Preserving the ’weeping hill’ water source in Gaura, Sierra Leone
Context and biodiversity
Gaura Chiefdom, an area of 398 square kilometres, is one of the forest-edge communities in the Gola Rainforest National Park in Kenema District, eastern Sierra Leone. Gayayeyei, a mountainous and hilly area of 828 hectares of primary forest, is a significant ecosystem of the chiefdom. With an approximate population of 34 704 scattered across six towns, Gayayeyei is the chiefdom’s source of clean water.
Further, the ecosystem is rich in biodiversity and home to chimpanzees, the Black-and-white and the Western Red Colobus and Diana monkeys, all Endangered species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Communities in Gaura depend on this lush ecosystem for their livelihoods, but it is increasingly threatened by deforestation activities, including logging, upland farming, felling of trees for charcoal production, poaching, and hunting.
The crying hill
Locals know Gayayeyei as a ‘weeping hill’, as its tears serve as the primary water source for Gaura Chiefdom and its communities. In addition, the forest provides refuge for countless threatened species listed on the IUCN Red list.
Since October 2020, the people of Gaura have been working with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) - under the European Union (EU) funded Gola PAPFOR Project – to conserve the forest and their only source of clean water. .
"Gaura Chiefdom is one of the most cooperative chiefdoms in the establishment and management of community forestry. The communities have committed to preserving the forest by undertaking an effort to preserve the forest even after PAPFor elapses, by enacting bylaws to oversee the protection of the forest and punish defaulters. The community’s approach is a resounding demonstration of how a partnership with communities can lead to sustainable outcomes " said Patrick Dauda, CSSL Land Use Planning, Community Forestry, and Co-Management Coordinator.
In 2021, CSSL and the six communities in the area signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish Gayayeyei Community Forest.
In collaboration with the local chieftain authorities, CSSL has established and trained six Community Forest Management Committees (CFMC) at the chieftaincy and township levels, including all legal forest land-owning communities and families. CSSL has also trained the committees to monitor the designated areas.
Gaura has benefited immensely from implementing the community forestry project.
However, according to Abdul Borbor Musa, chair of the Chiefdom’s CFMC, before the arrival of CSSL, communities depended heavily on the forest as a source of livelihood and income generation, engaging in numerous unsustainable activities. "Due to excessive and unsustainable harvest of the forest, we almost lost our only water source from the hills because it was beginning to dry out. Communities were experiencing an acute shortage of clean water and it was a cause for concern. Thankfully, the situation was resolved in 2021 following the establishment of the community forest, and with support from the EU-PAPFor project.