Is Demarcation enough to Protect the Kambui Hills Forest Reserve?
Interview with Aruna Koroma, CSSL Project Manager
The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) is present at the Kambui Hills close to Kenema since 2019. The forest on the hills was declared the Kambui Hills Forest Reserve 1918. Due to increasing human pressure the forest is under several threats. The surface of the forest is decreasing year by year. Aruna Koroma, CSSL Project Manager, shares his experience and thoughts about current demarcation activities and further engagements required at the Kambui Hills.
The BIOPAMA project team has just completed its last demarcation activity. Can you explain us a bit more about it?
That`s The BIOPAMA project is here to support government and communities in the protection and management of Kambui Hills Forest Reserve (KHFR). The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) is the implementing organisation of this project. We are working together with the communities around the Kambui Hills and government entities like the National Protected Area Agency (NPAA) to reach this goal together. The KHFR spreads over an area of about 23,000 hectares. It is divided into Kambui Hills North, which are the hills you can see on the left side when approaching Kenema from the Bo-Kenema Highway, and Kambui Hills South on the right. Before, there was a connection between Kambui Hills North and Kambui Hills South, but due to human activities including ongoing deforestation, this connection is already lost. It was an important corridor for animals to move from one part to the other. We are very concerned with this development and hence, engaging in activities that will reinstate its integrity. This is why we increase our efforts to stop the trend. One of those activities is setting up and constructing pillars on the perimeters of the reserve. This is what we have accomplished recently in some of the strategic areas.
You are talking about a huge loss of the forest area. It sounds like the demarcation is not accepted by everyone. How was the Forest Reserve demarcated, and are these the first pillars along the demarcation line?
The Kambui Hills Forest Reserve was demarcated before. In the last years it had to be demarcated again because too much encroachment has been taking place. There was the need for a new definition of the Reserve itself and the buffer zone. The demarcation was done through NPAA together with the communities. The community members know the borders of the forest reserve; they know exactly where the buffer zone starts. But they are not respecting these restrictions. This is why we had already set up 20 pillars in 2020. The pillars were mainly placed at the Kambui Hills North as a result of urban expansion. The demarcation activity involves transporting the materials including cement, granite stones among others to renature the areas. Sadly, some of the pillars were destroyed and people started to brush the forest for construction purposes. We were able to stop some of these activities, but the original forest in those areas is already gone now. What should be done with its present status is total reforestation, and we are yet to be there considering the huge degraded landscape. However, we are hopeful to improve on the forest status because of our intensive sensitization activities being undertaken.
That sounds like a very challenging situation. As everywhere people want to build houses and make use of the forest for construction, charcoal production, and other needs. How can the pillars help to protect the forest? It doesn´t seem like it worked in the past.
It´s true that community members depend on the forest. People extract trees for charcoal burning, wooden planks (timbers) for construction, commercial and domestic purposes. There is also mining going on inside the Forest Reserve. The pillars alone cannot stop people from encroaching and exploiting the forest, rather they can serve as a reminder notice that reads: “Watch out! You are entering the buffer zone! You are entering the forest reserve!” This will help stop further encroachment. To date, we have nearly 60 pillars constructed around the perimeters of the reserve. 20 pillars were set up through CSSL in 2020, NPAA constructed 20 more pillars later. Now, we have added 20 again. All in the north and south blocks of the reserve. However, this time around, we erected the pillars mostly at the Kambui Hills South as the pressure on the Southern part is getting more intense. We know that the pillars can only be symbolic and raise awareness. They are not the final solution to protect the forest. We also need real community commitment to protect and manage the reserve as a protective measure to stop any further encroachment.
Which further actions would be needed – in your experience – to really make a difference and protect Kambui Hills Forest Reserve sustainably?
To protect the KHFR in a long run; we must continue to work together with the communities and NPAA. One of the challenges is that the communities claim the land as theirs. Before, the government has been paying royalty to them so that they would leave the forest in a better shape. But these payments have been stopped. It would be one option to agree on royalties again as a compensation for the community members. Another way to strengthen the protection of the forest would be having guard posts constructed for NPAA forest guards at strategic locations in and around the Reserve. Up to now the guards are only around during the day on monitoring schedule. We would need 24-hour observation of activities inside the Forest Reserve by these forest guards. And of course, we also need more guards recruited from the forest edge communities. The area is huge and the encroachments are taking place at different places. It is difficult for a small number of forest guards to identify and stop all illegal activities. And as I said before, we need real commitment from the communities. When the communities are aware of the benefits of the forest, they will be willing to protect it.
To summarize: The pillars are important as reminders and symbolic signs to raise awareness and remind people that they are entering a forest reserve. But obviously, this is not enough. Communities really have to understand the value and the importance of the forest. If government really wants to protect the Kambui Hills Forest Reserve, guard posts and more guards are needed, more financial support in the form of compensation for communities to ensure the possibility of a 24-hour protection of the Reserve.
Is there anything you would like to add? Anything you think is important to mention?
There is one thing which is very important to me personally but also to CSSL. Yes, we want to protect the forest reserve. Yes, we want to limit people´s activities inside the forest. The communities are depending on the forest. They depend on the water catchments, the trees, the cooling effect of the trees, the forest fruits, the natural medicines. All of these will be in danger if the deforestation continues. That´s why we keep saying to our people that, we want to protect the forest, but we are doing it for their well-being and the benefit of our future generations.