From the 28th to the 29th July 2016, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), organized a two-day workshop focused on the formulation and implementation of the Center of Excellence for the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL). This workshop held at the Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe (Uganda) was attended by GVTC stakeholders from DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda, among them researchers from universities, protected areas managers, as well as other partners with given experience in center of excellence for collection, processing, storage and dissemination of information related to the biodiversity and natural resources management.
During his welcome remarks, the GVTC Executive Secretary reminded participants how it is imperative for GVTC to own an effective system for information management, able to evaluate and adapt regularly its strategies and policies of management and sustainable valuation of natural resources, fauna, and flora for the benefit of the communities and humanity within the Greater Virunga Landscape.
The GVTC Executive Secretary informed participants that the GVTC Treaty signed in 2015 gives GVTC the mandate to develop a Center of excellence concept for the biodiversity surveillance within the GVL. Speaking clearly, this Center of excellence is an Environment Observatory that GVTC aims to establish on the basis of the international standards to ensure that services expected by decision-makers, researchers, donors, civil society, private sector, and NGOs, are available, of good quality and designed in appropriate language.
Dr. Georges Muamba outlined the operational objectives of the Centre, namely the production of a database , indicators, prospective analyzes, maps, national and regional assessments that are shared with partners at all levels, scientific, cultural, and pedagogic objectives. In order to increase its effectiveness and extend its scope, the Center of excellence will establish partnerships with other centers within the region that are pursuing the same objectives such as Universities of Kisangani, Mbarara, Makerere, and Rwanda but also the famous Lwiro Research Center which is one of the great museums of nature in Central Africa. Specifically, the Executive Secretary of GVTC mentioned the collaboration already existing between GVTC and INES-Ruhengeri in Rwanda, OGV(Observatoire Vulcanologique de Goma) in DRC, and ITFC(Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) of Mbarara University, in Uganda. Partnership with the above research centers may be extended to independent that will be requested according their respective expertise.
On behalf of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Mr. Pontious Ezuma, Conservation Area Manager for Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, stated how this workshop was so important for the GVL since the implementation of Center of excellence is crucial for the management of ecosystems belonging to GVL. Indeed, according to Mr. Pontious Ezuma, the management of those ecosystems requires a lot of information that is still lacking. This Center of excellence will then contribute to effective management of the landscape. Mr. Pontious Ezuma congratulated GVTC for progressive efforts made since the Treaty signing to implement programs. He also thanked the donor (the Kingdom of the Netherlands) whose financial support had enabled organization of this important workshop.
Mr. Fidèle Ruzigandekwe, GVTC Deputy Executive in charge of Programs, dealt with the evolution of transboundary data collection, production and information sharing within the GVL. Both representations were complemented by the one given by Mr. Benjamin Nyange, the Information Analyst of GVTC, explaining the participants the prospects of the GVTC Executive Secretariat Center of excellence.
Jena Hickey (PhD), Conservation Scientist at the International Gorilla Conservation Program(IGCP) who was the workshop facilitator, explained in detail the value and benefits of a Data Clearinghouse for the GVL which are, among others, that the center (1) provides exposure and potential use of data currently being developed and maintained by partners; (2) limits data capacity needs; (3) increases data access efficiencies; (4) increases the knowledge of developers with regards to wildlife and environmental concerns; and (5) provides agencies with tools and information necessary to effectively guide development and minimize threats to the environment. According to Dr Jena Hickey, despite this, there are some challenges related to the implementation of the Center of excellence, inter alia, (1) the acceptance of data stewardship roles; (2) efficient and simple data migration methods; (3) ensuring security for sensitive data; and (4) long-term data maintenance support.
The above presentations were enriched by debates and participants gave their viewpoints upon the Center of excellence implementation, and at the same time, they expressed their concerns related to the actual running of the Center, its sustainability, and efficiency. Finally, participants were divided into three working groups to discuss and bring their contribution to refine or sharpen the objectives of the Center of excellence, the quality of data to be collected, stored, and shared as well as the required technologies for the implementation of the Center of excellence.
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