The Nimba mountain range in West Africa is a hotspot of biodiversity. Its forest habitats in Liberia, Guinea and the Ivory Coast teem with plant and animal species – and are a source of livelihood for the rural communities living in and around them.

So alongside our mining activities in Liberia, we work with partnership organisations there, including NGOs and government bodies, to conserve the biodiversity of the Nimba forests and encourage sustainable ways of living for local people. Our Biodiversity Conservation Programme (BCP) has been in place since we started operating in northern Nimba in Liberia in 2011. This is a snapshot of the programme’s activities and priorities as it moves into its seventh year.

BCP in brief
The programme’s main focus is to protect the health and habitat of endangered species in the forest by offsetting the impact of our operations in the area. We’ve found that a multifaceted, collaborative approach is the most effective way to create long-term change and protection. So we’re working closely with government bodies like the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), community forest management bodies, and both international and local NGOs to, first, understand how best to manage the land, and then to establish effective models of community-based conservation. The programme is multifaceted, currently involving:

  • Impact and wildlife assessments
  • Conservation and livelihood work in communities
  • Conservation patrols on protected land
  • Sediment and drainage controls and revegetation work
  • Creation of protected corridors for wildlife movement

Our overall aim is to make sure our mining operations can coexist with the rich biodiversity in the area. And beyond this, to establish a solid model of collaborative conservation management that can be reproduced elsewhere and continue successfully without our involvement, long into the future.

People power
A central element of the BCP is working in communities to help people live and work in the forests without damaging habitats. With the help of partners such as Conservation International, Fauna & Floral International, Agricultural Relief Services (ARS), Rural Integrated Centre for Community Empowerment (RICCE) and Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES), we now have conservation agreements and livelihood programmes in 13 communities in Nimba. These agreements encourage people to farm and hunt in forest-friendly ways – through education, support and incentives for good practice.

Another key strand of the programme is forest patrols. We support these with training, equipment and infrastructure – everything from effective wildlife-recording practices to batteries for GPS equipment to ranger base huts. These patrols are critical to the success of the BCP. As our eyes and ears in the forests, they capture vital information on wildlife, protect endangered species and discourage unsustainable hunting and destructive farming.

Modelling collaborative conservation
Assessing the success of a multifaceted, long-term programme like BCP is not easy, and it takes time. We approach this in various ways. We’re measuring forest cover loss and commissioning research on key fauna, such as the Nimba otter shrew, the giant African swallowtail butterfly and Western chimpanzee. We’re seeing first-hand a growing appreciation in local communities of both nature and of the benefits of more sustainable ways of making a living. And we can see a direct correlation between forest patrols and a drop in hunting and slash and burn farming activities.

We’ve also developed how we manage and structure our activities with our BCP partners to create a solid model of collaborative forest management. One that we believe will make a difference in the Nimba mountains for years to come, even beyond the life of our mine there, and that can contribute to conservation knowledge and practices around the world.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to play a part in this programme – I can feel change happening when I’m out in communities. Whether it’s seeing how much people appreciate having better food security, or hearing how excited the rangers are when they’ve seen animals in a new area – it’s good to know we’re making a difference.”

Hendrik Kuit, Environmental Advisor, ArcelorMittal Liberia