ArcelorMittal Liberia has published
its second annual biodiversity conservation programme report,
highlighting the progress being made in the company's dedicated
programme. The report includes the news that an important agreement has
been reached with local communities that will help to protect the future
of Liberia's East Nimba Nature Reserve.
While the first year of the biodiversity
conservation programme was spent in discussions with stakeholders, fact
finding and evaluation, and drawing up agreements - the latest 45-page
report shows the first tangible results of the programme, which is now
in its second year.
The programme aims to fill the gaps in
current scientific knowledge of the biodiversity in the Nimba mountain
range, home to ArcelorMittal Liberia's Tokadeh mine, and to work with
local communities to preserve the forest which is one of Africa's top
five biodiversity hotspots.
scientific research focuses on flora and fauna that are endemic to the
Nimba mountain range, including the critically endangered Nimba Otter
Shrew. Former hunters (pictured, right) are now working with
ArcelorMittal Liberia's environment team to trap the otter shrews, and a
survey in December will fit radio collars to track their movements. The
data collected from the radio collars will directly influence the
company's operational decisions as to the size of buffer zones needed
between the shrews' habitat and the mining area. In addition, the
research will provide valuable information about the ecology of this
species that will be used to develop a conservation management plan for
the Nimba Otter Shrew. An initial report on the Otter Shrew's habitat
has already been compiled. The next step is thethe collection of more
substantial scientific data on the mammal.
Another key area of the conservation
programme focuses on encouraging farmers to change from shifting
cultivation â€“ a practice where plots of land are cultivated temporarily,
then abandoned and allowed to revert to their natural vegetation â€“ to
permanent, stabilised agriculture in one location. In practice, this
means cultivating tree crops that require fewer nutrients; growing this
kind of crop also requires a move from subsistence to low-level
commercial agriculture, therefore research is being carried out to
analyse the markets for crops such as sugar cane and oil palm.
The programme is shaped by a philosophy
that all the work undertaken as part of the programme should be informed
by the best science. 'Our scientific work is very carefully focussed.
The main aim for the programme is to understand and influence land use
practices in order to find ways to conserve the forest. To do this, we
have to have established mechanisms and agree on which areas of the
forest are to be protected' said John Howell, environmental adviser to
Local farmers are currently testing
various models of conservation agriculture which rely on very low labour
and technical input (pictured, below) to find out which methods are
best suited to the local environment.
have seen the first harvests starting to come in, with some very
positive comments from farmers who are seeing larger yields from crops
that require less labour to cultivate. This is a long term programme and
it is still early days â€“ the next step is to find out whether this can
work on a large scale' said Howell.
As part of the conservation programme, an agreement has been made to
protect the East Nimba forest area, which is one of only three protected
habitats in Liberia. While the Nimba reserve is home to endangered
flora and fauna, it is also used by local communities to support their
livelihoods, through hunting, agriculture and harvesting of non-timber
forest products such as rattan, mushrooms, palm products and snails.
Thanks to workshops funded by ArcelorMittal but facilitated by
international non-government organisations (NGOs) Conservation
International and Fauna & Flora International, all the stakeholders
have reached an agreement that means the East Nimba Nature Reserve will
be used solely for conservation for the next five years. This historic
agreement has laid down a challenge to conservationists to prove to the
communities that live near the reserve that conservation can pay.
ArcelorMittal Liberia has also been
working with community forest groups in forests outside the reserve
borders, to educate communities about the forests' biodiversity and to
show why they are worth conserving. Work is underway to zone the
forests, with some areas used for conservation, agriculture and mining.
'It is exciting to see that the community forest groups agree that
conservation is one of the top priorities for these forests. These
groups know that the number of animals in the forest is declining. What
they do not know is how to sustain them â€“ and we are working to help
them change this' said Howell.
ArcelorMittal Liberia launched its
biodiversity conservation programme in August 2011, with US$1m invested
to date as part of the company's phase one iron ore mining operations.
The initiative, which is overseen by the ceo of ArcelorMittal Liberia,
Antonia Maria, and the managing director of the Forestry Development
Authority, Harrison Karnwea, is intended to compensate for the impact of
the mining of direct shipping ore during phase one of ArcelorMittal
Liberia's operations, from 2011 to 2015. In exploiting an area's
natural resources and unlocking wealth â€“ in this case, through mining
iron ore â€“ ArcelorMittal Liberia's conservation strategy is to set up
systems to manage renewable resources.
According to international best practice,
where operations cause irreversible damage to a landscape, compensation
must be offered to those affected. ArcelorMittal Liberia's biodiversity
conservation programme is one of the first examples in West Africa of an
active compensatory environmental programme that is working with
communities, to support their livelihoods while taking a long-term view
on how to preserve the forest for future generations.