Three years into a four-year project, the Project Équateur team is taking stock of what it can do, what it can’t do, and the best way forward. Equateur is in many ways different from the rest of the DRC. Project leader Dr. Glenn Bush describes it as the least developed region in one of the least developed countries on the planet.
“Congolese friends and colleagues who are working there often pull my leg, telling me that Equateur is a nightmare,” notes Dr. Bush wryly.
Perhaps because he is committed not just to science, but to development and capacity building, Dr. Bush sees it differently. He frames the inhabitants of Equateur as a community of energetic, robust people, used to struggling for every hard-won penny in life, in spite of their crippling economy and social disadvantages.
“They have their own ideas, so it’s about finding ways to work within those cultural constraints,” Dr. Bush said. And that might be where Projet Équateur finds itself now — it has learned how to work with the local population, and now the team is looking at scaling it up.
Growing forestry professionals along with forests
Projet Équateur partners with a local university to improve teaching and training opportunities —training for the next generation of rural development workers and foresters.
“It’s my aim to work with teaching staff there to create a center of excellence in sustainable development, forest and climate change,” Dr. Bush said. This is how the next generation of program developers can be trained in-country, and what Projet Équateur sees as the way forward.
A program like this would include practical on-the-job mentoring, and examples of things that work and things that don’t work. The universities will need to invest in their own expertise to train these future agriculture, forestry and sustainable development professionals, and look for ways of extending their influence into local communities.
Every territory or district needs forestry and agriculture workers with knowledge about sustainability, and the ability to apply their expertise to the broader framework. Of course public investment is essential to make such a plan work.
The DRC currently pursues a policy of decentralization when it comes to public finance, but for various reasons, (most related to lack of organizational capacity rather than corruption), what money is available invariably gets stuck in the national capital of Kinshasa. Projet Équateur hopes now to enter a phase of investment, where they can assist in the process of ramping up the amount of public money that is available at the local level.
“We’re hoping to work on sustainable and holistic plans to assist with this, to see some impact,” Dr. Bush said. “We’re working with the provincial government, and the provincial agriculture, energy and environment ministry to help them implement the new national policies. We’re a research and policy organization, going forward we‘re not going to be working as development practitioners. Rather, we’re going to be working with the local implementing agencies, government and non-government, to help them with strategic and organizational planning to scale up development activities based on knowledge and training from the pilot program experiences.”
This is all driven by science. The team is taking care of the bio-physical side (land use planning and monitoring), and also the socio-economic side by tabulating the financial and social cost and benefits of different actions and the most appropriate technologies that exist to achieve sustainable growth.
“We want to help people get access to appropriate and novel technologies, test them out, make them work with the help of scientific understanding,” Dr. Bush said.
For more information about Projet Équateur: projetequateur.org