REDD+ projects 2
Other readiness initiatives 7
Forest cover Low
Deforestation rate High

Sierra Leone

REDD in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a relatively small country (7.16 million ha) situated along the Atlantic coast of West Africa between the Republic of Guinea to the north and east and the Republic of Liberia to the south. It occupies the western edge of the Upper Guinean Forest ecosystem and is endowed with rich natural resources including minerals and oil as well as high biodiversity. Sierra Leone’s rainforests, mangroves and savannah forests host a high level of endemic and (internationally) rare and threatened species. The Upper Guinean Forest ecosystem is listed on the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) “Global 200” list of critical regions for conservation and is included as one of Conservation International’s 34 global biodiversity hotspots (Brown and Crawford, 2012). Although once a much forested country (about 70%) the majority of the original forest cover has now been converted to agricultural lands and savannah and only 5% of the original intact forest remains (GoSL, 2010). These remaining parts of forestlands are classified into 7 vegetation types: moist rainforest, semi-deciduous-, montane-, savannah-, and mangrove-forest and farm bush and swamp (ibid).

Total forest cover is estimated at 2,725,821 ha; approximately 38% of the total land area (FAO, 2010). Between 1990 and 2010 annual average deforestation rates were 20,000 ha per year. In 2010 this represented an annual deforestation rate of -0.70% (of the total forest cover) (FAO, 2010). The main direct driver of deforestation is agriculture, such as shifting cultivation practices, but also large scale agricultural investments that are increasingly taking up large tracts of arable and forestland. Other important drivers are logging (both legal and illegal), mining, and unregulated use of wood for construction and fuel wood e.g. charcoal production (GoSL, 2010).

In 2002 Sierra Leone emerged after more than 10 years of civil war, preceded by a long period of corrupt governance under a so-called ‘shadow state’, influenced strongly by personal interests that caused a near break-down of the existing governance structures (see Reno, 1995 and Richards, 1996). This had profound impacts on the society and economy. For example, in 2012 Sierra Leone was listed 177 out of 187 on the Human Development Index, and about 80% of the population lived below the poverty line of USD 2 a-day (UNDP, 2012; World Bank, 2011). Consolidating peace and developing the national economy has been a key priority for the country (UNDP, 2012).  For the last 5 years average growth has been between 3-8% per year (6% in 2011) and in 2011 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 2.97 billion.

Sierra Leone is a parliamentary republic, operating under two types of governance systems that fall into different geographical areas of the country. The Western Area and the capital Freetown (former British colony) operate under general law, comprising a system of pre-independence English common law and post-independence statutory law (Conway and O’Sullivan 2011). Meanwhile the Provinces, to the North, East and South, (former British protectorate) operate under a dual system of general law and customary law, of which the latter is the most dominant. Customary laws vary between chiefdoms. They are mostly unwritten but nevertheless enforceable as they are recognised in national legal frameworks. However, if there is inconsistency between the two, customary law can be overruled by statutory law (ibid).

The governance structure in Sierra Leone is based on a decentralised system structured into central government, and local (city-, municipal-, and district-) and chiefdom councils (CLGF, 2011). In the Western Area, local administration is supported by a traditional system comprising of tribal headmen, who are selected through rigorous consultations with elders and opinion leaders of the tribe and then endorsed by the President, and village headmen who are democratically elected and provide village representation (CLGF, 2011). The tribal headmen advise on matters concerning their specific ethnic group and once in position, rule for life. The Provinces, comprising a Northern, Eastern, and Southern Province, are ruled through a traditional system of chiefdoms. Here, local administration is coordinated through Paramount Chiefs and chiefdom councils. There are 149 chiefdoms in the country, each headed by a Paramount Chief, supported by section- or sub-chiefs (CLGF, 2011). Paramount Chiefs in the Provinces also rule for life but are elected by the councillors of the chiefdom and come from a ruling family.

In 2006, Sierra Leone ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Since then, several steps have been taken to develop a national approach to tackling climate change, of which forestry is a key component. For example, in 2007 a National Adaptation Programme of Action was developed, and in 2012 a National Secretariat for Climate Change (NSCC) was established. The NSCC was tasked with developing a climate change policy, and establishing effective regulatory frameworks and procedures to support the future implementation of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and of REDD+ projects. The promotion of REDD+ and CDM is also included in the 2009-2012 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) – the ‘Agenda for Change’ – which identifies carbon markets as sustainable financing mechanisms to support the conservation and development of the forestry sector, including community forestry. Although concepts such as REDD+ or carbon are not yet defined in the national legal framework, a legal review for, among others, the 1988 Forestry Act was in process in 2013.

In 2011 a private company presented the Government of Sierra Leone with a Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) which proposed the issuing of a licensing agreement for approximately 488,000 ha of land, forest reserves and national parks to the company. This was proposed without consultation or agreement from traditional land owners or other stakeholders and was shortly after revealed as a major carbon scam.  This was a rocky start for REDD+ in Sierra Leone, but since then the national process has been revived with support from the European Union.

The European Delegation in Sierra Leone decided to invest in a project, the ‘REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone’ project, to avert predatory actors from taking root as was the initial experience with the R-PP. This project is part of the Global Climate Change Alliance programme and will pilot REDD+ at the national level and build the capacity of the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) to implement REDD+. The national REDD+ programme became operational in 2013.

At the sub-national level the ‘Gola Rainforest REDD+ project’ is being implemented by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Forestry Division of MAFFS, and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL). This is the first REDD+ pilot project in the country and it will inform the national REDD+ planning and implementation process. The project is expected to undergo validation for the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standards and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) before the end of 2013. Feasibility studies for REDD+ have also been developed for the Sierra Leone Bumbuna Hydroelectric Environmental and Social Management Project in the Northern Province, and the Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAP-NAP) in the Western Region is in the process of developing a Project Design Document (PDD) for the VCS standard.

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Institutional arrangements

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the national focal point for all climate change issues in Sierra Leone, and the National Secretariat for Climate Change (NSCC) ensures that decisions adopted by parties to the UNFCCC are communicated and implemented across Government and all parties involved with addressing climate change.

The Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) is responsible for managing and coordinating the national EU-funded REDD+ project, “REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone”. The official start date for the project is July 2013 and therefore plans for establishing certain bodies to facilitate implementation are in the early stages. Plans include establishing a national REDD+ steering committee, an expert working group (voluntary), and a technical assistance team.

The REDD+ steering committee will provide strategic guidance on implementation and will comprise stakeholders involved with or affecting forestry, such as representatives from relevant ministries and non-governmental stakeholders. The voluntary working group will be set up for the purpose of providing technical assistance and support. It is expected to be made up of stakeholders involved in REDD+ implementation at the sub-national level. Finally, the technical assistance team will comprise of experts for each of the five expected results of the 'REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone' project. These experts will cover the following areas: 1) institutional strengthening; 2) forest management for REDD+; 3) mainstreaming of REDD+ into government sectors and policy making; 4) forest carbon inventory; and 5 ) community mobilisation. In addition to these REDD+ specific bodies, the Forestry Division will collaborate closely with the EPA and the NSCC. 

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Stakeholder engagement and participation

Since REDD+ is still in its early stages in Sierra Leone and the national EU-funded REDD+ project, “REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone” is yet to start, the process of stakeholder engagement and participation was in May 2013 only at planning phase. Two 2-day stakeholder workshops are planned for the first phase of the EU-funded project (ending September 2013, though this is likely to be delayed) to be held in Freetown and at the district level (most likely in Kenema). The aim of the workshops is to create awareness among stakeholders and launch the ‘REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone’ project. A further aim is to engage with stakeholders to identify priority action areas for the project.

Sierra Leone also has a number of national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that focus on advocacy and environmental awareness raising that have experience of REDD+ planning. For example, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) is a partner organisation of the Gola Forest REDD Project, and the Environmental Forum for Action (ENFORAC) is involved in the development of REDD+ in the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve (WAPFoR). These organisations, along with other advocacy organisations such as the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) and Green Scenery are likely to join future awareness raising campaigns and be invited to join national debates on REDD+.

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Land tenure arrangements and carbon rights

The vast majority of rural land in Sierra Leone, with the exception of the Western Area, fall under the jurisdiction of a chiefdom and is subject to customary law and tenure arrangements. The Provinces Land Act Cap. 122 (1960) provides that ‘all land in the provinces is vested in the Chiefdom Council who hold such land for and on behalf of the native communities concerned’. The Chiefdom Council hold the formal title to the land, however, this is in a representative capacity (i.e. in trusteeship) and not ultimate ownership per say. While the Provinces in general are governed by a dual system of law, land tenure is exclusively subject to customary law. Land tenure and ownership in the Western Area is mainly held by the government or individuals in free-hold through title deed and is subject to general law (GoSL, 2010).

In the Provinces two main land categories and tenure arrangements are generally recognised: communal lands and family lands. Customary laws vary from chiefdom to chiefdom and recognise different tenure arrangements depending on the history of the settlement in the area. In areas where initial settlement was carried out by a specific community or tribe communal ownership is most common; whereas in areas where individual families were the first to settle, family lands tend to be more prevalent (Renner Thomas, 2010). These land categories can be distinguished by geographical region and dominant tribe. For example, communal lands are located in the Temne lands in the north, whereas family tenure is predominant in Mende lands in the south. A third category - individual lands - is becoming more common and this type of tenure is similar in scope to that of family lands only the title is vested in an individual and not the family head. Individuals may also be granted ‘right of use’ by Paramount Chief’s or by family heads, however, this is not the same as having individual title to the land (Conway and O’Sullivan, 2011; GoSL, 2010). 

Although communal lands are held by the community as a unit the actual title of the land is vested in the Paramount Chief in his capacity as head of the Chiefdom Council (Renner Thomas, 2010). However, the Paramount Chief only has full authority and control over land not previously appropriated (e.g. by a family or individual) and certain public lands, such as sacred grounds and communal grazing lands (ibid). Family land is held by a family group with a common ancestry, and the umbrella family title is vested in the family head (Melsbach and Rahall, 2012). Although the family hold the paramount title (akin to full ownership) and has the authority to make decisions on the allocation and use of land within the family, any transactions of land require the approval of the Paramount Chief and the Chiefdom Council.

The majority of forestland are on lands with communal title, which accounts for an estimated 2.43 million ha of forestland in Sierra Leone, compared to an estimated 395 000 ha of forestland under public ownership (FAO, 2010). While customary and general laws provide the foundation for land ownership and rights in the provinces, forest law and its regulations influence how these rights can be transferred and managed in the context of forests (Conway and O’Sullivan, 2011). The Forestry Act (1988) provides for two types of forest classifications: national forests and community forests. National forests are further divided into production or protection forests. The classification of a forest is likely to significantly alter existing user and access rights. For example, once classified it is prohibited to remove any forest produce or conduct any activity within the forest without having the permission to do so through a concession or license agreement (Forestry Act of 1988, part II section 9). However, the Forestry Act (1988) provides for some level of compensation for lost opportunity of previous forest users (Part IV section 2 and Part V section 18).

Carbon rights are not yet defined in any legal framework, although some interpretation can be made. For example, ownership of land in the Provinces includes ownership of all things found naturally on or under it e.g. trees (with the exception of minerals which are owned by the state), which could be interpreted to include naturally growing carbon stocks (see Conway and O’Sullivan, 2011). However, a more specific definition on carbon rights is likely to be needed in the future and it remains to be seen how the government will regulate carbon rights. In 2013 when the ‘REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone’ project was just getting started, the Forestry Act (1988) and the Wildlife Conservation Act (1972) were under review. A new legal framework is expected to include better incentive mechanisms for community forestry and payments for environmental services such as carbon and water. Although the review process is on-going, recent drafts indicate a mere update rather than a substantial reform. It remains to be seen to what extent specific REDD+ concepts, such as the role of forests as carbon sinks or a definition of carbon rights will be incorporated.

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Forest management

The Forestry Act (1988) assigns the Chief Conservator, or Director of Forestry, the mandate of ensuring all classified forests are managed according to the ‘optimum combination of social, environmental and economic benefits that they can be made to provide’ (Part IV section 7). In fact both the Forestry Act (1988) and the Forestry Regulations (1989) emphasise the use of classified forests for an economic purpose i.e. concessions (extraction) over other purposes such as conservation or community forestry. The Wildlife Conservation Act (1972) is the main legal text for the management of protected areas. All these three texts are currently under review (June 2013).

The Forestry Division is responsible for the management and preservation of forests on state land, where it holds the sole authority. It also manages classified forests or protected areas (national parks etc.) on customary land, either through concession or in partnership with local communities. In these cases the Forestry Division negotiates management rights and responsibilities at first hand with the Chiefdom Council, who holds the jurisdiction over forests located on customary lands.

In the event that a planned national forest is located on land not owned or leased by the State (e.g. customary land) the land must first be acquired through purchase or lease (99 years renewable contract) (Forestry Act, 1988, Part IV section 2).  For the creation of community forest an agreement must be made between the Chief Conservator (head of Forestry Division of MAFFS) and the Chiefdom Council, subject to the approval of the District Officer

The Forestry Division manages 48 Forest Reserves and conservation areas in Sierra Leone, covering 284,592 ha, and an additional 11, 800 ha of community forests located on customary land but leased to the Forestry Division for management (GoSL, 2010). The Wildlife Conservation Act (1972) divides protected areas into national parks or game reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, and strict nature reserves. Protected areas cover approximately 4% of the total land area and an additional 36,360 ha of land has been proposed for conservation (Brown and Crawford, 2012; GoSL, 2010). A new institution- the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) - was established through an Act in 2012. Once up and running the NPAA will be responsible for the management of protected areas, which used to be managed by the Forestry Division.

National forests are managed either by a concessionaire or the relevant local authority and the Forestry Division provides oversight and technical assistance when required. Community forests are generally found on customary land but can also be developed on state land subject to agreement from the Forestry Division. Here, as is the case for community forests on customary land, it is possible for community forest associations, co-operatives or ‘other associations of persons’ to acquire management rights pursuant to an agreement by the relevant authority and the Forestry Division (Forestry Act 1988, Part IV). A forest management plan is a requirement for all forest concessions, but for classified forests not under a concession this is only required ‘as far as practicable’ (Forestry Act 1988, Part IV section 8). 

Part VIII of the Forestry Act (1988) and Part XIV of the Forestry Regulations outline details of enforcement in regards to forestry offences and penalties. Violations of the Act can lead to a fine or imprisonment, which vary depending on the offence. In reality, however, enforcement capacity in the forestry sector is very low. Management capacity of the Forestry Division at the national and district level is ‘limited by human, logistics, and financial resource capacity’…which has ‘led to a situation where district forestry staff lack credibility at the community level’ (GoSL, 2010 p.8). The apparent lack of trust for the Forestry Division to provide management and technical support means that communities often choose not to go through the process of establishing a community forest. Greater involvement of local communities is seen as a cost-efficient and effective way of increasing the forest area under official management, due to lack of capacity in the government. This is expected to improve the forest condition, not just because of increased management but also through greater distribution of benefits to local communities, which also serves as an important incentive for taking up management responsibilities. Therefore, providing greater incentives and support for communities to manage forests on their own or in partnership is seen as a priority in the current legal review of the Forestry Act.

Illegal logging has for a number of years been a problem in Sierra Leone. The government, led by the All People’s Congress (APC) party, has taken several steps to reduce illegal and unsustainable logging. For example, since January 2008 the government has imposed several bans on logging and the export of timber to tackle the illegal timber trade. The latest ban was lifted in September 2012 but then re-imposed for the export of timber (as opposed to a ban on logging) in March 2013. This coincides with the date of entry into force of the European Union’s (EU) Timber Regulation, according to which, only legal timber can be accepted to enter the EU market.

In 2008, Sierra Leone contributed to draft the Accra Declaration on Forest Law Compliance in West African Countries which resulted from a FAO/ITTO workshop held in Accra, Ghana in July 2008. The workshop explored the problems and possible solutions to the illegal extraction of forest resources in tropical West Africa. The government expressed interest on numerous occasions in establishing a Forest Law Enforcement and Governance in Trade (FLEGT) action plan. However, before FLEGT could be put in place and a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU established, it was decided that significant capacity building of the Forestry Division was needed. Consequently, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) is working with the Forestry Division to build its capacity for implementing FLEGT (2012-2016), including putting in place an efficient system for demonstrating the legal origin of timber (chain-of-custody) and subsequently legal compliance of forest management in Sierra Leone. This project is further supported by the EU funded ‘REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone’ project which focuses on building the capacity of the Forestry Division to fulfil its mandate.

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Reference levels

Sierra Leone is yet to establish national reference levels for historical- and projected-levels of change in forest cover and forest carbon stocks. However, this is one of the expected outcomes of the national EU-funded REDD+ project. 

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Sierra Leone is yet to develop a national system for Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) for REDD+. The soon to begin ‘REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone’ project aims to develop a national MRV system, but this process had not yet commenced in June 2013. 

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As Sierra Leone is only at early stages of REDD+ readiness, as of yet (June 2013) there is no specific REDD+ Safeguards plan in place. Instead, guidance can be found in existing institutional mandates and legal frameworks. The main institution for ensuring the implementation of environmental safeguards is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), guided by the Environmental Protection Agency Act (2008). The Act provides that projects that result in substantial changes in renewable resource use, such as conversion of land for forestry purposes, or conversion of land for other purposes, require a license and that the EPA is to decide whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is needed or not, before a license is issued (First Schedule and Part IV) . In terms of socio-economic safeguards this is alluded to in the Constitution (1991) which provides that ‘every citizen […] shall have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood…’ (Section 8:3 see Conway and O’Sullivan 2011). Accordingly, the government is required to take livelihood impacts into consideration when drafting national policies and laws, or when implementing projects (Conway and O’Sullivan, 2011). 

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Gender Equality

In 2000, the Sierra Leonean Parliament adopted the National Policy on the Advancement of Women and the National Policy on Gender Mainstreaming. The former aims to enhance the status of women in decision-making processes and participation and the latter aims to mainstream gender considerations into all development objectives. The National Gender Strategic Plan (2009-2012) was added to the policy framework. Gender and women’s empowerment is also one of the main pillars of the Agenda for Prosperity (2013-2018). A new national lands policy is currently being drafted however, the extent to which women or gender will influence its creation is unclear. A 2014 draft of the national land policy concedes that women suffer discrimination and denial of land rights under customary law, and that women are still under represented in institutions that deal with land. The draft calls for any new land law to further protect women’s rights over land and to give women the same rights as men before, during, and after marriage.

Sierra Leone has not yet submitted an R-PP or a UN-REDD proposal for funding, however, several pilot projects are currently being carried out, with support of donors such as the European Union. For instance, the REDD+ Capacity Building in Sierra Leone project (2013-2016) aims raise awareness amongst women of the impacts of climate change.

The Gola Rainforest REDD+ project started with the collection of information on the composition and diversity of communities with a particular emphasis on gender. One result showed that as a result of the civil war 75% of villages have a higher proportion of women. Chiefs, however, can be either men or women. Although women are the main cultivators of crops, they are less likely to develop plantations due to restricted access to capital and land rights. The projects livelihood programme aims to enable forest edge participants to gain alternative means of livelihood as women expressed the need for micro-credits to engage in petty trade.

Green Africa is a development NGO that is particularly engaged in women’s issues. It provided support during local consultations and the establishment of the grievance mechanism of the Gola Rainforest project.


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Melsbach, G. and J. Rahall. 2012. Increasing Pressure of Land: Implications for Rural Livelihoods and Development Actors A Case Study in Sierra Leone. Report carried out on behalf of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (WHH) [online]. Available here. Accessed June 14, 2013.

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Richards, P. 1996. Fighting for the Rainforest: war, youth and resources in Sierra Leone. Oxford, Oxford University Press 

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Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Sierra Leone and United Kingdom
Sama Monde
The Conservation Society | Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Green Scenery
Sierra Leone
Abdulai Barrie
Bumbuna Watershed Mangement Authority - Bumbuna Hydroelectric Environmental and Social Management Project
Sierra Leone
Darragh Conway
Climate Focus