Sierra Leone: balance between nature conservation and economy

As in many other African countries, Sierra Leone's natural resources, such as forests and biodiversity, have been under pressure for decades due to unsustainable use. This leads to damage to the environment and natural habitats. The challenge is therefore to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources so that the long-term survival of people, plants and animals is guaranteed.

Cocoa Gardens

On behalf of Lizard Earth, a small, ethically responsible cocoa grower in eastern Sierra Leone, six specialists from Waardenburg Ecology travelled to the country to conduct research into the effects of establishing a 735 ha cocoa plantation, distributed across several locations, in Eastern Kailahun District. Together with 10 local communities, Lizard Earth aims to set up and cultivate so-called low-impact agroforestry (“Cocoa Gardens”) with a socially responsible production model. The aim of Waardenburg Ecology's research was to draw up an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), in which the ecological and social aspects were taken into account. Although this is a legal obligation, it is an important instrument for Lizard Earth to assess and mitigate any negative effects and, if necessary, adjust the plans to ensure added value for wildlife and the local population.

Low-impact agroforestry and cocoa farming

With this type of agroforestry, the natural environment is taken into account in various ways. No pesticides or artificial fertilisers are used and there is no monoculture: the young cocoa trees are planted between larger, existing trees, which also provide the necessary shade. However, weeds, shrubs and smaller trees are removed from around the cocoa trees. Finally, 30% of the entire area is not used for cocoa cultivation: in this part of the reserve the forest can develop naturally and without being disturbed.
In collaboration with the University for Agriculture in Njala, our specialists investigated the effects of these Cocoa Gardens on soil, water, wildlife, biodiversity and on numerous social aspects, such as support from government, administrators and local people, employment and health. The fieldwork involved ecological surveys in and around the planned plantations and surrounding areas, as well as consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, experts and the literature.


Although the cocoa plantations are not established in original and valuable rainforest, but mainly in secondary forest, negative effects on the natural world and biodiversity are expected compared to the current situation. However, over the long term, the expected negative effects on populations, soil, water, wildlife and biodiversity are many times more favourable than with a standard plantation development. A total of 30% of primary forests enjoy total protection and in the remainder, large trees are preserved and grown in a more responsible manner. Under the alternative development, these areas would almost certainly be subject to total deforestation.

With regards to the social aspects, there is high social support and the project contributes significantly to employment, welfare and education of the local population. The initiative is therefore welcomed locally. The report includes a large number of recommendations and measures to improve local living conditions and for preserving the areas' special natural values.