The early years

An image can depict a thousand words; and change your life forever. In 1991, after watching, Trade Slaves—an episode of BBC’s Inside Stories series, Tommy Garnett, founder and director of the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) realized that the problems plaguing Sierra Leone and West Africa were rooted in environmental disrepair and neglect. This disrepair left an entire people stranded in painful paradox: a country immensely wealthy in terms of its natural resources but drowning in abject poverty and conflict. If this small African nation, on the coast of West Africa was to create a strong economy and peaceful political situation, integrating natural resources management into every government department, institution, business entity and community must be of paramount priority.

Concurrently, civil war was erupting in the tropical forests of Sierra Leone, spilling over from neighboring Liberia. Natural resources such as timber and diamonds became the object of obsession for delinquent rebel leaders searching for the means to support their chaotic wars. Resource extraction, specifically mining, left the land scarred and infertile. Without nature and biodiversity to support the people, livelihoods diminished and an already jeopardized population became even more vulnerable.

Thus, in 1992 EFA (initially called Environmental Foundation for Sierra Leone) was founded from the United Kingdom intent on integrating environment into the policy framework of government, development, corporate and community agendas in Sierra Leone.

For the next four years, EFA conducted research, formed relationships with the stakeholders in Sierra Leone and amassed an information database on the major environmental problems facing Sierra Leone. EFA, through its trustees and supporters in the UK and Ireland, also raised awareness about the effects of purchasing diamonds and other natural resources from countries such as Sierra Leone.

During this time, EFA operated on an entirely volunteer basis. Certainly progress was made because of the generous contributions of time, energy and resources from in-region organizations and supporters abroad. Their support helped EFA gain the knowledge it needed to start addressing environmental problems directly at the field level.

Nineteen ninety six was a big year for EFA. Receiving its first financial grants from the Milton Grundy Foundation, British High Commission, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and Irish Civil Service Third World Fund, EFA established its own office in Freetown, a community tree nursery in Lakka (just outside Freetown at the edge of the Western Area peninsula forest) and began a post-mining land reclamation project with four communities in Kambia District.

EFA also made inroads into environmental policy and stakeholder engagement. June 1996 marked the first ever exhibition of environmental NGOs in Sierra Leone hosted by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Environment. Following from the exhibition, EFA pioneered the hosting of a national conference on the environment with support from the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP), also held in 1996. At the conference, a taskforce was created that brought together all actors to address Sierra Leone’s environmental problems. EFA coordinated the communications and environmental awareness team on the taskforce.

EFA was making good progress in the field and with the government. Positive change was beginning to take root. Unfortunately, all activities came to a standstill in May 1997. Rebels stormed the nation’s capital and seized control of the government. EFA, along with thousands of others evacuated the country leaving everything. Behind them, absolute chaos reigned.

Related documents:

EFA-Annual-Report-2006-2007 (PDF 2,630 KB)