutionalize processes for identifying and prioritizing target groups, creating the message(s), identifying the most effective delivery method(s), and identifying the messengers. Scientists should seek to inform management, policy making, and education, and hope that their contributions will in turn demonstrate the value of their work, promote greater participation in it, and strengthen a constituency for it.
In defining an African research agenda, there must be a balance between working at the cutting edge of theory versus doing applied research. A balance might be found through a series of regional priority-setting exercises that draw together researchers with managers, educators, policymakers and other stakeholders from outside the research community.
The methods of conservation biology have direct application in many areas. For example, there is need to improve environmental impact assessment policies and practice through stronger linkages with conservation biology in order to not only anticipate and mitigate potential negative impacts on biological diversity, but also to proactively explore development alternatives that would enhance biodiversity. Conservation science also has a major role to play in developing sound methods for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of conservation actions. Through such applications, conservation biology can make itself as central to development planing as are public health, agriculture, etc.
Graduate education is key to strengthening and sustaining conservation science in Africa. Yet, many countries lack graduate programmes in conservation biology. New programmes may be necessary in some regions, but weaknesses in graduate education may also be effectively addressed through partnerships among existing programmes. There is enormous potential for institutions to help each other to rise to international stature in research and training. A first step would be a comprehensive review of courses and programmes in Africa, involving experts from within and outside the region to evaluate programmes and identify specific strengths, deficiencies, and partnership opportunities.
Another challenge is to further grow the pool of women conservation biologists, while ensuring the discipline works to retain them at all levels. The problem is not only one of equity. One outcome of increasing the participation of women is to broaden the scope and quality of problem solving in conservation biology. Professional associations for conservation biology need to adopt a focus on gender issues, identifying role models and raising the visibility of women, their accomplishments and contributions. Conservation biologists can join the broader effort to encourage girls into science by exposing them to accomplished women, participating in mentoring programs, and supporting outreach and volunteer programs for primary and secondary schools.
Another major concern is the lack of mentors and role models for women at higher leadership levels. Change will require dedicated attention to promote and sustain women's professional advancement through focused attention to mentoring programs at the higher levels and by drawing from the commercial business sector for models that support a more diverse and capable workforce (e.g., flextime and telecommuting).
School-based conservation education -- whether formal or informal -- is gaining strength throughout Africa. Incorporating conservation science into primary and secondary teaching, though, is further behind. It is symptomatic of the broader deficiencies in science education. There is a need to highlight conservation scientists in schools. Scientists can partner with teachers to design simple field projects that readily engage students with both scientific methods and conservation issues. Conservation and science can also come together by teaching science through conservation issues. Many new models for science education are being developed, and would benefit from collaborative learning ventures with African educators and scientists (e.g., exchange visits, workshops, joint teaching programs).
The challenges faced by conservation biology in Africa are shared with many other disciplines. Conservation biologists need to work in concert with their colleagues in other sciences to effect change. For example, the conservation biology community in Africa must join the chorus for improved telecommunications on the continent to improve information access. In the short term, email access is common and any networking initiative should take advantage of it. Web based information "portals" or gateways should allow for email access, while CD technologies can also be used to great effect.
Institutional weaknesses also plague conservation biology and affect universities, research centres, and public as well as private agencies. Strong institutions are not built through short-term investments in a few select areas, as is commonplace among donors. More comprehensive and long-term approaches are required. At the same time, recipient institutions do not always plan for the recurring costs of new investments, and in the face of competing priorities, governments have difficulty ensuring adequate support for conservation, science, and higher education.
The creation of an Africa section of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) would be an important step towards addressing the networking needs of African conservation biology, overcoming the constraints faced by the discipline, and implementing some of the recommendations of the workshop. An interim steering committee has been formed to create the section. At present, creating an independent society for conservation biology in Africa is neither desirable, nor sustainable. The SCB section, though, could be the start of a process that culminates in an independent affiliate of the SCB.
Priorities for the interim steering committee are to conduct a membership drive, find ways to provide French and Portuguese translations of abstracts from Conservation Biology, organize a symposium for the 2002 SCB meeting, and create an email-based African bulletin that will distribute information on the contents of Conservation Biology and Conservation Biology in Practice, as well as additional information such as research and funding opportunities, meeting notices, etc.
The committee expects to launch the section at the next SCB meeting, to be held in Kent, England in July 2002. This will be in conjunction with a symposium that will showcase emerging conservation issues in Africa and feature leading conservationists and scientists from Africa. Information on joining the Africa section may be found at the SCB website (http://www.conservationbiology.org/) or by sending an email inquiry to email@example.com.
 Here, as throughout the workshop, "conservation biology" and "conservation science" are used interchangeably. The former has a more established usage, while the centrality of social, economic, and political factors to conservation in Africa cannot be overestimated.