Forest Smart Agriculture: Protecting Forests and Empowering People

Type of partnership
Forest Partnership
Current status

To counter the mounting threat of deforestation and advance forest and biodiversity conservation in Liberia’s Gola Forest, Partnerships for Forests is supporting the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and project partners to develop a market for forest-friendly Gola cocoa.


The Gola Forest straddles the Sierra Leone/Liberia border and represents the largest remaining single block of Upper Guinea rainforest, which is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. The 210,000ha area in Liberia encompasses the recently gazetted Gola Forest National Park (GFNP) and the proposed Foya Nature Reserve, as well as numerous national forests.

The Gola Forest (approx. 88,000ha) is severely threatened by deforestation from an expanding population, unsustainable commercial activities and subsistence agricultural production. One strategy to address this involves developing deforestation-free, rainforest-friendly Gola cocoa. However, cocoa farms in the landscape are typically small (< 1ha) and were planted before Liberia’s civil wars. Much knowledge about growing cocoa has been since been lost, and production levels are low and of poor quality. In addition, bad road conditions pose a challenge to the development of a market for Gola cocoa.

The Project

Partnerships for Forests is supporting a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), VADEMCO (a Liberian agribusiness), TWIN (a UK trade NGO) and the Forest Service Authority of the Government of Liberia to replicate the expertise from a successful model in Sierra Leone into a forest friendly cocoa landscape in Liberia. RSPB and partners are already supporting smallholders around protected forest in Sierra Leone to market forest-friendly cocoa, the first shipment of which was sold to premium international markets in 2017. The vision is to develop this model within the Liberian context, while also generating lessons for potential replication in other cocoa producing areas around protected and community forests.

This project will contribute to sustainable land-use, sustainable development and conservation of forests in the Gola landscape through the development of rainforest-friendly Gola Cocoa within biologically diverse agro-forestry systems. The project will preserve the integrity of rainforest blocks in Liberia by reducing ecological degradation and providing connectivity between remnant forests for wildlife based on the principles of sustainable land-use and integrated forest management.

Partnerships for Forests is currently supporting the first phase of the project which includes conducting baseline studies and the signing of MoU with implementing partners. Our support is further geared towards defining Forest Smart Cocoa in Liberia, increasing yields and incomes of farmers, and assessing the feasibility of developing a niche export-oriented market for forest smart cocoa that directly responds to the needs and constraints of communities in the Gola landscape.

This project is expected to contribute to the Greater Gola Landscape vision[1] by bringing an area of 21,000 ha directly under sustainable land management by 2020. It will also benefit an estimated 3,500 farmers and 19,000 household members through more sustainable and diversified livelihood options, providing capacity building opportunities, and increasing access to high value markets. By 2020, this project is expected to leverage an estimated £3,200,000 in private sector capital.  


Lead Organisation: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (Civil Society)

Implementing Organisations:

Public: Forest Development Authority of the Government of Liberia

Private: VADEMCO

Other: Society for the conservation of Nature of Liberia, TWIN

[1] See here for more information on the Greater Gola Landscape vision