Recommendation

A summary of general recommendations of the workshop with regard to scientific issues such as priority research areas, training, and enhancing multi-disciplinary approaches is provided below. In addition, a summary of recommendations regarding operational issues such as IT, infrastructure improvement, and mechanisms to strengthen intellectual collaboration, support, and capacity building are also provided. Further details and specific recommendations are included in the full report.

Scientific Research Needs and Opportunities - The workshop identified 5 important scientific issues and themes of high regional and global scientific importance and relevance to the environment and societal needs of SSA (Table 1). These include: 1) climate, 2) biodiversity dynamics, 3) animal and human disease, 4) land-use and land cover change, including ecosystem responses to anthropogenic environmental change, and 5) water. Savannas, grasslands, and forests are the most important ecosystems supporting human livelihoods, and are the most extensive, understudied, and rapidly changing terrestrial ecosystems in SSA. Thus, significant research attention to environmental transformations of savannas and forests and their ecological and societal consequences is needed. Water issues are also of high importance, and water distribution, quantity and quality are identified as areas with high potential for application of hydrological engineering.

Given the regional and global importance of these issues, as well as the unique opportunities that the SSA region presents to address them, these are specific areas where research investment in the SSA region is most likely to yield significant new scientific understanding of key environmental processes and problems. It is recommended that NSF enhance support for collaborative U.S.-Africa research and training proposals in the research areas listed in Table 1. More detailed descriptions and examples of specific research needs or recommendations under each area are provided in the full report.

Enhancing Multi-disciplinary Approaches: Integration of Biological, Physical, and Social Sciences

A clear consensus of the workshop is that 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 regional and global environmental problems. To promote such inter- disciplinary integration, increased support for research aimed at the following is recommended:

1. Understanding linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem function and sustainability, and human societies, and their implications for global change, biodiversity dynamics, and human livelihoods.

2. Multi-disciplinary research on the land-water-atmosphere interface and biosphere-atmosphere interactions.

3. Research that seeks not only mechanistic understanding of ecological patterns and processes, but also contributes to developing solutions to regional and global environmental problems, including key regional needs for sustainable land-based human livelihoods.

4. Multidisciplinary international collaborative research on trans-boundary environmental issues in the SSA region.

5. Development of new interdisciplinary networks (e.g. support the formation of a network around each of the following topics: water, LULCC, climate change and atmosphere-biosphere interactions, biodiversity/conservation), each emphasizing integration of the human dimension and social sciences

6. The development of models and the strengthening of modeling capability in several areas (outlined in the full report, e.g. regional climate change, LULCC, social sciences).

The challenge is to build on successful disciplinary and interdisciplinary model projects, some of which are fully or partially funded by NSF. The workshop recommends expanded support for programs such as the Biocomplexity Program and Coupled Human-Natural Systems, and/or new programs with similar goals and focus. In particular, the development of a new NSF program for SSA Environmental Research and Training (SSA-ERT) to fund collaborative research and training activities in the region would be an effective means to strengthen scholarly collaboration between U.S. and African scientists and help to build effective and sustainable scientific partnerships.

Operational Issues & Recommendations

The workshop identified need for significant investment in the crosscutting areas required to promote effective multidisciplinary research integration and thereby ensure a successful outcome. These areas include networking, training, capacity building, data, and IT technologies.

Concerning research networking it was proposed that primary activity should occur at the academic institutions level, and driven primarily from within the SSA region, but of course recognizing that assistance from the international community is needed and vital. These partnerships/collaborations should include scientists, policy makers, and the communities that are potential beneficiaries of the research, and ways should be explored for encouraging broader participation of scientists from many SSA countries and multiple disciplines. A specific recommendation to enhance communication and connectivity is to support the development of a web-based database/directory of researchers, projects, institutions, and organizations involved in environmental research and training in SSA.

For training it was recommended that mechanisms should be devised that exploit country-to-country alliances as well as post-doc/post-grad/sabbatical scientists visiting SSA institutions, and similar opportunities to maximize SSA regional resources/expertise for training and research. For a more balanced collaborative US-SSA environment in training, it was recommended that partnership should evolve more towards equal partnership traineeships where SSA scientists are engaged not only as trainees but also as trainers, and in longer-term continuous training programs. Table 2 summarizes the workshop recommendations for mechanisms to enhance training collaborations (see full report for details).

Data issues consumed a considerable proportion of the discussions at the workshop because of their critical role in conducting interdisciplinary research. The need 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 (Table 2) was emphasized. There was consensus that improved IT infrastructure and greater use of IT is required to support interdisciplinary collaboration in the key areas of training, literature and 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 engineers and technical and support staff. 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. Details on specific needs or recommendations under each area are indicated in the full report.

Strengthening and Balancing US-SSA Scholarly Collaboration

The workshop yielded several general recommendations regarding operational strategies for strengthening and balancing scholarly collaboration between U.S. and SSA and enhancing the communication and networking of researchers within and between regions. These include establishment and maintenance of a web-based directory/ database of SSA scientific personnel, institutions, and programs; establishment of formal inter-agency partnerships with NSF; forging formal NSF-SSA regional alliances, and other measures. In addition, the workshop recommended several specific mechanisms regarding NSF policies for proposal evaluation to insure that U.S. scientists fully engage their SSA counterparts (both local scientists and local communities where appropriate) in all phases of the research planning and implementation, and that U.S. scientists demonstrate broader impacts of proposals relevant to SSA. These recommended proposal criteria include demonstrating the following:

1. Relevance and benefits to the host country

2. Scientific merit

3. Potential for developing sustainable collaborative training and research partnerships and/or capacity building opportunities beyond the period of support

4. Appropriate consideration and compliance with laws, regulations, customs and values of the host country and institution

5. How African collaborators will be fully engaged as partners, and sufficient support for their participation

It was concluded that the NSF and other U.S. funding agencies in general lack sufficient information and awareness about the importance and needs for environmental research and training in Africa, and how these issues are relevant for citizens of the U.S. and across the globe. Thus, it is recommended that these agencies consider specific efforts to highlight environmental research in Africa to a greater degree.

The workshop recommended specific approaches to strengthen U.S.-SSA scholarly collaboration and foster evenly balanced scholarly exchange, including establishment of formal interagency partnerships and co-funding arrangements and establishment of formal NSF-Africa regional alliances

- Interagency Partnerships . The establishment of formal programs for co-funding of collaborative U.S.-SSA research projects by NSF and other agencies whose missions allow support for African scientists based in African institutions would help to create a more mutually sustainable partnership between U.S. and African scientists. It is strongly recommended that the NSF seek formal partnership with other agencies and foundations (both U.S. and international) that have strong and complementary commitments to African science and development (e.g. USAID, CIES/Fulbright Program, Kellogg Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, Mellon Foundation). Development agencies are transforming the African landscape through multi-million dollar programs, thus they have a central role in determining outcomes of human interactions with their environments. Development efforts should be informed by good ecological research. Conversely, science-funding agencies such as NSF could have broader impacts by leveraging development funds. NSF and other science agencies should work with development agencies in institution-building for long-term sustainability. The lack of coordination between NSF and other research or development agencies in supporting environmental research as a foundation for sustainable development is currently a significant barrier. Specifically, a formal partnership between NSF and USAID would be logical and synergistic, as USAID aims to improve human well-being and environmental sustainability, and NSF can most effectively provide the needed sound scientific basis for accomplishing that mission.

- NSF-Africa Regional Alliances - It is recommended that the NSF, as well as U.S. institutions, should formally and fully engage with regional networks such as the New Programme for African Development (NEPAD) as an effective means to enhance support for collaborating African researchers and institutions and building capacity within the region. The workshop concluded that the implementation of these recommendations, outlined above and detailed in the full report, will accomplish much toward the goals of strengthening scholarly collaboration in science and engineering between the U.S. and SSA, building and training a new community of scholars, and promoting the multi-disciplinary collaboration, partnerships, and capacity-building needed to address important regional and global environmental issues.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

References: Zeleza, P.T. 2002. Transnational scholarship: building linkages between the U.S. and Africanist community and Africa. African Issues 30: 69-75.

Photographs: Cover: Biomass burning in SSA 09/25/00 image courtesy NASA, TOMS; Fig. 1: steep precipitation gradient over southern Africa; p.2: photo courtesy D. C. Hartnett; p.5 left: photo courtesy S. Macko; p. 5 right: image courtesy NASA, TOMS; p. 6 photos courtesy D.C. Hartnett.

Credits:The workshop for Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub.Saharan Africa was coordinated by David C. Hartnett and Fredrick H. M. Semazzi; NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) of the National Science Foundation funded the workshop under Grant#OISE.0444295; Elizabeth Lyons was the cognizant officer for the NSF grant and provided invaluable guidance in the organization of the workshop and preparation of this report; Jennifer Cash, Lynn Coryell, Harmony Dalgleish, Scott Cover, Beth Graf, Vickie Merritt, and Ann Norcross provided diligent secretarial, administrative and logistics support; Vicky Earp was responsible for the outstanding graphic design work; Special credit is due to the institutions, agencies, and scientists from a wide range of disciplines, who played critical roles by participating in the workshop, and providing their time and expertise to write, comment and review the report.

Enhancing Collaborative Research on the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

    KEY ISSUES & CHALLENGES
    * Rapid Economic & Environmental Change
    * Unique Scientific Opportunities
    * Key role in global environment
    * Limited capacity and research infrastructure
    * Weak US-SSA scientific collaboration & networking

     

    RECOMMENDATIONS TO NSF
    * Key SSA Research Needs and Opportunities
    * Policies & Proposal Criteria
    * Programs to support collaborative research & training
    * Partnerships with international agencies and regional organizations