Designing an environmental education curriculum for rural Liberians is not a simple task. As we attempt to compile lessons from organizations that are well known for their environmental education curriculum (i.e. Project WET, National Wildlife Federation), we are finding that most lessons require significant amount of materials or assume a basic understanding of science which is not present amongst many rural Liberians.
Therefore, we are working in partnership with colleagues here in Liberia to identify and create lessons that help to build an appreciation for nature and the basic biological functions that forests provide. Since science curricula is very limited and often non-existent in most schools in rural areas here, community awareness of environmental issues often needs to begin at the basics.
We are working to develop lessons on the value of biodiversity-that is, the importance of plants, animals, climate and people to a functioning biological system. Then we hope to explain the idea of a food chain and food web. Creating awareness about how water circulates through various channels will also be important since rainforests rely upon and are important for the proper functioning of the water cycle.
Many people do not understand that the soil on which they farm-that which was recently rainforest, will only provide adequate nutrients for one or two years of agriculture. Without fertilizers or natural organic matter to use to increase the productivity of fields, slash and burn clearing of rainforests will continue as farmers seek soil with more nutrients as their current fields fail. Helping increase community awareness about soil limits and how best to augment the current agriculture system is important (i.e. through agroforestry-a system combining tree crops and more traditional crops so as to preserve forest cover and still provide food production for families).
Another component of clearing of the forests that relates to both water quality and the productivity of soils is the lack of awareness of how erosion occurs. Creating awareness about what happens when soil is exposed without cover, especially in a tropical country where rainfall is high (nearly 4,300 mm per year in the interior of Liberia), is an important lesson that needs to be better understood amongst rural Liberians.
A colleague at Flora and Fauna International has helped us to remember that even as we attempt to design lessons for children, we can often use these same activities for adults since often the adults may be illiterate or lack the basic science knowledge that their children also need.
Our goal is to help communities realize how dependent they are upon the forest-something many stated they understand but yet it appeared most do not fully appreciate the intricacies of the relationship. We believe that once communities understand their relationship with the forest and the limits of ecosystems, they will be better able to manage the forest sustainably. As animal species decline as a result of hunting, slash and burn clearing of forest areas for planting increases and cutting of trees for building escalates, communities will be the key monitors and enforcers of conservation. As Liberia aims to expand the presence of community forest ownership and management, environmental awareness will be vital to its long-term success.
Posted By Adam Welti
Posted Jul 31st, 2009