By Amin Kef Sesay
The environment which provides much needed human and infrastructural development in Sierra Leone is seriously threatened by extraction, deforestation and land degradation as a result of ineffective policies and enforcement, the cutting down of trees for charcoal burning and farming – activities that are proving very devastating to sustainable livelihoods.
Little has been done to protect the land in Sierra Leone. The Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve which is also Freetown’s water supply major source is currently threatened by deforestation due to settlements at both ends of the economic spectrum.
Shanty settlements of people in Freetown are spreading into the reserve and piling pressure on the ecosystem. Farming, logging and mining in the provinces around major towns and villages also poses serious environmental threats.
Degradation of forests has already transformed some areas into savanna grasslands or degraded savannas. Along with pressures caused by population growth over the last few decades, unregulated and often illegal extraction of timber puts wildlife, local people and economies at risk.
Unrelenting timber demand from around the world – in our own case from China — means that the forests are being harvested at unprecedented rates. Often, this is done unsustainably or not in accordance with local laws. Road-building by logging companies has also opened up remote areas of forests to poaching and illegal logging.
Forests shrink, wildlife disappears and economies sputter. Given the extent and rate of forest fragmentation from roadside farming and logging, basic simulations suggest that few large blocks of Sierra Leone’s forest will remain in peril for 20 years if mitigating actions are not taken now by government and local communities.
The new Ministry of the Environment needs to take urgent remedial actions in partnership with the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning, United Nations Development Program, Conservative Society, Green Scenery, Environmental Foundation for Africa, the Tiwai Island Sanctuary project in the Pujehun District and other environmental protection agencies to come up with a robust action plan to rehabilitate Sierra Leone’s severely degraded environment as a priority and to work closely with governmental agencies and other local and international partners to plan, design and implement sustainable schemes of land reclamation and regeneration for agriculture, forestry and other use.
The environment must be restored and protected so that development, peace, security and healthy populations can coexist. This can be done by raising environmental awareness among key stakeholders and building the capacity of decision makers and resource users to incorporate environmental management into their priorities and actions to restore degraded lands and conserve pristine forests and equip people with sustainable livelihood skills such as agro forestry.
In the deforested areas that need reclamation, economic trees can be planted. First what is needed are seed nurseries in all chiefdoms across the country. Local communities can successfully produce a large volume and variety of local foods and cash crops in an environmentally sustainable manner and in the process, improving their own income and living conditions.