The sun has just started rising on an early Friday morning over Bari Khouré, “the river of the spirits” in the Soussou language. Yet Alpha Suma is already blaming, as he has done countless times, the excessive heat in his village at the foot of the plateaus, in the heart of the stunning Kounounkan Nature Reserve.
“I have an orange farm. Before, my oranges stayed on the trees until May. Now, most of the fruits turn yellow and fall at premature stages,” he said.
Bari Khouré is a farmers’ village in the south of Guinea where many crops are produced: rice, cassava, corn, and a large variety of vegetables. Here available land is scarce, so farmers clear sections of the reserve to grow much-needed crops for the region and the country.
Beyond the human pressure that endangers the forests, climate change has set in. Everyone in Bari Khouré agrees: “Even when we try to reforest, many trees do not survive because the weather has changed and the seasons are no longer the same as in the recent past”, says Alpha’s neighbour, Ishmael. “It’s the snake biting its tail: the more we are pushed towards the forest, the less forest there is; and the less forest there is, the less humidity there is too”.
At the 2022 Biodiversity COP 15, the government of Guinea committed to protecting its natural capital by preserving nearly 30% of its natural resources by 2030. By doing so, Guinea recognized the vital role ecosystems play in livelihoods and in providing water supply to West Africa as key regional rivers take their source in Guinea. These efforts are supported by the World Bank-funded Natural Resources, Mining, and Environment Project.
The project helps the Guinean Office of Parks and Wildlife Reserves (OGPNRF) to develop a network of protected areas to maintain the country’s natural capital. Activities will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while improving the resilience of ecosystems and downstream areas, as well as providing green jobs to communities.
Lieutenant Tounkara, who coordinates the project on the ground, relies on local “troops” to defend the ecosystem: an army of breeders, farmers, and hunters who have witnessed the rapid environmental degradation in just a few decades and have come together to help conserve the resources.
Often men, women, youngsters, and elders gather at the village public square to share their daily challenges with the rangers and conservators. “By creating protected areas, we are not expelling or constraining populations but preserving and strengthening their livelihoods,” Lieutenant Tounkara explains. “Protecting forest areas will support climate stability for crops and create economic opportunities with forest products including traditional medicine and key natural food products as mushroom, nuts, leaves and berries.”
With an average household income of slightly over $1,000 per year (2021), Guinea is part of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group, but with strong prospects in fishing, forestry, and mining. While setting the country towards growth and economic prosperity, the government is pushing hard to make Guinea a climate and biodiversity leader in West Africa. Ambitious policies and reforms that help reduce net greenhouse gas emissions and promote climate-resilient development actions have been adopted.
In July 2021, in preparation for COP27, Guinea updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), setting ambitious mitigation targets (9.7% without external support and 17% with such support from its 2030 forecasted emissions). The World Bank Group is working with the government to ensure that the targets are clear, transparent, achievable, and measurable. Committed actions include 80% of domestic electricity provided by renewable resources; deforestation rates halted, and natural areas protected; transportation fuel efficiency; and net zero emissions in agriculture by 2050 and in mining by 2040. Meeting these commitments in a timely manner will require international support.
Mining and agriculture are crucial to Guinea’s economy. So is its natural capital. To ensure success and accountability, the Prime Minister’s Office coordinates among governmental departments, and in consultation with other stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, environmental constituencies, and the research community.