The Gola Rainforest Project is a catalyst for peace, prosperity and national pride in Sierra Leone. It aims to conserve the globally important habitats, biodiversity and environmental services of the 70,000 hectare (173,000 acre) Gola Rainforest National Park and the wider Greater Gola Landscape, and ensure that neighbouring communities are active environmental stewards of the natural resource base that underpins and enhances their livelihoods.
The project is the first VCS and CCB validated and verified REDD+ project in West Africa and protects the largest remaining area of Upper Guinea Rainforest in Sierra Leone, an internationally recognised hotspot for wildlife. Gola is home to over 300 species of birds, close to 600 species of butterflies, and 49 species of larger mammals including chimpanzees, forest elephants and the enigmatic pygmy hippo. The project leads the way towards our vision of a Greater Gola Landscape spanning across Liberia and Sierra Leone, which will sustainably manage over 350,000 ha.
122 communities (approximately 24,000 people) directly benefit from livelihood projects. These focus on sustainable agriculture and cocoa rehabilitation to improve quality and yields, saving and lending schemes, and 700 scholarships for secondary education every year.
- Gola is located in Sierra Leone and is West Africa’s first REDD+ Project.
- Protects the largest area of rainforest in Sierra Leone and protects 60 globally threatened species.
- Promotes sustainable development and livelihood activities for 122 forest edge communities (~24,000 people) in the world’s 8th poorest country.
More than half of Sierra Leone was covered with rainforest 100 years ago, but now only around 5% forest cover remains.
The forest provides critical ecosystem services and acts as a natural resource base, upon which local communities are highly dependent. The most important services at a global scale are carbon sequestration and watershed protection, but the forest also plays a role in erosion prevention, climate regulation and supporting sustainable livelihoods through agroforestry and the supply of wild pollinators for crops.
Furthermore, the forest is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, supporting a vast diversity of wildlife including 60 globally threatened species.
The Greater Gola Landscape, which straddles the Sierra Leone – Liberian border, is made up of a mosaic of protected forest (national parks), community forest and agricultural land. For the landscape to function properly as an ecosystem it is not only the protected forest that needs to conserved, the community land in between needs to be managed in ways that support the forest and its wildlife. The Gola project works collaboratively with the forest-edge communities to do this.
The project works with 122 forest edge communities (24,000 people). After an extensive consultation process, Gola developed a suite of livelihood activities focused on sustainable agriculture, income generation and improved natural resource management.
Gola’s model partly relies on Farmer Field Schools. Using a cascade model, we have trained 122 Master Farmers who each work with two youth farmers to run farmer field schools. Nearly 2000 farmers have now registered and are receiving training. Demonstration plots are used to showcase the direct benefits of the approaches being taught.
The communities have received training to address gender imbalances that impede women’s ability to own assets, influence decision-making, participate in activities outside of the home and control incomes and expenditure. The project also delivers leadership development training for future women leaders; providing women with the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to participate in community-based decision making.
The project also directly employs 170 Sierra Leone Nationals, who come primarily from forest-edge communities themselves, and provides 700 scholarships for secondary education in communities where families cannot normally afford to send their children to secondary schools.
At the heart of the project lies the principle of partnership and engagement of local communities to become active environmental stewards of their forest.
After its first independent verification audit late 2015, the Gola REDD Project successfully avoided the emissions of 1.19 million tonnes of CO2. It was validated and verified to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard for which it achieved Double Gold levels, (Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity).
The project currently reduces emissions by half a million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually. This equates to the average annual carbon footprint of over 40,000 people in the UK.In addition to these emission reductions the project contributes to climate change adaptation by:
- Robust and effective monitoring which enables measures of climate change indicators: forest cover, biodiversity and community development.
- Educating local communities about local and global climate impacts and the importance of protecting the forest through community engagement work.
- Creating healthy ecosystems which are more resilient to climate change stresses
The project protects the critical forest habitat for 60 globally threatened species living in one of the largest remnants of Upper Guinea Rainforest. Some of the flagship species that are protected include:
- 49 species of large mammals, nine of which are globally threatened, including the Pygmy Hippopotamus, Western Chimpanzee, Jentink’s duiker and African Forest Elephant.
- 327 different species of birds. Flagship threatened birds include White Necked Picathartes, Rufous Fishing-Owl and Gola Malimbe.
- Over 600 species of butterflies which is over 80% of all those known for Sierra Leone.
- 2800 species of vascular plants known to occur here, of which about 650 are endemic to the region.
- 43 amphibian species, which are highly dependent on the forest, including the critically endangered Tai toad.