Freetown, 26 January 2023 – A pilot project in Sierra Leone will use drone-based remote sensing and data management technologies to verify and monitor reforestation programmes. Deforestation remains a challenging problem, exemplified by Sierra Leone’s loss of more than 30% of its tree cover since 2000 and scant funds with which to create new forests. At COP26, the Government of Sierra Leone committed to planting 25 million trees by 2030 over 960,000 HA.
Environment Minister, Foday Jaward, said:
“Our challenge in Sierra Leone is mitigating the already severe impact of climate change, without a means of covering the costs. It’s an equation that means we need to pioneer technology that will sequester carbon in ways that access finance.”
Working closely with the Government, the UK-based not-for-profit organisation Crown Agents and UK-based drone specialist UAVaid are partnering with the UK Aid, as part of their Frontier Technologies programme, to explore technology to increase investor confidence in the community-based forest carbon market.
The project will run the pilot in north-eastern Sierra Leone, where the team has partnered with the local conservation and community development organization, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (TCS). It will apply new programmatic and technological approaches to support sustainable reforestation, linking local communities as custodians of the new forests they replant and advanced drone technology for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). With each planted tree geo-tagged and monitored by long-range drones, the result will see a remotely accessible verification mechanism that will end uncertainties that have marred investments in carbon offsets in rural Africa, where monitoring can be both costly and infrequent, making for challenges in visibility.
Habiba Wurie, Country Director for Crown Agents in Sierra Leone, said:
“Faced with a fragmented carbon-offset market, this is a transformative technology that will give us unprecedented access to the success of reforestation efforts over time. While the use of remote sensing to determine land use is not new, the ability to track the status of individual trees will provide more accurate data to quantify the expected amount of carbon captured. It will provide stakeholders and investors with real-time reporting on successes, payment benchmarks, and required operations and maintenance to sustain forest health.”
Daniel Ronen, UAVaid co-founder, said:
“We see the integration of specialised drone technology and data fusion providing a solution to the challenges of reforestation verification and monitoring, with the potential to unlock large-scale investment in replanting initiatives. In partnering with UKAid, Crown Agents and TCS on this ground-breaking initiative, we look forward to working to deliver a mechanism for sustainable investment into areas of rural Africa which will provide livelihoods as well as support global net-zero and COP goals.”
Speaking about the longer-term benefits, Aram Kazandjian, Managing Consultant at TCS said:
“It is exciting to support local forest custodianship in ways that provide built-in incentives to maintain the trees and livelihood alternatives to improve community well-being. Reforestation in remote communities also requires sustained management such as growth verification and relationship/capacity building. For this pilot, we will mobilise communities to identify and gather indigenous seeds, grow them into saplings in locally resourced nurseries, and train them as forest monitors and stewards.”
Emma Spicer, Development Director at the British High Commission Sierra Leone said:
“Globally, climate finance for reforestation exists, but it has not been unlocked to its full potential. In short, there is no guarantee that planted saplings won’t be cut down for firewood too. This is where Project Sapling comes in – this project will test verification of reforestation initiatives, possibly unlocking financing to plant millions of trees in Sierra Leone and billions elsewhere in Africa, ensuring that communities will receive more income from a living than a dead tree.”