The remaining forests and woodlands of Guinea play a critical role in preserving biodiversity in West Africa. A number of these forests are found in Guinea’s highlands, known as the“water tower” of West Africa because they provide a source of water to many of the region’s rivers, including the Niger, Senegal, and Gambia Rivers. Many of Guinea’s forest reserves have become degraded as a result of population pressure, slash-and-burn agriculture, and uncontrolled burning. To combat forest degradation, Guinea has adopted a new, more effective approach to forest management. Since 1993, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Direction Nationale des Eaux et Forêts de la République de Guinée (DNEF– Water and Forest National Office of Guinea) have worked together on co-forest management in four forest reserves within the Fouta Djallon highlands of central and northern Guinea. Under this decentralized approach, the DNEF and communities adjacent to these forests enter into a legal contract for the management of the reserves by the local communities. The premise is that if local communities are provided with the authority (and associated benefits) to manage a forest, then the forest will be managed more sustainably. In each case, DNEF forestry agents assisted forest communities in developing a management plan. Consistent with this plan, villagers are often allowed to use sections of the forest for agricultural production or other limited uses. In some cases, both the DNEF forestry agents and the forest communities have worked together to prevent the illegal cutting of forests. One of the DNEF forest agents interviewed said,“We are now educators, not policemen.”
But what has been the real impact of over two decades of co-forest management on these forests? To help answer this question, USAID and the DNEF teamed up with the USGS to look at actual forest conditions on the ground and use satellite images to see how they’ve changed over time. USGS used a nearly 50-year historical record of satellite images to assess the extent of forest cover and its biophysical condition within the four forests reserves in which USAID and the DNEF have been working. Two of those reserves— Balayan Souroumba and Sincery Oursa — are shown in the images above (the others were Nyalama and Souti-Yanfou).
The scientists analyzed satellite imagery from 1969, 1987, 2007, and 2015 to assess forest resource trends over time. No one necessarily expected to see positive changes in the forest, but the results from the USGS time-series image analysis were surprising and encouraging. The extent and condition of all four of the forest reserves have remained quite stable, and in some areas have improved over the past two decades.
Both forest reserves show a significant increase in tree density over the years. Indeed, tree cover is much denser now than in 1967 (see insets). Local forest agents attribute this to the benefits of co-forest management, particularly to improved fire management through early prescribed burning. They also credit relocation of villages and fields from the interior to the periphery of the reserve, tree planting, and the development of a plan for the sustainable management and regeneration of timber.
The local DNEF forestry agents speak positively regarding the benefits of Guinea’s co-forest management approach: “We are proud of the interventions of the projects. We can increase the forests of Guinea— we see a way forward. Our victory is if the experiences of co-management are shared and used elsewhere.”The Guinea government is doing just that. The Guinean government’s forestry and decentralization policies now favor a co-management approach for all of the nation’s forest reserves.