Entering her second year in office, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received international accolades for restoring peace and implementing sustainable environmental policies to rebuild a war-torn nation. With a new conservation fund under development, Africa's first female president appears intent on creating a legacy that will extend far beyond her term.
At Least 30 Percent of Forests Protected
If adopted, the Liberia Protected Areas Trust Fund will guarantee a long-term source of financing for an ambitious conservation plan to set aside at least 30 percent of the country's remaining forests in national parks and reserves. Once administered on the ground, the plan will link multiple smaller protected areas to form a single network encompassing 3.7 million acres.
With support from Conservation International's (CI) Global Conservation Fund, the trust fund's target is set around $30 million to help cover the costs of establishing and managing protected areas.
IN-DEPTH: Find out more about what CI is doing in Liberia.
Our biodiversity is a resource of global importance, and we need help in maintaining this invaluable asset, Liberian Minister of Agriculture Christopher Toe told U.S. lawmakers and conservationists at last weeks launch of an annual conservation budget in Washington, D.C. Preventing a return to regional conflict funded by timber is a must for our government, and is in the best interest of our people, our neighbors in West Africa, and the international community.
Conservation Has Led to Lifting of Sanctions, Debt Relief
In a country where logging contracts were once traded for weapons, the trust fund legislation will amend a forestry law passed last October, which was unprecedented in its sweeping reforms. Beyond forest protection, it transformed Liberia's natural resource policies and introduced ways to monitor timber concessions more effectively. After the law went into effect, the United Nations Security Council permanently lifted sanctions on Liberian timber exports imposed in 2003.
Since then, the West African nation has advanced dramatically in its conservation efforts, with growing support from the world community. The United States governments announcement last week to forgive Liberia's $391 million debt will free up more funds for reconstruction and development. A program organized recently by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employs former soldiers to help rebuild the countrys devastated infrastructure.
Economic Opportunity in Sapo National Park
In November 2006, CI started a similar project with USAID involving six communities near Sapo National Park, one of Liberia's only two protected areas and among the best-preserved in the entire Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot. The two-year program is designed to create jobs and cultivate economic opportunities in agriculture and livestock rearing for its surrounding communities, while improving the parks management and establishing good governance of natural resources.
LEARN MORE: Discover more about CI's work in Africa and the Biodiversity Hotspots.
"By committing ourselves to sustainable forest management and community consultation in forest decision-making, we have launched a process that significantly increases the amount of work that must be done before one tree can be legally cut in Liberia," said Toe.
Perhaps the Start of Something Bigger
CI has worked in Liberia for the past seven years, and in 2002, opened an office in Monrovia. In collaboration with government authorities, international partners, and local communities, CI conducted a thorough assessment of Liberias remaining forests, which led to the establishment of the country's first protected areas.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, administered by CI, provided early support for management of the Sapo National Park that was later interrupted due to civil instability. After a grant extension, the project continued through 2005.
Now, equipped with a complete biological survey and a newly restructured Forestry Development Authority, Liberia is well on its way to setting an example for biodiversity conservation that could eventually be replicated elsewhere.
"With our strong commitment, Liberia can become a global model for conservation and sustainable development," said CI President Russell Mittermeier.
READ MORE: Conservation can benefit communities. Read about the ecomonic incentives of conservation.