The size of forest edge communities varies from small hamlets of as few as 10 individuals to large towns of up to 1200 people. 75% of villages have a larger proportion of women than men due to the impacts of the civil war on able-bodied men and greater male out-migration after the war (Bulte et al. 2013). In spite of this, the majority of households have male heads (85%) due to the widespread practice of polygyny. Despite the civil war, populations have grown by an average of 2% between 1990 and 2000 (Bulte et al. 2013). The current population of the project zone is estimated to be 23,500 individuals (Bulte et al. 2013), spread across 122 villages. It is estimated that over half the population is below the age of 18 (Bulte et al. 2013).
The majority (86%) of people residing in forest edge communities describe themselves as being ‘Mende’; other ethnic groups are Gola, Fula, Mandingo, Vai, Kissi, Limba, Gbandi, and Temne. There are no obvious ethnic tensions between these groups. The primary religion found in the area is Islam (93.1% of people); the remaining inhabitants are largely Christian and religious groups in the region live in harmony.
Villages are led by a village chief, who is the traditional authority in a village. Chiefs can be men or women and play a key role in regulating daily activities and resolving any disputes. Other villagers that hold a degree of power and influence include the village speaker, the elders, members of secret societies and religious authorities. Villages are grouped into sections and then chiefdoms, governed by Section and Paramount Chiefs respectively. There are 7 Chiefdoms in the project zone: Malema, Gaura, Nomo, Tunkia, Koya, Barri and Makpele. A dual system of local and traditional governance operates in the provinces of Sierra Leone.