Promoting Sustainable Charcoal Production To Preserve the Gola Rainforests in Gbarpolu
By Alade Adeleke
The Gola Rainforest in Gbarpolu County is one of the last places in West Africa, where pygmy hippopotamus, leopards, monkeys, chimpanzees, antelopes, elephants, and anteaters all roam the same habitat. But the survival of the ecosystem is at a critical junction. Deforestation for illegal logging and the production of charcoal is threatening the entire ecosystem and the survival of thousands of people who depend on the forest for their food, water, and livelihoods. Packed in big and small-sized polythene bags, charcoal burned from trees felled are transported in large quantities to the capital, Monrovia, and other locations for sale. While there is growing support for biodiversity, there is also the concurrent need for charcoal and firewood for cooking in one of the fast-growing cities of West Africa.
Hundreds of thousands of urban families use charcoal for cooking, which makes the business of charcoal production profitable and an attractive livelihood generation activity for residents of the surrounding communities. Inadequate power supply, and the high costs of electricity and cooking gas drive households to seek affordable alternatives, including the use of charcoal and firewood. Resultantly, as the demand for charcoal grows, it increases deforestation.
Joseph, a charcoal producer moved from Nimba to Gbarpolu and set up charcoal mounds in the forest around Tima. He cuts down an average of 240 large trees yearly, at an average of 20 trees per month. Like Joseph, thousands of others are engaged in charcoal production for livelihood. Charcoal production is directly linked to the destruction of the Gola Rainforest. The forest in Gbarpolu, according to Joseph, has some of the best species for producing charcoal. He also attributes his migration from Nimba to the short distance from Gbarpolu to Tubmanburg and Monrovia, population centers where charcoal is the most popular energy source for cooking for households.
“I had to relocate to Gbarpolu because the forest here is very thick and has the kind of trees that are very good for producing the kind of charcoal the people like. Most of our customers like to buy iron coal and it is the kind of coal that can be produced from the trees in this area. Here the business makes a profit. Also, the distance from the forest here to cities like Tubmanburg and Monrovia is short,” Joseph intimated.
Liberia’s rainforest is one of the last remaining habitats where so much wildlife can still thrive. The country holds 43 percent of the Guinean Forest of West Africa. This ecosystem is no doubt the final place of survival for many iconic wildlife species. This is the main reason why everything must be done to preserve it.
Learning from deforestation rates and the impacts on livelihoods in other countries, Liberia should be supported to expand and widely distribute affordable and reliable electricity in order to reduce reliance on charcoal, which is increasingly becoming a major cause of deforestation. Public awareness of sustainable charcoal production will provide education to rural communities on the use of trees felled during land preparation for agriculture for charcoal, instead of felling trees for the single purpose of charcoal production. Supporting the establishment of community woodlots for fuel wood and other domestic needs is another viable option.
With support from the European Union, the Gola PAPFor project is raising public awareness on the issues around forest management and deforestation. But in order to stop the chainsaws from pushing deep into the last remaining rainforests, and violation the rights of local communities, the government and people of Liberia need to be supported to sustainably manage one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots.
Working with local and international partners, the European Union-funded Gola PAPFor project is collaborating with the communities to preserve the Gola Rainforests and to help them elevate their voices. 40 Ecoguards supported by PAPFor are working in collaboration with rangers of the Forestry Development Authority and are contributing to protect the rich resources of the forest in Gbarpolu by preventing illegal activities that are posing threats to the forest and collecting data.
The guards patrol the forest and create awareness in the communities on the dangers of illegal hunting, mining, deforestation, and other human activities that destroy the forest and are as well harmful to humans. Trained in the use of smart technology, the work of the guards has been enhanced as they can now digitally record biomonitoring data on smartphones as compared to the previous means of using papers.
“The high rate of charcoal use in urban cities in Liberia is arming and if serious attention is not paid to it; where there can be some alternative means provided, we are heading for danger. There is a need for government and conservation funding institutions to begin thinking of possible ways of introducing Eco-stoves to communities. Learning from the case of Nigeria in 2014, the government distributed over 750,000 clan cook stoves to households in an effort to reduce the rate of deforestation as the result of charcoal production”, concluded James P Mulbah the PAPFor Project Coordinator.
The Support Program for the Preservation of Forest Ecosystems in West Africa (PAPFor) Conservation of the Gola Forest Landscape is supported by the European Union. BirdLife International.