Transboundary collaboration is enabling the restoration of a major biodiversity hotspot in the Upper Guinean Forest Eco-Region. Liberia and Sierra Leone are conducting joint and independent initiatives to ensure the conservation of the Gola Peace Park which straddles their shared boundary, encompassing a park on either side.
The Upper Guinean Forest Eco-region is one of three biodiversity hotspots in Africa but has unfortunately suffered massive deforestation. The Greater Gola Landscape is the largest remnant of this Eco-region and straddles the boundary between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thus, several government agencies and international NGOs are working with local forest management and conservation bodies to promote a landscape-scale and transboundary management scheme. In 2011, the two countries signed an agreement to conserve the Gola Peace Park which encompasses the connected national parks on either side of the border. The two countries are approaching conservation differently yet complementarily. First, Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest Conservation Company employs rangers to monitor illegal activity and conducts periodic assessments of deforestation. The conservation in Sierra Leone is supported by the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program. Second, Liberia aims to promote forest connectivity by establishing community forests to connect the various parts the Gola Peace Park within and across its borders. In collaboration with international conservation groups, the two countries are promoting “rainforest-friendly livelihood” activities including beekeeping, farmer field schools, cocoa farming, and the planting of nitrogen fixing plants.
In Sierra Leone, the reported net estimated emission removals through sequestration in the REDD+ project area was 460,000 tCO2e and net estimated emissions reductions through avoided emissions was over 3 million tCO2e. Modelling predicts that avoided greenhouse gas emissions from avoided deforestation of the Greater Gola Landscape is likely over 800,000 tonnes per year.
The observed restoration of the forest likely improves its resilience to climate change stresses and strengthens local livelihoods. In Sierra Leone, the project has allowed for the employment of 150 local staff and improved livelihoods for 24,000 people across 122 communities. Gola forest-friendly chocolate has been found to create an income stream that gives chiefdoms in Sierra Leone the ability to invest in schools, water pumps, hospitals, and student scholarships. These benefits are expected to have improved the resilience of communities to climate change.
Species monitoring suggests that several Critically Endangered or Endangered species are benefitting from the conservation and restoration efforts. It is reported to be the only site in West Africa where the Gola chimpanzee population is not decreasing.
Project activities from the community forest programs in Liberia have likely played a role in decreasing poverty levels and increasing well-being. Of households surveyed at the end of the project, 56% reported improved well-being and 70% reported improved income.