Kambui Hills Forest: the reserve run by a whole community
How do we foster a society where humans live in harmony with rainforests? By making sure everyone has a say in how their forest is managed and protected. In Sierra Leone, the Jensen Project is enabling local people to do just that.
Kambui Hills Forest reserve is an area of scenic beauty located in the eastern province of Sierra Leone. It forms a fragment of the threatened Upper Guinea forest and, by extension, the greater Gola Rainforest landscape.
The forest reserve was established in 1919, and holds Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) status. It boasts over 200 bird species, five of which are of global conservation concern, including the emblematic White-necked Rockfowl Picathartes gymnocephalus (Vulnerable). The reserve also supports primates such as the Western Chimpanzee, Western Black and White Colobus, Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Sooty Mangabey and Campbell’s Monkey. Threatened antelopes including the Black Duiker and Maxwell’s Duiker roam the reserve alongside African Buffalo. The forest ecosystem also serves as a water catchment for Kenema City, which is the provincial capital.
Despite its protected status, less than 10% of the original forest area remains. Since the 1960s, inadequate attention has been given to managing the reserve, allowing human landscapes to encroach. The largest contributors to forest degradation are logging, mining and tree felling for agriculture. Hunting has also dealt a huge blow on the forest’s wildlife. The local community needs to be offered opportunities to pursue sustainable livelihoods, rather than having to resort to these destructive sources of income.
The Jensen Project, based in nearby Kenema City, is one such intervention. In the short term, it aims to protect biodiversity through an innovative community-led co-management plan, which will combine sustainable livelihoods with forest monitoring. The project is just completing its first year. Within this year, the project team has made great progress in establishing credibility and has fostered good relationships with the Local administration, including Paramount Chiefs, Chiefdom Speakers, section chiefs and village headmen within the project area. The Jensen project has also partnered with the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (represented by the Forestry Division and National Protected Area Authority, NPAA), not to mention the local communities themselves.
On the ground, the Jensen project aims to use Community Forest Management/Governance Structures. These are to ensure that the communities are entirely involved in decisions concerning their forest and that every decision taken is a fully informed one. The project will put together a Community Assembly (CA) which will lead the Authorized Forest Community and has the overall power to decide how the community should take care of their forest, and a Community Forest Management Board (CFMB), which acts as the forest manager for the people and will implement the day-to-day forest activities of the CA. The CFMB will ensure that the forest is properly taken care of and will report to the Executive Committee (EC). The EC will give direction to the CFMB and keep an eye on them, making sure that they develops appropriate rules for forest management.
A Socioeconomic survey was undertaken last year with the objective of obtaining basic demographic information on the communities, the effects of their activities on forest health and income generated from those activities, and to understand the attitude of the people regarding the use of the forest. A biological survey and High Conservation Value Assessment were also carried out. The results of these exercises are being used to inform future decisions.
The long-term goal of the project is to provide a model, and the capacity and skills, to help conserve the unique wildlife and biodiversity of the greater Gola landscape through expanding the Community-Based Forest Management (CBMF) approach to forest communities around the entire Gola Rainforest National Park and across Sierra Leone.
This project is funded by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation.