In a bid to continue with efforts to protect Lake Sonfon and Pamapna River from existential threat of mining, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) met with stakeholders at Sambaia Bendugu Town on 3rd November 2022, at the Court Barry of the Paramount Chief of Bendugu chiefdom in Tonkolili district, northern Sierra Leone. The objective was to introduce the phase three project entitled, “Diang Communities for Sustainable Forest and Wetlands Management” to the new communities along the Pampana River. The project is funded by Bread for the World (BftW) in Germany, and an extension of interventions that only previously covered Diang chiefdom in Koinadugu district which hosts Lake Sonfon.

During the engagement, Mr. Mohamed Turay, one of the project staff and also an indigene of the project chiefdoms chaired the meeting and said in his opening statement that, conserving Lake Sonfon was important for national development. He added that, the lake has been facing serious environmental degradation over the years due to the huge deposit of gold contained therein. He continued that,’’ …the intervention of CSSL through their campaigns and livelihoods support to the Community Management Associations [CMAs] over the years, has helped to conserve the habitant and its wildlife’’. He said, CSSL made this extension of the project to the new communities along the Pampana River because Lake Sonfon serves as an exit point to the river; and communities utilize the river’s water for domestic and fishing purposes. He encouraged the stakeholders to embrace the project and also support CSSL during implementation.

The Paramount Chief of Samabia Bendugu, PC Musa Bendugu Jalloh welcomed CSSL to his chiefdom, and noted that, he had heard about CSSL before regarding the protection and conservation of Lake Sonfon. He thanked the Society for extending the project to his chiefdom as according to him, it signaled good news and hope for his people along the Pampana River. PC Musa Bendugu registered strong commitment on behalf of his people to support the implementation of the project.

Other speakers, including Lawrence D. Kpangu, Coordinator, Office of National Security (ONS) in Koinadugu district also encouraged all to support CSSL in its drive to protect Lake Sonfon and River Pampana. He assured the organisation of his institution’s support towards the protection of the two sites.

The Project Manager, Papanie Bai-Sesay, expressed profound thanks and appreciation to the Government of Sierra Leone and partners, especially BftW, for their continued support to CSSL’s interventions towards ensuring the protection of Lake Sonfon and Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAPNP). He explained that, the intervention was a continuation of a project that was implemented in Diang chiefdom, Koinadugu district and Western Area Peninsula National Park in the Western Area Rural district. He added that the project geared towards the establishment of ecotourism initiatives, and the protection and conservation of Lake Sonfon. He continued that, the third phase of the project would target both the WAPNP, Pampana River and Lake Sonfon in the aforementioned chiefdoms. He noted that, the three-year project’s overall goal was to improve the environmental sustainability and socio-economic well-being of the target communities in the project locations. Papanie mentioned livelihood support to communities including organic honey production, animal husbandry and climate-smart agricultural initiatives as some of the major successes of the project over the years around Lake Sonfon and WAPNP. He said, honey production in Diang chiefdom has increased tremendously due to the high demand and market for the product. He cited an example of Yarah community, one of the communities near the lake where he said CMA members were now running a micro-finance scheme from gains generated from the CSSL livelihood support. Mr. Sesay however referred mining, cattle rearing, logging and wild bushfires to as the biggest challenges that CSSL has been going through over the years. He therefore, called on all stakeholders and environmental partners to help lobby the government such that the protection of Lake Sonfon, Pampana River and other wetlands across the country would be prioritized and enforced. Mr. Sesay went further and presented the key components in the third phase of the project through a step-by-step analysis of the major activities approved by the donor.

The meeting ended with a question-answer session after the project’s Communication and Advocacy Officer, Alhaji Osman Kamara requested participants to openly discuss the activities of the project which Mr. Sesay had outlined.