At the public day for the National Biomathematics Workshop on November 4th, the topics du jour were the training of Kenyans in biomathematical modeling and its applications to decision-making in ecology and epidemiology.Following four days of practical teaching sessions in Naro Moru River Lodge, Nanyuki, the public day reconvened participants and organizers at Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi. It allowed the organizers to reflect on the workshop proceedings and how to move forward.
Heads of the organizing institutions—the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD), the University of Nairobi School of Mathematics (UNSOM), Kenya Wildlife Service, African Conservation Centre (ACC), and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology—spoke both about the growing importance of modeling, and the budding collaboration between these French and Kenyan researchers.
“We share one world, and the impact that each of us has rebounds through the whole system,” stated Dr. David Western, chairman of the African Conservation Center. “How do we understand our impact and mitigate it?” For Dr. Western, a conservationist who has been collecting data on large mammal populations and vegetation dynamics of Amboseli National Park for over forty years, the answer lies in forecasting and in anticipating problems through biomathematical models.
Victor Mose, who has been collaborating with Dr. Western at the ACC-Amboseli Conservation Project, has constructed a model for large mammal population dynamics. His model can predict population changes under differing environmental conditions, such as drought. In presenting his work to the conference, Mose stressed that the model was not just esoteric. As he explained in his concluding remarks, “We can use this model to predict the situation on the ground and give the results to policy makers.”
Mose and Josephine Kangunda, who presented her malaria model in an example of the epidemiological applications of biomathematics, are both products of the first National Biomathematics Workshop in 2009. As a result of their presentations at that first gathering, they were recruited as joint PhD candidates at the University of Nairobi School of Mathematics, and the University Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6) and University of Metz, respectively. Mose and Kangunda, along with Professor Charles Nyandwi of the University of Nairobi, and Dr. Jean Albergel, the IRD representative for East Africa, were the organizers of this second workshop.
“There was a need to make the project continuous,” explains Mose. “We needed to train more Kenyans in biomathematics.” Their goal is to have annual three-week training sessions to educate French students in the ecology of Kenya, and Kenyan students in in SciLab, an open source biomathematical modeling software package. The conference participants fully supported the proposal.
Betty Buyu, director of ACC, was particularly impressed by the way that Mose and Kangunda “brought modeling alive to us. ” She pledged ACC’s support in continuing to promote biomathematical modeling and its applications in Kenya to wildlife conservation. Professor Gauthier Sallet added IRD’s support. The French Ambassador to Kenya, Etienne de Poncins (who had invited all the workshop participants to his residence the previous night for a cocktail reception), promised “You can count on me,” as he urged that this interaction be seen in the context of a larger partnership between France and Kenya. The French Embassy, IRD, KWS and ACC provided funding and organized the biomathematical workshop.