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Africa Rising: Carbon credits save Sierra Leone's Gola Rainforest

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Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Fifteen years ago, Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest was at the heart of this West African nation’s brutal, decade-long civil war. Five years ago, the forest was under threat from mining companies that were looking for diamonds and iron ore beneath the fertile soil. 

But as of Saturday, the Gola Rainforest, which lies within one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, is now a national park. And it could soon bring Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries, a new income stream from the sale of carbon credits.

“We wanted to make Gola a conservation area, not a production area,” says Kate Garnett, an assistant director in Sierra Leone’s Forestry Division.

The government’s Ministry of Mines issued two mining licenses inside the Gola Forest between 2005 and 2007, but Ms. Garnett says those licenses are not valid because they did not receive the Forestry Division’s approval.

“Whatever licenses that were given have been canceled,” she says.

Instead, the government hopes to generate some revenue from the forest by cashing in on the carbon that’s locked up inside all of those trees. They have calculated that, beginning in January 2013, the sale of carbon credits could generate about $1 million per year, which would be enough to cover the park’s annual operating costs.

Carbon financing “is a win-win for the environment and for economic development,” Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Koroma, said on Saturday at the official opening of the national park in Lalehun, 15 miles from the Liberian border.

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