FFI’s work in Guinea focuses on the Ziama Massif forest, and is part of a transboundary project with Liberia. Ziama Massif– a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) – contains the last remaining population of forest elephants in Guinea, and is therefore a priority site for forest elephant conservation in West Africa.
FFI’s conservation efforts in this area began in 2009 with the provision of direct support to the government wildlife authority, the Centre Forestière de N’Zérékoré (CFZ). FFI assisted CFZ in training and equipping forest rangers, who now carry out law enforcement and biomonitoring patrols that record activity and prevent poaching of the forest elephant in Ziama. In addition to the ongoing patrols, FFI is in the process along with CFZ and other partners of developing a MAB management plan for Ziama Massif. The MAB requirements include the identification of core, buffer and transition zones, the latter containing human settlements where inhabitants have a voice in the forest management process and the right to continue cultivation of food and cash crops.
A survey conducted in 2016 revealed that the most significant threat to the preservation of the Ziama Massif ecosystem is fragmentation through unsustainable use of the forest wetlands (locally called bas-fonds) by subsistence farmers. Unsustainable farming practices within the reserve have caused degradation and fragmentation in roughly 25% of the buffer zone. Unsustainable agricultural practices undertaken by these farmers threaten the habitat of the forest elephant, while interactions with forest elephants and other fauna threaten the livelihoods of these same farmers. The aim of the project is to work in collaboration with the local community and partner organizations to ensure that Ziama can be managed as an intact and effective MAB reserve, supporting viable populations of key species while remaining co-managed and equitably beneficial to the local population who rely upon it for subsistence.
Ongoing activities include building upon on a forest-wide elephant census, using different methodologies to iterate and improve upon already successful work in anti-poaching and conservation. In addition to elephant-focused work FFI and our agricultural partners including IRAG, the government extension agency, are currently working with farmers in four villages within the reserve to support the transition from reliance on the bas-fonds for agricultural output. Through access to improved inputs and training in conservation agriculture techniques, farmers will be supported in the maintenance of their farmlands in the transition zone, with the ultimate goal that improved land management and yield intensification outside of the bas-fonds will lead to reduced reliance upon destructive agricultural practices within the core and buffer zones of the reserve.
FFI and partner organizations are working with these communities to understand farmer needs, to provide the inputs required to sustainably increase yields outside of the bas-fonds, and to provide training and support to local farmers that will allow for continued access to inputs and extension support long-term. In order to meet these goals, FFI has implemented a rigorous impact monitoring plan. Ultimately, this will enable future interventions in the area to address real drivers of behaviour, and to bring about the long-term changes required to support both human and wildlife dependence upon the Ziama Massif MAB.