From the Editor’s Keyboard

Community Participation for Forest Conservation in Sierra Leone

14 February 2008 at 13:11 | 2025 views

Commentary

By Ahmed Ojulla Banguara, Guest Writer.

Forest resources are tremendously supportive of providing economic as well as social opportunities to communities in Sierra Leone. But forests in the country have faced risks year in and year out with many trees cut down for trade and domestic consumption. Local communities have borne the cost of this environmental depletion on forest resources. Therefore, their involvement is paramount to alleviating the cost of biodiversity loss and access of resources.

Sierra Leone had a vast and admirable forest belt rich in different species of fauna and flora. But during past decades the forest ecosystem had faced risk of extinction. Like in most parts of the world, the rate of deforestation in Sierra Leone is unimaginable and has always affected ecosystems and biodiversity in most parts of the country with little or no alarm manifested by policy makers.

Recent global problems indicate that forests in our world are under threat. As a result of the threatening effects and reactions caused by human actions on forests, urgent action is needed to reduce the effects on human lives, the ecosystem and biodiversity. Various action plans have been adopted and imposed on communities but are yet to realise the required outcome. This is because the key catalysts of destruction who also bear the burden of impact have not been fully and adequately involved.

The forest is depleted for different economic activities. Its resources are sometimes traded, locally consumed and even indirectly destroyed through fire. All these actions are actively and passively caused by humans for either direct or indirect consumption; thus, putting all generations at risk of national and global disasters as seen through worldwide flooding and droughts.

Conservation of the forest through protecting vulnerable areas and replanting trees could be just a few of many options to meet this global challenge. Recently, in Sierra Leone, HE the president banned the export of timber and the protection of 75,000 hectares of forest land as a National Park in the Gola Forest. There is an economic and ecological benefit in this policy if maintained.

Economically, the site will generate revenue from tourism and the ecological benefit is it will protect the remaining species in the forest. Whilst this is a strategic policy option by the government of Sierra Leone through command and control or top-bottom approach, there are other options available to complement the desires of the state.

Forest conservation requires the participation of the stakeholders who are perpetrators and victims of their own actions on the one hand and companies on the other. The top-down approach involves the participation of experts to take decisions without the participation of locals in decision making and project implementation. Not surprisingly therefore, much is not achieved after taking environmental decisions. It is becoming widely accepted that rather than the top-bottom policy method, the bottom-top approach will bring sustainability on the use of forest resources.

The goal of a sustainable forest could be achieved through community empowerment and participation. This implies the use of the bottom-up method in conserving the forest, ecosystem and its biodiversity through the ultimate recognition and knowledge of community participation.

The need for forest management requires balancing the ecosystem functions and human requirements through stewardship and the utilisation of resources. This method integrates communities in establishing set goals, setting priorities and monitoring the indicators of sustainability. This may include strategies of mitigating the over dependence on forest resources by fighting poverty and monitoring companies logging trees for export.

The use of community participation through the bottom-up based approach or conservational approach has been very successful in many areas in Canada, India and the Kalahari Rangelands, Botswana.

The use of community participation towards conservation is an incentive to prevent the loss of livelihood and increasing sustainable practices. The participation of local communities provides an explanation and clarification of the relationship between communities and the protected area.

The government can establish community-based conservation programmes across the country to prevent the extinction of forests and enhance their resilience and that of the ecosystem.

*Ahmed Ojulla Bangura(photo) is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Science in the United Kingdom and PV contributor.

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