Guinea - BOGOR, Indonesia (27 April 2012)_Visit any village around a set of project sites in the forests of Guinea’s Fouta Djallon Highlands and you will hear the same story: there has been a significant increase in incomes — with revenues up by a factor of seven in some areas — and communities are more involved in forest management than ever before.
These are the results from a four-year project funded by USAID, in which the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) joined forces to reinvigorate community participation in forest management and improve rural livelihoods in villages surrounding the forests of Balayan Souroumba, Sincery Oursa, Souti Yanfou and Nyalama.
“Co-management of these forests between communities and government had been tried before, but with mixed results,” said CIFOR scientist Michael Balinga, a principal researcher in the Landscape Management for Improved Livelihoods (LAMIL) project.
“Why hadn’t co-management worked before? How do you reconcile local people’s need to make a living with conservation? What sort of incentives would encourage villagers to respect the forests and share responsibility for their management?”
Experts from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) believe that investing in improved management of forests and trees can bring ecological results and economic benefits for people who depend on forests. The success of the LAMIL project proves this belief wellfounded.
Similar success is expected from a 10-year global research programme devoted to forests, trees and agroforestry, one of 15 multi-centre programmes of the CGIAR, aimed at improving food security and sustainably managing the water, soil and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.
“Under co-management, local people derive real benefits from the forests, and they have shown their willingness, and ability, to manage them sustainably,” said Balinga. For example, in 2008, the forest management committee in Souti Yanfou harvested teak from a small plantation and constructed a secondary school and community well with the proceeds.
“When people who weren’t members of the local forest management committee saw the benefits, they began to say, ‘if this is what co-management means, we want to join too’.”
Guinea is rich in natural resources, but almost half of its population lives in poverty. Rural areas particularly suffer from high levels of poverty, and people subsequently turn to forests for their needs. French colonial authorities attempted to restrict the degradation of the landscape in the 1940s and 50s by strengthening forest protection laws and forbidding use by locals.
This us-and-them system of forest management didn’t work, and illegal logging, poaching and land clearance continued. Guinea began promoting co-management as an alternative in the 1990s, but with limited buy-in from communities, who distrusted government agencies and their forest management structures.
USAID launched the LAMIL project in 2005 to help reorganise the existing co-management committees, to encourage greater participation by women and other vulnerable layers of the population, and to help community groups comply with legislation, resulting in the creation of new co-management contracts between communities and the Forestry and Water Directorate.
At the same time, the project introduced various agroforestry projects to improve livelihoods. For example, farmers were encouraged to plant improved, higher-yielding varieties of their staple crops, and learned how to establish ‘living fences’ to pen in their livestock and provide fodder, fuel and food. Farmers were also taught domestication techniques to produce early fruiting, high-value indigenous fruit trees and medicinal plants.
“When farmers take a role in choosing and promoting new farming and agroforestry technologies, the level of uptake is much higher than it would be without their participation,” explained ICRAF scientist Serge Ngendakumana. “Improving the incomes of people living near the forests in this way helped reduce the pressure on the forests.”
The results have been impressive. Forests are now managed for many purposes including conservation, timber production, and farming. Incomes have increased and ecological successes include the return of wildlife, tree cover increasing, and water sources beginning to flow again. The area affected by fire each year has been reduced by around 80 per cent, and illegal encroachment has declined significantly.
The system of co-management, involving local communities and government agencies, developed in the LAMIL project continues to generate interest in Guinea and throughout the region.
“Co-management in Guinea is both unusual and important,” said Gregory Booth of USAID, quoted in a booklet on the project. “What makes it different is the legal contract, signed between forests communities and the government. This means there is a high level of accountability and expectation on both sides.”
Besides providing practical training to farmers, community organisations and others, LAMIL also sought to ensure the sustainability of the project in Guinea by creating a group of national experts. By mid-2009 more than 240 students had benefited from agroforestry courses the project helped to set up in a number of universities.
It is now two years since the LAMIL project ended, but when Ngendakumana visited project sites in September 2011, he found that co‑management committees and agroforestry groups are still mobilising communities to protect forest resources and plant trees.