Dresden has many international town twinning partnerships. One of them is with Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the DRC – Democratic Republic of Congo). At the request of the Mayor of Dresden, Mr. Dirk Hilbert, our Chair of Tropical Forestry received a 10-member delegation from the Republic of Congo, led by the Mayor of Brazzaville Mr. Christan Roger on 24 September. Coming from the forest-rich Congo Basin environment, the visit was meant to give the delegation an insight into the Tropical Forestry teaching, research and on-going collaboration with Africa, and to identify possibilities to initiate and extend the partnership to Congo Basin African countries. The team was received by Prof. Dr. Gerald Kapp and Dr. Jude Kimengsi, who gave the guests in French an insight into the teaching and research of the Chair. Clément Mutomua represented the MSc course Tropical Forestry, as he is a current student from the DRC.
After a word of welcome and some coffee/tea sharing, Prof. Kapp gave a brief presentation of the Chair of Tropical Forestry, tracing its history from 1811 until the introduction of the Master’s program in Tropical Forestry Management in 1995, under the stewardship of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Pretzsch.
The teaching approach of the Chair was presented to the audience, with a focus on lectures, group/individual assignments, excursions, seminars, webinars/e-learning and field-based learning. Some of the key training focus include Forest Policy, Culture and Development, Urban Forestry, Forest Organizations, Governance, Actors and Institutions in Forestry, Conflict Management, Forest Assessment and Utilization, and Project Planning, among others. So far, the institute has a network of over 350 alumni, most of whom are engaged in forestry practice, and occupy important positions in their respective countries.
Regarding the research focus, the delegation heard about the major thematic research issues that form the core of the Chair, focusing on global challenges in forest utilization and rehabilitation, multiple stakeholder integration in the research process and in the validation of outcomes, research on natural resource based conflicts, agroforestry and livelihoods, forest landscape restoration, forest governance, institutions and rural livelihoods. With this, the institute runs several projects and has university partnerships across Africa (e.g. the WoodCluster project) and Asia (FLOURISH and BambooValue projects). Dr. Kimengsi then presented the research spectrum for Central Africa – the region of origin of the visitors. Here, he explained the proposed research and partnership perspectives linked to transboundary natural resource governance, taking the case of the Tri-National Dja-Odzala-Minkébé (TRIDOM) which covers three Congo Basin countries – Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon. The proposed research perspectives for the forest-rich Congo Basin include the design of community-based ecotourism business models, unbundling bricolaged forest governance, gendered perspectives in natural resource conflicts, and adaptive protected area co-management.
With this background, the visitors were invited to share their views regarding the current ideas and on aspects of interest for the city of Brazzaville and the Republic of Congo. The Mayor of Brazzaville responded by appreciating the topical nature of the research and partnership thrust of the Chair, and also raised some aspects of interest to them, with a focus on balancing conservation and poverty alleviation, promoting urban forestry, and fostering community benefit-sharing, in the context of ecotourism. He however, regretted the fact that several tourism operations have hardly benefitted the local population, who are cautioned to conserve biodiversity (and forfeit their sustenance) for this purpose. Opportunities for sending Congolese Bachelor graduates to participate in the two-year English-language master course “Tropical Forestry” as well as technical cooperation on topics such as urban forestry and agroforestry and the stabilization of rural areas were discussed.
Clément Mutomua, one of the MSc students narrated the case of the DRC where he cited knowledge and technological deficits as some of the issues affecting sustainable forest management and livelihoods improvement in that part of Central Africa. He argued for the need to intensify training for forest technicians and experts to upgrade forest-based products and highlighted the open-minded discussions between the Tropical Forestry Master Course students from many countries around the globe. A series of interesting debates ensued after these presentations which was followed by a guided campus tour in Tharandt, showing how tradition and modernity have been successfully integrated.
At the end of the visit, the Mayor expressed his satisfaction and promised to further collaboration with the Chair. A joint dinner in Dresden with Mayor Dirk Hilbert and other colleagues from the Dresden City Council rounded off the visit. Mr. Hilbert referred to the possbility of future forestry approaches to the conservation, restoration and use of the Congo basin forest, which is the second most important tropical forest in the world.
By Jude Kimengsi, Gerald Kapp and Clément Mutomua