The HECA Dream Team

The United States Agency for International Development has awarded the University of Georgia approximately $5 million for the implementation of a program entitled Higher Education for Conservation Activity in the Republic of Liberia

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded the University of Georgia (UGA) approximately $5 million for the implementation of a program entitled Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) in the Republic of Liberia. The timing of the project comes at a tipping point for Liberia’s forests which account for roughly half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. Over many years, forests have been degraded by unsustainable forestry practices, land conversion, and other pressures. 

The Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) aims to strengthen forest management and conservation in Liberia through education, training, and technical assistance. In collaboration with Alabama A&M University, Tuskegee University, the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, the University Consortium for Liberia in the United States, the University of Liberia, and the Forestry Training Institute in Liberia, the team will establish a Center of Excellence in Forestry, Biodiversity, Conservation, and Green Enterprise Development (“the FBC Center”). UGA units participating in Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) include the School of Public and International Affairs, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Odum School of Ecology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Center for Integrative Conservation Research, and the Office of Global Engagement.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is among a comparatively small group of bilateral donors that recognize how vital forest resources are for Liberia’s present and future. This project’s contribution will be in areas we know well: curriculum development, capacity-building, and social inclusion.

The FBC center will oversee the development of a national forestry, biodiversity, and conservation curriculum that aligns with global standards for sustainable forest management. In addition, it will develop and deliver a multidimensional soft-skills co-curriculum to promote professional development of forest sector employees, including in areas like organizational leadership and team management.

As a vital part of the program’s mission, the team will design a social inclusion strategy to empower women and young people in the Liberian forestry sector. This strategy will also benefit people with disabilities, crisis- and conflict-affected individuals, first-generation post-secondary students, people from minority religious communities, and rural, forest-dwelling, and forest-dependent people.

Liberia is home to the largest portion of the last, great transfrontier forest in West Africa: the Upper Guinean Forest. Covering nearly two thirds of Liberia’s land area, the world values this forest for its timber products, biodiversity (including thousands of plant species and more than 600 species of birds), and for carbon storage. 

At the community and local levels, forests in Liberia provide an even wider array of benefits, including forest game, construction materials, thatch, fodder for livestock, and fuelwood. Forests are also the staging ground for agriculture. However, Liberia’s forest soils are nutrient poor. Shifting cultivation and short fallow periods put pressure on forestland in Liberia, accelerating the pace of deforestation and forest degradation.

Instruction in sustainable forest management is a major tool to stem destructive forestry practices. Key aims of the Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) are to develop and launch a model curriculum for sustainable forest management that is adaptable for different end-users – whether they are forest rangers, farmers, or communities that depend on forest products for energy, shelter, protein, or income. The objective is to adopt strategies to sustain the resource for generations to come. 

Technical forestry skills will be important components of Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA), but they are only one facet of a broader plan to promote sustainable forest management. No less important will be skill-building for effective group and organizational leadership in the forest sector, including confidence-building, mentoring, motivating others, and problem-solving. Particular attention will be paid to skill-building among segments of society that are especially at-risk, including women, youth, and people who are differently abled.

Matthew R. Auer, Dean and Arch Professor of Public and International Affairs, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia (UGA), is the Principal Investigator of Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) at UGA.

Brian Watkins, Office of Global Engagement, Director of International Initiatives, University of Georgia, is the day-to-day manager of the Higher Education of Conservation Activity (HECA) grant, provides leadership and support of the grant coordinating partnership engagements, project objectives, and budget management.

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