Since 2013, Sierra Leone experienced a dramatic spike in tree loss. Rapid development, overharvesting of timber, and a crash-and-burn agriculture are among the major causes of tree loss in the West African country. Alhassan Sesay and Daniel Conteh, along with dozens of students, planted 50 trees during summer 2017 to help combat the issue and bring awareness to the nation’s youth. In January 2018, the site was hijacked as a depot for the cross-country timber export—the largest contributor to Sierra Leone’s deforestation problems.
Although less impactful, the production of coal also contributes to the country’s deforestation issue. The process involves cutting down about 40 trees and then harvesting the wood in a 8-foot, 4-foot tall mound of dirt. Coal makers smolder the wood over a few days creating 240 110-pound bags of charcoal. The production earns about $840 for the entire project which is divvied between landowners and producers.
For some Sierra Leoneans, the economic benefit of of cutting trees to burn for charcoal outweighs the environmental drawback. Here a vendor sells just shy of 300 pounds of charcoal to community residents or passersby. The charcoal is used for outdoor and indoor cooking, the latter of which is an unregulated practice preferred for its low cost and reliability.
In August 2017, depleting the land of its trees and natural characteristics saw a tragic turn. More than 1,000 Sierra Leoneans died during an early morning landslide, leaving more than 6,000 locals homeless in the mountainous area of Regent. Scientists and engineers attribute the landslide to deforestation.
The landslide encouraged international intervention, including a United Nations initiative that hired local women to help excavate and replant trees along the now-baron mountainside. All of the women were directly impacted by the landslide, some of whom lost immediate family members. Musu Jabbie’s story gave a face to some of the victims of the landslide.
Private businesses joined in the effort to reforest the barren mountainside. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is tucked away in mountainous Sierra Leone. The resort which attracts tourists in Sierra Leone has its own bouts with small landslides. But the profitable business fares better than the local community based organizations when it comes to reviving tree loss. The sanctuary replants trees that die off or collapse along the protected forest. During a ceremony to commemorate the first tree planting along the landslide in Regent, the sanctuary donated 1,500 trees.
Ultimately, local organizations turned to sensitizing the youth. The Sierra Leonean education system incorporated an environmental curriculum decades ago. But implementing the process so that it translates meaningfully to students can be a bit tasking. Schools need capital for planting projects, access to outdoor planting grounds, and a curriculum that articulates the casualties of unfriendly environmental practices. Faculty at Hope Academy train 9- to 13-year-olds on what it means to protect the environment.
At a minimum, the government reintroduced its cleaning schedule the summer of 2018. Once a month, the government imposes a day-long curfew on its citizens who are responsible for cleaning their immediate areas. But one of the largest environmental culprits—land clearing for export or development—remains loosely regulated, even when it comes to protected trees.