Oko's Community Tree Seed Collection Initiative

Oko is working with the local communities in rural Sierra Leone to collect tree seeds and regrow indigenous rainforests

Oko's Community Tree Seed Collection Initiative
Christopher Rothera
May 15, 2023

At Oko, we believe that restoring the planet's natural ecosystems is one of the most important things one can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. That's why we've partnered with local communities in rural Sierra Leone to regrow indigenous rainforests on historically deforested land.

Sierra Leone has experienced significant deforestation in recent decades, with over 70% of the country's forests being lost since 1950 due to logging (legal and illegal), agriculture, and mining. This has had devastating effects on the country's biodiversity, as well as on the local communities that often depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

Deforestation map of Sierra Leone - Global Forest Watch

As part of Oko’s community outreach programs, we're working with local communities across Port Loko District of northern Sierra Leone to gather a seed bank of indigenous tree seeds. By providing an income for the local communities, we're helping to incentivise the collection of indigenous tree seeds and promote sustainable land use practices. Oko’s reforestation projects have life-cycles of up to 80 years, meaning that the communities have a long-term economic opportunity in working with Oko in the annual collection of indigenous tree seeds and in working with Oko to help protect and maintain the forests as they grow.

Oko's seed bank in Sierra Leone

As the seed bank is being established, the seeds are stored in Oko’s nursery in a specially built cold room storage facility that keeps the seeds at an ambient temperature, meaning the seeds can be stored long-term and remain viable. As of May 2023, Oko has now collected 1 million indigenous and naturalised tree seeds spread across 21 different species. Oko will use the seeds to regrow indigenous rainforests on deforested land by directly sowing these seeds to the field, using a standardised and well-established forestry implementation methodology. Tens of thousands of tree seeds are also germinated and developed at Oko’s nursery, giving Oko the ability to test and gather data on seed germination rates, and work out the best ways to plant each tree species to maximise germination success when seeds are planted directly in the field. By planting these tree seeds in this structured way, Oko is working with the community to help restore Sierra Leone’s once proud rainforests, at scale, whilst also supporting the restoration of local ecosystems, promoting biodiversity, and providing a habitat for wildlife.

Tree seeds germinating in Oko's pre-nursery

Oko’s tree seed collection program has been met with enthusiasm from the local communities, who are eager to participate in efforts to restore their environment and earn an income whilst doing so. Oko has provided training to community members on safe seed collection and land use practices, and we've shared pamphlets among the communities that informs them on the exact tree species Oko is looking to include in the rainforest restoration projects and when these seeds are harvestable each year.

Members of the community checking seeds for quality as they prepare to deliver seeds to Oko's nursery

Due to the incredibly damaging rate of deforestation that Sierra Leone has been faced with over the past several decades, it is now particularly challenging to locate and source the seeds of any indigenous or naturalised hard wood tree species as these are usually coveted and prized among illegal logging entities. Many of these species are now endangered in the wild because of this and finding remaining stands of these trees is depressingly difficult. However, the communities, who have an exceptional knowledge of their land, have been working with Oko to locate and source seeds across a wide variety of species and Oko’s hope is that through all of our reforestation projects, across West Africa, we will be able to start replenishing and conserving many of these endangered hardwoods.  

In addition to restoring the environment, our program has also provided economic benefits to the local communities. By providing an income for seed collection, we're helping to create additional jobs, beyond the forestry establishment work Oko is doing, and promote sustainable livelihoods. Oko, now in our second year of operations in Sierra Leone, are the largest employer in Port Loko with 143 staff members from the local communities. As Oko grows, alongside our forests, we soon aim to be able to employ over 2,000 staff and create an industry in Sierra Leone around sustainability and environmental restoration.

These three boys frequently deliver tree seeds to Oko on behalf of their families and communities

At Oko, we're committed to promoting sustainable land use practices and restoring the planet's natural ecosystems. By working with local communities in rural Sierra Leone to help us collect a large and diverse seed bank of indigenous tree seeds that will be used to regrow lost rainforests,we're making a positive impact on the environment and the lives of the people who depend on it. We believe that Oko’s reforestation projects as well as our community outreach programs are just the beginning of a larger global effort to restoring our planet's natural heritage and promote sustainable development around the world.