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Sierra Leone celebrates international year of forests through WAPFOR support

…with a theme “forests for life”

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The importance of the forests in the international community and Sierra Leone is being recognized on a daily basis in the country. The Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security in collaboration with the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project, through support from the European Union (EU) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), has celebrated this year’s International Year of Forests and Golden Jubilee at the British Council Hall on the 27th of September 2011.

This year’s international year of forests is being celebrated with the theme ‘Forests for Life’ and starts from the 27th and is expected to end on the 1st of October with a forest trail from Kobawata to Big Water through Picket hill. This year also marks the one hundredth year since the formation of the Forestry department in Sierra Leone.

Vice President Samel Sumana planting a tree in the Peninsular Forest Reserve

The governance and management of Sierra Leone’s forests and forestry sector are of critical importance to the environmental and socio-economic development of the country and in recognition of this numerous non-governmental organizations including the Welthungerhilfe through the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project are actively engaged in developing a wide range of policies and initiatives to promote sustainable forest management in Sierra Leone.

The objective of the workshop and the celebration yesterday at the British Council was to present and discuss key government policies for the conservation and management of protected areas, to exchange critical information on their respective current policies, approaches and initiatives, and to discuss the needs including funding issues and constraints with respect to cooperation and coordination of efforts between the various agencies and projects.

In his statement, the Acting Director of Forestry at the Forestry Ministry, Mr. Sheku Mansaray said this year is an important year of forestry since its marks the 100th year since the formation and establishment of the Forestry Ministry in Sierra Leone. He noted that the purpose of the gathering was to look at what the Ministry is doing to address the challenges ahead, adding that the workshop will look into government’s priority areas such as the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve.

In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the workshop, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security, Alie Badara Mansaray, said the governance and management of Sierra Leone’s forests and forestry sector are of critical importance to the environmental and socio-economic development of the country. He added that in recognition of this, government, numerous non-governmental and international agencies have been and continued to be actively engaged in developing a wide range of policies and initiatives to promote sustainable forest management.

The Deputy Minister of Forestry said that together with its partners from civil society, UN organizations and other development partners, the Forestry Department seeks to initiate a process of developing long term solutions by bringing together interested organizations for a dialogue.

Mr. Mansaray said Sierra Leone lies in the upper Guinean forest ecosystem which is one of Conservation International’s 34 global biodiversity hotspots and eighth in the world in terms of plant species diversity. He noted that Sierra Leone is also listed on the WWF Global 200 list of critical regions for conservation and that the country also hosts a significant population of West African chimpanzees, population of the extremely rare pygmy hippopotamus and a large variety of rare native and migratory birds.

He maintained that Sierra Leone’s environment and natural resources are identified as key peace and development priorities in the Government’s Agenda for Change as well as in the UN Joint Vision for Sierra Leone. He said conservation can play a significant role in supporting as well as achieving three important goals such as the protection of the biodiversity, economic development and peace building but added that it remains a challenge to conserve key ecosystems in the face of a host of demographic, economic and institutional pressures.

The high table at the trees for life ceremony at British Council

Speaking on protected areas management in Sierra Leone, Mr. Badara Mansaray said that limited resources and low financial returns from conservation in that financial support for protected areas management are extremely limited. He also noted that communities often have unrealistic expectations of what conservation actors can deliver in terms of community benefits and that managing relationships with communities while enforcing conservation standards with limited human and financial resources is very challenging.

When mentioning the entry points for government, civil society and the international community, the Deputy Minister noted that there is need to strengthen the legislative framework for conservation, facilitate coordination among stakeholders, improve management of protected areas, involve local communities and secure long term funding for conservation.

A representative for the United States Department for International Development, Mr. Ramsey, said they are pleased to support Sierra Leone on the part of the environment and said that forest has many uses such as shelter, livelihood and many other vital uses. He said they are working with forestry ministry and local stakeholders in fighting and mapping good forest and environment management in the country.

The Programme Coordinator for the United Nations Environment Programme, Oli Brown, said his organization works with environment stakeholders and government agencies in developing sound environment practices in the country. He said looking for ways in which the forest and the environment can be protected and managed is very much welcomed and important for Sierra Leone. He urged environment stakeholders for the need for enforcement in all angles and sectors towards protecting the environment.

The European Union representative, Cjiamplero Muci said they are committed towards supporting environmental issues in Sierra Leone and he made reference to projects they have supported such as the Gola Forest, the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project and the formation of the National Secretariat for Climate Change. He thanked Sierra Leone for improving on the Copenhagen Accord.

The Director for the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, Dr. Kolleh Bangura on behalf of the Executive Chairperson said that the issues of the environment matters to them greatly and added that Sierra Leone used to have a vast land of protected forest but it has been deforested due to many related activities. He made it known that protecting the forest is a must and that without a forest in the country the life of anyone is at stake.

Some 50 years ago more than 60% of Sierra Leone was covered by closed high forests. Today, only approximately 5% (180,250 ha) of these forests remain. A drastic decrease in ecosystem richness and biodiversity went along with the loss of forest habitats.

The Western Area Peninsula of Sierra Leone, which is part of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, is home to roughly 1 to 1,5 million people (20% of the country’s total population), including the capital city of Freetown. The WAPFoR, occupying the centre of the Peninsula, covers about 17,000 hectares of closed forest. The reserve was declared in 1916 and gazetted a non-hunting forest reserve in 1973. In 2011 the cabinet of GoSL approved a revised demarcation line and protection mechanism of WAPFR. Currently the Parliament is deliberating on a declaration of “Nature Park Western Area”. The Reserve is one of the eight biodiversity hot-spots of the country and hosts 80-90% of Sierra Leone’s terrestrial biodiversity.

Most critically, the water catchment area for Freetown and the Peninsula is dependent on the Reserve, moderating water supply in a climate with distinct and severe wet and dry season. Steep slopes, which prevail over the whole area, are easily eroded and washed out once deforested. Without the water retention and storage capacities of the tropical rain forest ecosystem, villages could face severe flooding.

Perennial springs and rivers used as sources of drinking water by the rural population would dry up during the dry season. Erosion would lead to sedimentation of the Guma and the Congo dams, which are the main sources of drinking water for the population of Freetown. This would drastically reduce the amount of water that can be stored in the dams during the rainy season and supplied to Freetown.

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