11/08/2014 10:23 pm ET Updated Jan 08, 2015

Slowing the Brain Drain in Central Africa to Protect the Environment and Public Health

By Karla Renschler

Central Africa--long plagued by conflict and widespread poverty--faces another significant challenge to sustainable development: a debilitating brain drain. The emigration of talented scholars and researchers seeking an education in developed countries and then staying abroad is weakening the region's ability to deal with dire challenges such as water and food security, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and public health. The Congo Basin Institute--featured in the video above--has a vision for training African researchers and scientists at home in the region and giving them incentives to stay and work on solving local problems.

The University of California, Los Angeles--in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, and several other international development organizations and universities in the United States--is launching a campaign to build a state-of-the-art research facility in Cameroon, which will serve as a central hub for learning and research benefitting seven countries in the region. The institute represents a new model of universities in the United States investing in building the capacity to conduct world-class research locally by bringing international education and research facilities to the developing world.

Outfitted with cutting-edge research equipment, training labs, distance learning centers, and a lodging and conference center for scientists and students, the Congo Basin Institute will provide a base for collaborative research projects and provide training to local and visiting researchers working on critical issues in Central Africa. The institute will expand on UCLA's International Research and Training Center, which has already served 1,500 scholars from 15 countries, and a research station managed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

The Congo Basin Institute is the vision of Thomas Smith, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the UCLA Center for Tropical Research, who has worked on conservation biology and public health in Central Africa for more than 30 years. In addition to UCLA and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, partners in the Congo Basin Institute include the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Drexel University, the University of Maryland, the University of New Orleans, the World Agroforestry Center, the High Institute of Environmental Sciences, and the Center for International Forestry Research, among others.