- The Upper Guinea Forest is the fastest disappearing eco-region, and with it, birds and other species are disappearing. Some 25 endemic bird species are threatened from extinction in this forest biotope. Now, international scientists and environmentalists are to challenge this development by training conservation groups in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Upper Guinea Forest is classified as an "endemic bird area", with 25 species that are threatened or have a restricted range. It also has the world's highest diversity of mammals. The forest originally covered most of Sierra Leone, south-east Guinea, Liberia, southern Côte d'Ivoire and south-west Ghana, but over 80 percent has been lost, and the rate of deforestation is probably still increasing.
The UK-based conservationist group BirdLife today reports it has secured British government funding to stop this trend. A new international project is to create the groundwork for effective ongoing conservation by national environmentalist groups and help safeguard the livelihoods of local communities in the five West African countries.
Over the next three years, some 150 local scientists - 30 from each of the five countries - are to be trained in tropical biodiversity identification, surveying and monitoring techniques. After that, environmentalist groups of the five countries are to have a network of skilled ecologists, capable of defending the Upper Guinea Forest eco-region locally.
- This project is innovative in that it seeks to empower the countries involved to be fully responsible for monitoring their own biodiversity, said the project leader, Lincoln Fishpool of BirdLife. "This will be achieved through the transfer of skills and knowledge from UK professionals to selected nationals, who will then be responsible for future training within their countries."
The project is expected to leave "a lasting legacy" by creating a network of skilled individuals that are to benefit biodiversity conservation in these countries far beyond the project period. "Additionally, it will provide a basis for enhanced collaboration in the sub-region for the long-term conservation of biodiversity in the Upper Guinea Forest," said Dr Fishpool.
- The availability of reliable information will permit national, regional and international decision-makers to take appropriate actions and allow conservationists to design realistic site action projects that will help conserve biodiversity at critically threatened sites, he added.
Many people in the Upper Guinea Forest depend upon natural ecosystems and the goods and services these ecosystems provide. The project aims at generating information on the status and trends of biodiversity, which may enable governments and the local communities to put in place policies, laws and regulations to guarantee the long-term availability of these resources.
- West Africa's Upper Guinea Forest has been identified among the five global priorities for conservation action, with Liberia recognised as the region's highest priority, comments James Coleman, President of the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia. "But it is fast catching up with its deforested neighbours," he added.
Empowerment was also necessary to keep up on international obligations, the Liberian environmentalist said. "Inasmuch as Liberia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), conservation efforts are constrained by the lack of objective data on biodiversity for proper management, including trained personnel. Therefore, in order to enable Liberia to meet up with its obligation under the CBD, the relevance of this project cannot be overemphasised," added Mr Coleman.
Erasmus Owusu, Acting Executive Director of the Ghana Wildlife Society, added: "Considering the fact that local capacity for conservation is very low, especially scientific research, this project will provide the platform for local people to acquire experience of conservation actions on the ground, and contribute to the provision of national cadre of conservationists to support biodiversity conservation at the local and national level."
In Guinea, the project was to be implemented by Guinée Ecologie, a Conakry-based organisation that has a long experience in capacity-building for rural communities' participation in natural resource management. The two other implementing groups are Conservation Society of Sierra Leone - which is BirdLife's office in Sierra Leone - and SOS-Forets in Côte d'Ivoire.
While the network of regional conservationists is engaged in capacity-building, also the governments of the region are taking the problem of deforestation seriously. Currently, only 3 percent of forests in the high-biodiversity areas is protected, something that is to change.
The need to reduce the current high rate of forest biodiversity loss in the sub-region is clearly recognised in the national environmental plans of all the five countries. For example, the government of Liberia last year pledged to increase the protected areas in the country by 10 percent and in Sierra Leone, the government has declared a moratorium on logging in the largest tract of forest in the country.
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