Contributions of the Belgian Congo archives to contemporary research questions

DARIAH symposium 2018

Kim Jacobsen1, Sofie Meeus2, Piet Stoffelen2, Patricia Mergen1-2, Hans Beeckman1, Filip Vandelook2, Jan Van den Bulcke3, Michael Amara4, Hans Verbeeck3 Koen Hufkens3-5

1Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium 2Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium 3Ghent University, Belgium 4State Archives Belgium, Belgium 5INRA, Bordeaux, France

Agricultural Research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi dates back to the beginning of the Belgian colonization (1901-1960). Initially, state plantations and experiment stations were built throughout the Belgian territories. In 1933, these facilities were expanded with the creation of INEAC (Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique du Congo Belge, 1933 – 1962). The INEAC headquarters were based at Yangambi on 25.000 ha, surrounded by a 200.000 ha reserve. The data archives are diverse, with a large temporal and geographical spread. They include daily weather records, specific observations of seasonal changes in forest growth, countless herbarium specimens and detailed photographic documentation.

With a network of 36 research stations spread across the three territories, INEAC was the largest tropical agricultural research institute in Africa until 1960. In 1962, following independence, INEAC was abruptly disbanded. Today the INEAC archives are stored in three Belgian institutes: the Botanic Garden of Meise, the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the National Archives of Belgium. The agronomic, climatic, biodiversity and edaphic legacy data hold great potential and relevance for current and future applied and basic research in the Congo Basin and Albertine Rift. Their scientific value resides in the extent of the data collected in a region where the availability of reliable baseline measurements are practically absent. By their nature, the archives also invite a re-interpretation of our colonial heritage, through the revelation of sometimes controversial histories, such as the life story of Panda Farnana.