The establishment of a Biodiversity and Renewable Energy Learning Centre near West Africa’s only coastal mountain forest will expand the education on environmental issues in Sierra Leone and the Upper Guinea Forest region.
The Environmental Foundation for Africa, headed by CEC Steering Committee member Tommy Garnett, is building a learning centre with a focus on developing and promoting an interactive learning approach to conservation of the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve (WAPFR). The WAPFR is situated in the heart of Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem, is rich in biodiversity and is of international importance. The 17,500 hectare tropical forest, serves as habitat to globally threatened species including the endemic toad Cardioglossus aureolli and the white-breasted picarthertis.
Access will be provided to educational materials, tools and techniques, with ample opportunities for practical demonstrations on their wider applications.
The construction is financed mainly by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), with supplementary financial and in-kind contributieons from other partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, WAPFR project, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security-Forestry Division, Architects Without Borders (Denmark – building design).
Given its focus on entertainment-based environmental education and information dissemination, EFA will work closely with the national educational and schools systems, the appropriate government ministries, in particular, Forestry, Education, Local Government and Energy & Water Resources. as well as other key stakeholders - most especially, the implementing agencies and target beneficiaries of the EU / WHH funded Project – Conservation of WAPFoR. Existing partnerships with entities promoting access to and use of renewable (mainly solar) energy in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa, will be further strengthened. The WAPF is currently under extreme pressure and the rate of deforestation and land degradation is alarming. The major threats to the reserve based on findings of various studies in the recent years; include illegal farming practices, hunting, wood cutting, illegal logging, stone mining and urban settlement expansion.
EFA started conservation work in the WAPF area in 1996, with a tree planting project in Lakka Village (funded by the British High Commission in March 1996) and the creation of the Peninsula Action Group for the Environment (PAGE) in March 1997. These developments were disrupted by the escalation of civil strife in Sierra Leone in May 2007, but operations restarted in July 1999, with the launching of an IUCN NL funded project - Freetown Peninsula Environmental Awareness and Education Programme. This 2-year small grant project which targeted 10 communities along the WAPF enabled EFA to conduct the first series of assessments that gave a clear indication of the impacts of increased population pressure on the capital caused by the civil conflict and the consequences for the WAPF. By the end of the conflict in 2001, EFA recognized the urgent need to maintain an educational facility near the forest reserve that showcases the importance of nature conservation for the local communities. This resulted in EFA establishing the linkages with some of the communities, through environmental education outreach programmes. Subsequently a 15-acre plot was acquired in 2002, to establishing an educational centre.
The following are some of the main features of the proposed structure:
- An interactive walk-in center with a conference / exhibition hall to accommodate school children, university students, community groups, NGO personnel, eco-tourists, the local community people and the general public.
- The special theme of the exhibitions will be ’Protection of the Western Area Peninsula Forest’ using a wide range of photographs and video material to create awareness about the current status of, and threats to the WAPF.
- The centre will also showcase environmental, economic and social issues affecting the Upper Guinean Rain Forest including all of the region’s protected areas.
- Providing school / university workday facilities, audio and visual equipment for workshops, training programmes, conservation symposiums and related seminars.
- Permanent tree nursery, with a focus on indigenous tree species and garden for medicinal and ornamental plants.
- Interactive educational walking trails to promote knowledge about the forest and its biodiversity