with African universities moves forward
by Andrew Shurtleff
Omara-Ojunga, University of Venda (standing), makes remarks
at last months conference to plan a consortium with
African universities. Other participants are (from left):
Hank Shugart, U.Va.; Francisco Vieira, University of Eduardo
Mondlane; Sisai Mpuchane, University of Botswana; Luis Nongxa,
University of the Witwatersrand; and Jeffrey Plank, U.Va.
By Fariss Samarrai
environmental scientist Mike Garstang began studying the atmosphere
over southern Africa more than 30 years ago, he knew he was dealing
with a complex and dynamic system with global implications. He
had no idea that his work would lead, over the next quarter century,
to a new climate of cooperation, with several U.Va. faculty members
conducting numerous research and education projects with colleagues
at four African universities.
last month, U.Va. officials held a three-day meeting and workshop
with faculty and administrators from the University of Eduardo
Mondlane in Mozambique, the University of Botswana and the universities
of Venda and the Witwatersrand in South Africa. The five universities
are forming a consortium to address environmental, health and
education concerns throughout southern Africa.
initially on personal relationships, we are developing new and
innovative education projects in southern Africa, said Hank
Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences and
director of U.Va.s Global Environmental Change Program.
We are coordinating our work at a new level and hope this
is a first step in intensive African interaction in education,
research and training.
Omara-Ojunga, dean of the School of Environmental Sciences at
the University of Venda, said, This consortium is an opportunity
to consolidate the environmental research activities of universities
in Africa with U.Va.
and officials from the other African universities joined representatives
from the U.S. Department of State, the World Wildlife Fund, the
National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation,
the National Research Council, the United Nations and other federal
agencies and international conservation organizations at Pavilion
VII May 29 to discuss the consortium.
weather tower is used to study the atmosphere over southern
include developing innovative collaborative curriculums that include
student and faculty exchanges and distance learning; upgrading
on-site research stations in Africa; and convening transnational
stakeholder groups where research findings can be translated to
sound environmental policy.
goal of the distance learning initiative is to develop courses
for African students to pursue advanced degrees at U.Va. and WITS
without contributing to the brain drain from Africa.
Exchange programs and classes and field research will complement
25 years of collaborative regional research in southern Africa,
the University is really ahead of the curve in developing international
research and education projects, said Jeffrey Plank, assistant
vice president for research. We are taking the lead on large-scale
multi-national research. Plank has played a vital role in
recent years in coordinating and encouraging initiatives leading
to the consortium.
members hope to strengthen the southern Africa environmental community
through educational programs in environmental sciences and professional
development programs for policy-makers. They plan to close the
gap between research and policy by convening groups of natural
resources managers representing governments and international
conservation organizations, property owners and experts in ecosystem
research and environmental law.
Africa is an extremely important region for collaborations,
Plank said. With industrialization and unprecedented changes
in the region, such as expanded enfranchisement now that colonialism
and apartheid are over, and with economic expansion, there is
intense pressure on the landscape.
is acting as a catalyst for initiatives across political borders.
We want to establish infrastructures that will help southern Africa
build its fate through good decision and policy making.
fits in with the Universitys plans to focus more fully on
international programs and projects, said William Quandt, vice
provost for international government and foreign affairs.
University always has had scholars working together internationally,
but we now have more formal university-wide support for it,
Quandt told members of the consortium. We gain by sitting
together, working collectively and addressing large environmental
and health challenges together.
also hopes the combined resources of the consortium will help
increase funding for projects. Key policy makers and program
managers at the State Department and the National Science Foundation
say we are doing innovative international collaborative work that
should serve as a model for other programs.
University of Botswana in Gaborone, Botswana
University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,
University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa
University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique
Reynolds, the science and technology adviser to Secretary of State
Colin Powell, said exactly that during the May workshop. Research
should engage the public by using a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional
approach to problem solving, he said. This consortium
is ahead of the pack in its building of public-private partnerships
and in thinking several years into the future.
Omara-Ojunga also emphasized the potential for building partnerships.
can work together with our governments to achieve positive intervention
against the poverty and misery thast characterizes so much of
southern Africa. We need to translate our results for policy-makers.
We believe that research is not only an academic exercise, but
that it should play a role in the betterment of human kind.
specializes in creating computer models that show the possible
long-term effects of various human activities on ecosystems at
the regional scale where such disturbances are most likely to
force prolonged alterations to the environment. He can, for example,
model the long-term effects of a forest fire on a group of villages
in a region. These models can be used to inform policy makers
of the possible consequences of various land-use decisions.
are good at gaining information, but we need to become better
at turning that information into wisdom, he said. We
are standing on the brink of the information revolution. We can
convert data into usable knowledge.
said this knowledge is built from collaborative research. The
reason weve been successful is because we have established
trust over the long term, Plank said. These collaborations
did not occur overnight. Institutional relationship-building depends
on collegial relationships. This is the infrastructure that already
exists among our members, and these friendships will carry us
to new levels of innovation in research and education.
Garstang (right), professor of environmental sciences, spends
sabbatical in South Africa establishing contacts
at South African universities and beginning work on weather
modification in South Africa.
of faculty and students with South African universities
and participation in the weather modification studies.
students from South Africa earn degrees at U.Va. and return
to positions at South African universities. Work in the
Amazon Basin leads to theory that trace elements in dust
from the Sahara and Sahel deserts support the rain forest
in the basin.
Scientists conduct the Southern African Fire-Atmosphere
Research Initiative (SAFARI) in 1992. Robert Swap, now a
research assistant professor, earns his doctorate on the
transport of Kalahari and Namib dust to the Amazon Basin.
David Larom, U.Va. graduate student, produces dissertation
on the affects of atmospheric conditions and temperature
on elephant mating calls.
is awarded the Oppenheimer-Wilson Fellowship. Swap conducts
studies at the University of Witwatersrand leading to the
design of the biosphere-atmosphere experiment Southern Africa
Regional Science Initiative (SAFARI 2000).
this decade, U.Va. increases faculty and student exchanges
with partners in southern Africa and adds research and education
projects at all levels. U.Va. also coordinates several National
Science Foundation and SAFARI 2000 workshops in southern
Africa and hosts several fellows from Africa.
More than 100 scientists from nine African nations, the
United States, Europe and Australia, led by Swap, participate
in SAFARI 2000.
U.Va. conducts first live international distance education
videoconference seminar course (left) with the University
of the Witwatersrand in SouthAfrica and the University of
Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique.
U.Va. hosts three-day meeting and workshop to form coalition
with four African universities.
U.Va. to host synthesis workshop of
SAFARI 2000 research findings.