Cutting-edge approaches to conservation are protecting forest and improving livelihoods, yet further investment is needed to sustain expansion into Liberia in the long-term.
The Greater Gola landscape is one of the last remaining blocks of Guinean forest in West Africa, and contains a celebrated Transboundary Peace Park between Sierra Leone and Liberia. This stunning landscape supports 327 bird and 575 butterfly species, and includes 60 species listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, such as the Western Chimpanzee, Forest Elephant and Pygmy Hippo. Around 40,000 people live around Gola, with 90% of their livelihoods depending on natural resources and subsistence agriculture. The forests are therefore under significant pressure from clearance and degradation, especially for the large iron ore deposits detected in the area. It is critical that conservation approaches enable local people to develop more economically and ecologically sustainable livelihoods.
From the first survey in 1989, a long-running partnership of NGOs, Governments and local communities have been working together, pioneering cutting-edge conservation approaches across Gola’s 370,000 hectares of protected and community-managed forests. This has resulted in the creation of two protected areas and the first accredited REDD+ project for West Africa, which has avoided 5 million tonnes of CO2 emission over 10 years. The project has also engaged 24,000 local people in livelihood and wellbeing programmes.
Locally-tailored approaches include forest protection, sustainable livelihood development, education and awareness-raising, and science and monitoring programmes. All projects have seen high levels of community engagement and participation. World-leading science has underpinned operations throughout. Our research has discovered new species and measured the impact of human activity, enabling us to adapt our management accordingly.
One of Gola’s flagship initiatives is the restoration and improvement of cocoa agroforestry production, working with 2,000 cocoa farmers around the national park in Sierra Leone. This has included establishing a democratically-structured producer organisation which successfully exported 40 metric tonnes of sustainable cocoa in 2018 to premium markets. Our aim is to certify 200 metric tonnes in 2020. In Liberia, work is underway to scale up the initiative across the Greater Gola Landscape.
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The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone