The Yangambi agricultural research station – a short history

The brief history of agricultural research in Congo starts after 1908 when the Belgian state took control of Congo ending the rule of Leopold II, due to international outcry over atrocities committed.

In subsequent years the Belgian state, under guidance of Edmond Leplae and informed by agricultural engineer Jean Claessens, created a government institution (Service de l’Agriculture) focussed on agricultural development, mirroring research facilities in other tropical colonies. Although policy was focused on boosting export crops, in part by increased focus on research, the period up until Leplea‘s retirement was dominated by his much hated policy of mandated cultivation (e.g. cotton and rubber).

Tree Plantation, Yangambi - State Archives
Tree Plantation, Yangambi – State Archives

After 1930 there was a shift in policy away from mandated cultivation and focusing on research driven agricultural development with stronger focus on supporting the local farmers. As such, the Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge (INÉAC, the Institute for the study and agricultural development of Belgian Congo) was created in 1933, with headquarters in Yangambi.

All data in collected and digitized in the Jungle Rhythms project were gathered during the latter period at the Yangabmi research station. Although there was some ongoing research before this period. The INÉAC created a major shift towards basic research, in addition to the applied agricultural research. This basic research were often well coordinated and documented research efforts. This basic research topics included plant diseases, botany, geology but also genetics. Most surprisingly INÉAC was run by scientists with minimal intervention of the Belgian administration (either local or afar). However, INÉAC recieved support from the government which makes complete autonomy questionable, especially WWII set part of the research agenda.

Soil sciences laboratory, Yangambi (Congo) - from the INEAC archives.
Soil sciences laboratory, Yangambi (Congo) – from the INEAC archives.

It is clear that the Congo agricultural research stations (and Yangambi in particular) have a long and winding history. At the eve of independence the research station had built up solid international reputation running large autonomous experiments and data collection throughout the Congo basin. The data on seasonal dynamics of tree species digitized within the Jungle Rhythms project is part of this historical research effort. However, even after more than 70 years these data still retain their scientific value and could contribute to solving some of todays research questions and problems.

(abbreviated / edited version of a text found on the Center of Agricultural History site written by Sephanie Kerckhofs, 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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