Community Development Action in Sierra Leone
Integrated Conservation Management and Community Development Action for Poverty Alleviation, Western Area Peninsular Forest, Sierra Leone
The Western Area Peninsular Forest (WAPF), which contains the only remaining patch of tropical rainforest in west Sierra Leone, is under extreme pressure from human activities such as hunting, wood cutting, logging and the creation of new settlements. The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL, BirdLifes Partner in Sierra Leone) has been working with local community groups to reverse the trend of destruction and improve livelihoods, integrating wildlife conservation with sustainable income-generating initiatives such as eco-tourism, bee keeping, and animal husbandry.
The WAPF lies at the western limit of the Upper Guinea Forest, a biodiversity hot spot. It supports five globally threatened species of birds, including the vulnerable White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and Rufous-winged Illadopsis Trichastoma rufescens. A total of 314 species have been recorded from the site, including 91certain/probable breeders and a number of migrants that occasionally visit water-bodies in and around the reserve.
The forest and associated coastal wetlands along the northern shore (Sierra Leone River Estuaries) and southern shore (Yawri Bay) are all designated Important Bird Areas and recognised nationally and internationally as areas of biodiversity importance.
A variety of forest plants provide edible pods and fruits, which are collected and consumed as food, and the surplus sold for money. Other non-timber products include rattan for craft production, and medicinal plants used in the treatment of common tropical diseases such as malaria and dysentery.
The WAPF also serves as a vital catchment for water supply to the city of Freetown and its environs. But proximity to Freetown increases pressure on the forest, due mainly to fuelwood cutting to satisfy domestic energy demands. Fish processing in the expanding villages, and hunting for meat for local communities and to supply markets in Freetown, create additional pressures.
This project presented an opportunity to integrate the forest management remit of the Forestry Division with the renewable natural resource requirements of local communities
The Sierra Leone governments Forestry Division manages the WAPF, but its management approach has not always met the needs of the local people. This project presented an opportunity to integrate the forest management remit of the Forestry Division with the renewable natural resource requirements of local communities.
CSSL has helped to establish the Peninsula Action Group on the Environment (PAGE), a Site Support Group including members of ten communities adjacent to the WAPF. PAGE is a non-governmental, non-profit group with a central administrative body and a constitution developed with assistance from the Bird Life/ GEF-IBA project.
However, at the outset of the DGIS-funded project, PAGE needed equipment, training in administrative and basic book-keeping skills, and help with identifying environmentally sustainable ways of generating income from the forest. At that time, the group did not see itself as a significant stakeholder in the management of the forest, believing this to be the sole responsibility of the Government Forestry Division.
PAGE is now registered as a legal entity with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's affairs, and holds a bank account at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank. They have the right to take legal action when forest-related laws are broken, and can secure funding directly from any potential funding agency. With technical input from CSSL, PAGE has developed a three-year strategic plan with primary focus on addressing biodiversity issues at the WAPF and developing the group into a viable self supporting organisation. CSSL has also worked at strengthening partnership and networking with government and other stakeholders through inter-agency consultative meetings.
The establishment of nature clubs in school is contributing significantly to raising awareness among children about their environment
Bee-keeping and pig-rearing projects are under way. The demand and marketing potential for honey is high, and the bee expert and trainer in charge is very hopeful about subsequent harvesting. A goat rearing project will be set up in the near future.
Degraded forest is being replanted with native tree seedlings, and woodlots are being planted with fast-growing Acacia to provide fuel. A number of people have been trained in the manufacture of fuel-saving ecostoves, which will be produced both for use within the WAPF communities and for sale in Freetown and the surrounding area. This will raise further income, as well as reducing pressure on the forest.
Nature clubs have been set up in schools, and the project is carrying out massive village-to-village sensitisation and educational programmes on environmental and biodiversity conservation issues around the peninsula. The establishment of nature clubs in school is contributing significantly to raising awareness among children about their environment and their right to contribute one way or the other to conserve biological diversity within their environment, says CSSL's Biodiversity Conservation Officer Arnold Okoni-Williams.
The project has bought four bicycles to provide PAGE members with mobility in the White-necked Picathartes monitoring programme, and all known nest sites in the WAPF have been visited over the last 12 months. The National Species Action Coordinator, who incidentally is the Site Conservation Officer, is now working closely with PAGE to sustain the monitoring programme.