The greater Gola and its satellite community forest landscape, including the Kambui Hills Forest Reserve (KHFR), continues to suffer unprecedented anthropogenic activities that have resulted into greater negative impacts on the lives and livelihood of surrounding communities and the country generally. Such activities, if left unchecked and uncontrolled, will further degenerate the landscape and subsequently result into serious environmental consequences.

In order to sustainably support communities and the Government of Sierra Leone to address the aforementioned problems, the European Union, through BirdLife International, provided funding support to the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and Gola Rainforest Conservation Limited by Guarantee (GRC LG) to undertake various community forestry management interventions across the greater Gola Landscape for three (3) years. The project dubbed as PAPFor, which started in July 2020, is intended to build on gains left behind by the USAID funded West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) project that ended in June 2020.

In a bid to officially commence the implementation of the project, CSSL and GRC LG jointly conducted series of project inception meetings with key stakeholders across the ten greater Gola forest chiefdoms in Pujehun, Kailahun and Kenema districts from the 9th – 20th November, 2020. The engagements attracted over 600 key stakeholders and other community members in each of the venues. Participants included Paramount Chiefs (PCs), section and town chiefs, women and youth leaders among others. The objective was to introduce the project to stakeholders, while also seeking their support to ensure the achievement of the set project objectives. During the meetings, participants deliberated lengthily on key issues that would support the development of tangible action plans relating to key project deliverables for both Kambui and Gola landscapes.

Addressing stakeholders in every engagement, the PAPFor Project Coordinator, Emurana K. Sowa said, the aim of the project was to protect and conserve the greater Gola landscape which include the KHFR. He said, GRC LG has been taking the lead in conserving the Gola landscape, and has been doing so in close collaboration with CSSL.

He added that, a lot of projects have come and gone, and PAPFor project being the most recent was meant to complement the former WA BiCC project. Mr. Sowa gave a rundown of all project related activity plans including areas of operations, the lifespan of the project and targeted communities that the project hopes to cover. “I want to call on everyone present here today, to accord this project the support it deserves so that together, we can make benchmarks that can be enviable for other partners to emulate”, Mr. Sowa appealed. He pledged commitment, on behalf of his team, to include the stakeholders in the implementation process, as according him, the success of the project strongly depends on collaboration between the community stakeholders and the implementing institutions.

The Head of GRC LG, Francis Massaquoi, gave an overview of his institution’s operations in the project area, including conservation activities completed and achievements made over their last 28 years’ partnership work with CSSL. Mr. Massaquoi reaffirmed the tremendous achievements made by the WA BiCC project, which the PAPFor project is expected to capitalise on for its own success. He added that, most of the work that the project is set to do in the next three years were envisioned by the WA BiCC project which is expected to yield positive impact during the implementation of the PAPFor project. The Head of GRC called on local authorities and relevant community stakeholders to give the required support to GRC LG and CSSL for a successful implementation of the project activities across the landscape.

On behalf of the Gola PCs, the Paramount Chief of Tunkia chiefdom, PC Amara Goway Sama welcomed the PAPFor project, stating that the seven chiefdoms have been working with GRC-LG over the past years and that, projects have come and gone, but their relationship with GRC-LG has always been cordial because both parties always stick to their end of the bargain. On behalf of his colleagues and their people, he pledged that they were ready and willing to cooperate fully with the PAPFor project and would continue to give the support that is required of them for the project to succeed.

“I encourage CSSL to include us the community people in the implementation of the project as we are directly affected, and so should be the direct beneficiaries. That is the only way you can get our people to cooperate with the implementation process”, PC Sama emphasised.

He thanked GRC-LG and CSSL for having the people at heart, as the people of the forest edge communities are the direct sufferers of the effects of human and wildlife conflict. The PC reiterated that, this sometimes proves very difficult for them (chiefs) to solve, but added that, if the people were getting benefits from conservation, they would tend to ignore the animals that destroy their plantations. He also encouraged the community people to be patient with the project implementers as they (chiefs) would continue to engage the project heads to ensure that the people’s entitlements are delivered to them.