The European Commission (EC) and Alister Gammel of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have welcomed the commitment to the environmental sector given by President Ernest Bai Koroma at a meeting with partners of the Gola Forest Programme and the EC Delegation held recently at State House.
President Koroma strongly expressed his support to the EC-funded Gola Forest Project and the joint work of all implementation partners with the Government of Sierra Leone to protect the country’s forests and the aim to transform the Gola Forest Reserve into a national park.
The Head of State also welcomed the EC’s pledge to support capacity building for the National Commission on the Environment and Forestry (NaCEF). Expressing his strong commitment to strengthen environmental protection throughout the country, President Koroma said he wished to see the work of NaCEF continue and for illegal logging and mining to be stopped.
The head of the Rural Development Section of the EC delegation, Matthias Reusing informed the President that the EC had earmarked further funding to support the government in strengthening and improving environmental governance both, on national and decentralized levels in the coming years.
The Gola Forests in the south-east of the country are the most important forests for biodiversity in Sierra Leone, and one of the most important forests remaining in West Africa. Work to protect this forest has gained worldwide recognition for Sierra Leone and was showcased at the 7th Conference of the parties at the Convention for Biological Diversity in Brazil in March 2006.
The Gola Forest Project is supported by a number of donors, including the French government, the UK Government, Conservation International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). In May 2007, the EC awarded a major grant to the RSPB with its partners, namely the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and NaCEF, for the implementation of the Gola Forest Project, with the objective of establishing the sustainable management of the Gola Forest as a national park within five years.
The project aims to help the Sierra Leone Government to protect the Gola Forests, which are one of the last remnants of the once extensive West African rainforests, as a national park. This means that any logging and mining in the forest will eventually be outlawed, and that the forests will be managed to benefit both biodiversity and the local population.
This programme has agreements with the seven Gola chiefdoms and delivers support to the development of neighboring communities.
It is expected that the national park will also contribute to Sierra Leone’s tourist industry and to rural economic development, in the longer term. The official launch of the Gola Forest Project is envisaged to take place in December 2007.