Liberia owns 43% of the Guinea tropical rainforest south of the Sahara and it extends to neighboring Sierra Leone. However, this vast natural resource that protects the environment from storms and helps with rainfall that also enhances soil fertility is threatened by human behavior. Loggers are either cutting down the trees indiscriminately for commercial purposes without reforestation, or farmers are cultivating it thereby destroying economic species of plant or damaging the habitat of protected wildlife.
In order to curb this situation that has the propensity to endanger even human life in proceeding years, the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly protect and manage the Gola Transboundary Forest Landscape that forms a part of the 43% Guinea Forest belt extending westward of Liberia.
The signing ceremony of the MOU held under the theme, “Giving Nature a Home”, took place at the C. Cecil Dennis Hall at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 18, 2020, and it brought together elders and chiefs from the protected areas, Civil Society actors, development partners, as well as government officials from the two countries.
The 43% of the total Guinea Rainforest in Liberia is a part of a globally significant biodiversity hotspot and a home to 60 wildlife species.
The Gola Transboundary Forest Landscape has the population of priority globally threatened species such as the endangered pygmy hippopotamus, Western Chimpanzee, Pangolin, African forest elephant and Zebra Duiker.
The signing ceremony was an amendment in the MOU that already exists for the protection of the forest.
Sara R. Walter, USAID Mission Director to Liberia, said the signing of amendments to the MOU between the governments regarding the Gola Transboundary Forest Landscape is of historic importance and reaffirms and strengthens each country’s commitment to the protection of the forest. She added that the 350,000 hectares and 232 different types of trees, 49 mammals, 327 bird species and 43 amphibians are evidence that the Gola Forest deserves protection.
She said the forest is home to several iconic species unique to the West African region, namely the pygmy hippo, the forest elephant, and the western chimpanzee.
Walter said the habitats and food sources of these threatened or endangered species are under serious and unrelenting pressures from illegal hunting, logging, and mining. “The success we have achieved to date has resulted from an active and ongoing collaboration with key development partners in the region.”
Walter thanked the traditional leaders of the Gola Forest for being indispensable in leading their people to establish community forests that strengthen conservation and sustainable livelihoods for forest dwellers on both sides of the border.
She recalled how fifty years ago Liberia and Sierra led the way to regional cooperation in West Africa when they founded the Mano River Union to speed up economic growth and social progress in both countries, adding that the wisdom of that effort was not lost on other countries in the region.
Walter said Liberia and Sierra Leone are once again leading the way in regional cooperation in West Africa in protecting vital forest resources.
At the signing ceremony, Gbehzohngar Findley, Liberia’s Foreign Minister, said it is important for both countries to bring together traditional people who are directly involved to sign the MOU to protect the Gola forest.
Findley said while it is true that partners are supporting the prevision of the forest, it is necessary to involve the local people and make them feel a part of the process.
“Let us keep in mind that our partners will one day leave and we (both governments) will have to take full responsibilities of the forest alongside the traditional people who live in those protected areas,” he said.
Findley said the signing is not only about the conservation of the forest but the protection of wildlife and the improvement of those who live in communities around the protected areas.