Located in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s tropical forest, Yangambi’s vestiges bear witness to its long history as a scientific hub for the study of tropical forestry and agriculture. 

The photo exhibit ‘Koyeba Yangambi’ is inspired by the past of this mythical research station, thanks to the unpublished photographic collection of the library of the Congolese Institute for the Study and Agronomic Research (INERA) in Yangambi, and by the present through the recent work of photographer Axel Fassio, which showcases ongoing activities carried out in the Yangambi landscape to test new models of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

Through these few frozen moments of a past glory and a bright present in the making, ‘Koyeba Yangambi’ aims to take visitors in a journey through time, a duty of memory that looks towards the future. Koyeba, which means knowledge in Lingala, is a call to value both Yangambi’s extraordinary heritage and its promising potential to support the DRC to become the development and scientific research leader in Central Africa and beyond.

The National Institute for the Agronomic Study of the Belgian Congo (INEAC) was founded on December 22, 1933 under the leadership of the future King Leopold III, with the aim of promoting the scientific development of the Belgian Congo.

Across the territory of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi, INEAC developed a network of thirty-seven research stations, the most important located in Yangambi, on the banks of the majestic Congo River. The Yangambi research station covered 25,000 hectares, bordering a forest area of over 200,000 hectares, which allowed scientists to carry out agronomic and forestry research.

To support its objectives, the Yangambi station employed more than one hundred researchers working in twenty-one divisions, each with modern equipment, laboratories, offices and testing fields.

These divisions covered many fields, including agricultural entomology, biometrics, rubber cultivation, rural engineering, botany and forestry. The institution obtained remarkable results, notably in the improvement of cultivation techniques and the selection of improved varieties of oil palm, coffee, rubber and cotton.

INEAC was considered the most important and renowned agricultural institute in Africa until the 1960s, when more than ten thousand people were employed by the institution. However, following the independence of the Belgian Congo in 1960, and that of Ruanda-Urundi, INEAC was dismantled on December 31, 1962 and renamed INERA.

Despite a strong will to continue its scientific programs, INERA was affected by regional instability and conflict, and gradually most research, collaboration and training activities came to a halt. This decline had disastrous consequences for local development and natural resource
Reproduction of this photographic material requires written authorization from CIFOR/INERA
Following the stabilization of the country, INERA has benefited from the support of external partners to relaunch research activities in Yangambi.

Since 2017, INERA, in partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and other institutions, contributes to the implementation of several projects funded by the European Union and Belgium to promote local development, applied research and conservation in the Yangambi landscape.

As a result of this collaboration, more than 750,000 trees have already been planted in a large-scale effort to restore degraded land. Other activities include research on endangered flora and fauna, capacity building on agriculture techniques, development of income-generating activities as well as building new infrastructure and renovation of old buildings.

New facilities include a wood biology laboratory built by the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the company Resources & Synergies Development (R&SD). The only of its kind in Central Africa, this laboratory allows on-site analysis of wood samples. The first Eddy covariance flux tower of the Congo Basin, erected at the initiative of the University of Ghent (UGent) by partner R&SD, is another remarkable achievement. The instruments installed on this structure measure the greenhouse gas exchanges between the atmosphere and the forest.

The Yangambi herbarium was recently renovated in collaboration with the Meise Botanical Garden. Since 2007, this institution contributes to the preservation and digitization of a unique collection of more than 150,000 specimens in collaboration with INERA’s botany specialists.

The training of qualified Congolese professionals in sustainable forest management is at the core of these efforts. As such, INERA’s staff benefits from a training program coordinated by the Graduate School of Integrated Tropical Forest Planning and Management (ERAIFT).

Yangambi has become a true “open-air school” allowing Congolese and international students and researchers to conduct relevant studies for the preservation of tropical forests and the socio-economic development of the country.
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This exhibit is possible thanks to the support of the Embassy of Belgium in Kinshasa and the European Union 

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Joelle Grandjean, Christian Besombi Afanta, Ahtziri Gonzalez, Axel Fassio, Basile Houters, Michel Lokonda.