Introduction: Workshop Rationale and Objectives
The U.S. 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 and extends across a range of disciplines. NSF support in SSA is addressing important global environmental issues, advancing frontiers of knowledge 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 significantly strengthened by greater scholarly collaboration between U.S. and SSA scientists and stronger partnerships among institutions, organizations, and NSF programs funding SSA projects. In addition, recognizing that major discovery often occurs at the interface of individual disciplinary endeavors, there is strong need to build an international and multidisciplinary SSA community of scholars in the general area of the environment, and to forge partnerships among agencies and organizations, to realize the full potential and impact of NSF support and 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 (http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2003/nsb03151 and http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/- documents/2002/nsb01187). However, a key constraint of the NSF, as a U.S. domestic federal agency, is that it is unable to fund non-U.S. institutions or non-U.S. scientists. Thus, it is clear that the NSF cannot accomplish this objective alone, and the NSB recommended that NSF develop partnerships with other funding groups that can provide complementary support by funding foreign collaborators and institutions, and creating opportunities for sharing institutional experiences in overcoming practical logistical difficulties that could impede effective research collaboration. 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 114 participants included scientists from 10 African countries, NSF-funded scientists representing several disciplines and numerous U.S. institutions, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and representatives from U.S. and international agencies and organizations. This report is produced for the National Science Foundation, other agencies and organizations, and the community of U.S. and African scientists and scholars working in SSAThe specific objectives of the workshop were to:
1) Explore strategies for strengthening scholarly collaboration in science and engineering between the U.S. 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 expand opportunities for U.S. students and young scientists working in SSA.
6) Build partnerships between the NSF scientific community, other funding groups, and other organizations and agencies that can support the African side of collaborative research and training.
The workshop focused on environmental science in SSA for several reasons. First, scientific research in SSA can contribute significantly to our fundamental understanding of ecological processes and the global environment. For example, comparative studies of congruent SSA and North American ecosystems can provide crucial understanding of the generality of ecological principles and ecological rules and contingencies that govern the earth's 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 multidisciplinary study of SSA environments can also provide greater understanding of complex coupled human-natural systems.