ArcelorMittal Liberia’s mining operations are situated within the Nimba Mountain range which is renowned for its biodiversity and high levels of endemic species. ArcelorMittal Liberia has over the years made it a top priority to produce no net damage to the Liberian environment and to commit to ensuring responsible mining practices.
In 2011, ArcelorMittal Liberia launched a Biodiversity Conservation Program (BCP) to directly respond to the destruction of the Nimba forest. Since its inception, ArcelorMittal Liberia has invested over $5 million USD into the BCP.
The BCP utilizes a comprehensive multi-stakeholder consultation approach, ensuring engagement at various levels in order to develop and implement sustainable mitigation plans.
To achieve this, several memorandums of understanding have been signed between ArcelorMittal and the Liberian Forestry Development Authority for joint support and management of the forests in the Nimba Mountains.
Working with local communities, tailored interventions, and programming activities by ArcelorMittal Liberia to protect the environment have generated a positive impact on the conservation of the forest and the protection of threatened and endangered species in the Nimba Mountain Range.
Through the BCP, local hunters who once posed a threat to the survival of endangered species are being transformed into ambassadors for the protection of wildlife, while farmers have been trained into, and are now practicing more sustainable and environmentally friendly conservation agriculture farming techniques.
The two main components of the BCP focus on agricultural intensification and forest conservation, working with the one to achieve the other.
In forest conservation, the program assists the communities and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) of Liberia to develop an improved model of joint forest management while the agricultural intensification activity helps farmers reduce the practice of shifting cultivation through the introduction of low-technology improvement to ensure food security.
Community forests benefit through the control of poaching activities and farming which conserves the habitat for species and are supported with developmental projects as a reward for the successful implementation of conservation activities and approaches.
According to ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Environmental Department, through agricultural intensification, the traditional extensive system of shifting cultivation has been significantly reduced in the target communities.
The conservation farming method introduced is also changing the way communities survive by increasing income from improved yields and providing an all-year-round source of food and income.
Data from ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Environmental Department shows that the conservation agriculture project has positively impacted between 200 and 300 persons per year, which means that about 2700 community farmers have directly benefitted so far.
Beneficiaries of the agriculture component are the leading vegetable producers in the Zor Chiefdom using slash and mulch principles learned through the program. About 40% of the BCP supported farmers have adopted the “Farming as a Business” concept and are now seeing sustainable farming as their livelihood.
Four beneficiaries have bought land and built houses in Sanniquellie and Suakarzue; two operate motorbike transport businesses while five have established small businesses as alternative sources of income from the farming methods introduced to them and support from the BCP.
Five individual pig farmers are raising pigs as an income-generating activity, while oil palm production, lowland rice cultivation, and cocoa production are on the increase in project communities.
“I’m here today selling pepper, okra, cucumber, and rice. The business is good, and people are buying. I feel happy. The next farming season, I’ll make a bigger farm so I can come with more produce. The conservation agriculture program and the Village Saving Loan Association (VSLA) are helping me to care for my family. My daughter was sick if not because of the VSLA that loaned me money, it wasn’t going to be easy. I’m grateful to ArcelorMittal Liberia for this program. It’s helping the farmers and we don’t want it to stop,” Lucy Gonotee, a farmer, who participated in one of the BCP trade fairs shared.
ArcelorMittal Liberia has built storage facilities in project communities, and will this year provide four sets of processing machines comprising rice mills, rice threshers, de-stoners, and freedom mills for oil palm to four communities that are close to the proximity of the Yuelliton Mine.
Despite a high level of progress achieved in the conservation of threatened and endangered species in the Nimba Mountain Range, ArcelorMittal Liberia Environmental Department believes there remain some risks and challenges.
“Much more still needs to be done to address the issues of population increase in these protected areas as well as the practice of shifting cultivation and poaching. The award of exploration rights to companies within community forest areas that have been gazetted and are being managed sustainably also poses another threat,” explained Hendrik Kuit, then Environmental Advisor at ArcelorMittal Liberia.
An integral strategy of the ArcelorMittal Liberia Biodiversity Conservation Program (BCP) has also included building strong partnerships and networks with local and international conservation groups and providing support.
Working with Conservation International (CI) and Fiona and Flora International (FFI), from 2011 to 2019, supported several activities including forest protection and management through Conservation Agreements, participatory land use planning, and capacity building of future resources management leaders in Nimba.
The partnership with CI also focused on developing the technical competency of university students in observing, collecting, interpreting, recording, and evaluating information from primary sources and gaining an understanding of the link between mining and biodiversity conservation.
In 2018 a field excursion for 23 university students and two instructors from the Nimba County Community College, the University of Liberia, and Stella Maris Polytechnic took them to Mt. Gangra, AML Tree nursery, and Mt. Tokadeh.
In June 2020, ArcelorMittal Liberia signed a MoU with the University of Liberia’s William Richard Tolbert, Jr. College of Agriculture and Forestry (WRTCAF). The objective of the MoU is to formalize and explore research and capacity building opportunities and the design of research programs and projects to address environmental concerns within the AML concession. The MoU has been running under the BCP program. An additional objective was to work with local experts and ensure the know-how of biodiversity conservation was not just maintained in-country but promoted locally.
To date, many of the students who participated in the program have completed their undergraduate studies and pursued advanced studies in various disciplines including natural resource management, forestry, environmental management, biodiversity, agroecology among others.
One of the beneficiaries, Mardea A. Awotwe, graduated, and subsequently got employment with ArcelorMittal Liberia as Environmental Officer. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in Environmental Science at Cape Coast University, Ghana on an AML Scholarship Programme.
Others are gainfully employed in the public and private sectors, contributing meaningfully to sustainable management of the environment. Some are lecturers at their respective Alma mater.
The next phase of the partnership with the University of Liberia is a socioeconomic study which aims to deep-dive on the benefits of the BCP throughout the zone of impact.
Key targets to be achieved between now and 2023 include: Lowland/swamp soil testing and analysis; Assessment of crop yield improvements; Assessment of the potential to increase protein sources for communities with the Northern Nimba Landscape; Practical training and a field trip to the ENNR; and the establishment of a Botanical Garden which will comprise a nursery for useful indigenous plants and a herbarium
This will enable AML to understand the social dynamics of the BCP and where there may lie potential opportunities for future projects.