Liberia Conservation Works Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods to Preserve Liberia’s Forests

Over two thirds of Liberia’s land is covered by forests, with over half of the country’s residents living within walking distance of a forest and relying on forest resources for income. Wood collection and charcoal production, extraction of products such as fruits, nuts, and honey, and other forest-related activities are critical to the subsistence of rural households and communities. Unfortunately, unsustainable practices are jeopardizing biodiversity and negatively  impacting livelihoods for communities living near and within forest areas. Liberia Conservation Works, a five-year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development, is supporting forest-dwelling communities in  adopting more sustainable livelihood practices that support biodiversity conservation, improved protected area management, and economic growth.

Conservation Works employs an inclusive approach, promoting active participation, skills development, and local ownership. The project’s livelihood and income-generating activities include  integration of climate-smart agricultural techniques, establishment of seed gardens, sustainable beekeeping, and creation of  Village Savings and Loan Associations. 

Climate-Smart Agriculture and Seed Gardens

“It’s the first time for me to see where you cultivate the land and don’t burn it. In [the] old…days we used to just cultivate the farm and leave it but [Conservation Works] taught us that we should come back to these areas because the soil is still useful,” said Mr. Edwin Degba, the General Secretary of his community’s seed garden in Togbaville, Sinoe County.

Seed gardens have been established in six central locations across southeastern Liberia to provide communities living near proposed protected areas increased access to planting materials. Now, farmers living in communities near Cestos-Senkwehn, Krahn-Bassa, and Grand Kru-River Gee Proposed Protected Areas can obtain improved varieties of seeds and planting materials to grow cocoa, plantain, pepper, bitterball, hot pepper, cassava, and local cowpea. Once farmers decide to utilize materials from the seed garden, they are trained to employ climate-smart agricultural methods such as composting and integrated pest management. These practices promote a shift away from slash-and-burn agriculture, which provides only short term benefits and is damaging to the environment.

Through this initiative, sixty new employment opportunities have been created for local farmers. Mr. Degba expressed gratitude for the knowledge he has acquired about alternatives to unsustainable farming methods and stressed the economic benefits, stating that  “whatever seeds will be planted on this garden will be produced for the community to sell for income [and] the community will be able to utilize the income for development.”

Ultimately, the seed garden project aims to improve community livelihoods while protecting the environment.

Beekeeping

“I have children; I don’t have the means to put them in school. The Conservation Works team told me, when you have bees, you …. can sell [honey] and get money,” expressed Mr. David Gbeh of Togbaville, Sinoe County, while sharing his recent experience as a participant in the project’s sustainable beekeeping program.

Over the past year, Conservation Works has trained nearly 400 individuals from communities across Southeast Liberia in the fundamentals of sustainable beekeeping. Following the trainings, individuals were supplied with startup kits that included beehives, bee suits, and honey extractors, and were armed with knowledge about beekeeping and bee welfare.

Over the next several years, the  beekeepers trained by CW from communities in and surrounding Cestos-Senkwehen and Grand Kru-River Gee Proposed Protected Areas will have the opportunity to produce and sell honey, offering a lucrative alternative to the extraction of forest resources. Rosetta Suah, another participant in Conservation Works’ beekeeping initiative, shared her excitement about her new livelihood, stating that “it will help…our children… go to school. We ourselves will be eating from there. ”

Village Savings and Loan Associations

“The village savings [and] loan [associations] are helping. We meet every Sunday to pay our monthly dues; some people credit, some people pay debt, and others collect social funds,” Mr G. Harris Fogah, the Financial Secretary of his community Village Savings and Loan Association in Togbaville, Sinoe County explained.

Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) are economic empowerment tools  that increase local access to, and control over, shared financial resources. VSLAs allow community members to organize and create a secure way to save money and access loans, promoting entrepreneurship, infrastructure development, and educational empowerment. After receiving a startup fund and necessary materials, such as ledgers and safety deposit boxes, from Conservation Works, VSLAs meet on a weekly basis for a nine month cycle during which they collect and disperse funds.

VSLAs offer communities the ability to take loans, as access to private finance is almost entirely unavailable or inaccessible in these hard-to-reach, rural areas. The program is already having a positive effect on local households. “Through [the] VSLA I was able to move from a thatch house to a zinc house,” stated Mr. Fogbah. Similar sentiments were echoed by another VSLA participant, Esther Duah, during a feedback meeting. She said, “I am very happy for the idea you all brought to our community because it has improved my life. The small loan I took helped to pay all my dues and I was able to make additional LD $4,000 from the okra and the beans.”

Conservation Works has supported the establishment of twelve VSLAs across Northwest and Southeast Liberia, localizing decision-making to promote investments that prioritize community needs. Members who have borrowed loans have been able to engage in selling assorted goods such as clothing, rice, cooking oil, and flour; small-scale crop production; and the payment of tuition for their children. Since their inception, the project’s VSLAs have raised over $1.8 million LD, ($10,000 USD), and VSLA groups have generated over $460,000 LD in interest ($2,500 USD).

Economic motivations continue to be one of the main drivers of unsustainable practices within Protected and Conserved Areas. Conservation Works partners recognize the urgent need to support communities living in and around forest areas to attain economic security while simultaneously reducing unsustainable reliance on diminishing natural resources. . Conservation Works continues to expand its livelihood interventions, learning with and from local communities, to promote collective and sustainable solutions.

Liberia Conservation Works is a five-year program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development, promoting biodiversity conservation and enhancing economic prosperity through a One Health approach. Conservation Works is implemented by EcoHealth Alliance in partnership with Fauna & Flora, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection, Partners in Development, and Solimar International. For more information about Conservation Works, see our past newsletters here.

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