LIBERIA: FDA Faces Resistance as Locals Reject Sapo Park ‘Expansion’
By: Moses R. Quollin, email@example.com +231770922412 / +231880922412, Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) |
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is that legal arm of the Government of Liberia charged with the responsibility to sustainably manage the country’s forestry sector for the benefit of present and future generations.
Authorities say the institution is ‘inherently’ challenged with its responsibilities due to weak management system, poor leadership, and less interest in growth and development coupled with other growing number of issues; one of which is the rejection of FDA’s reported planned extension of the Sapo National Park in Sinoe County.
FDA, through its Deputy Managing Director for Operation Joseph J. Tally clarified that the entity had no plan to extend the Sapo National Park rather it intends to “maintain existing boundaries, and re-cleaning the land” noting that no one was going to be evacuated as speculated.
Following unsuccessful dialogues between the government and local representatives (held December 11 — 16, 2019) surrounding communities, residents of the area have vehemently rejected and vowed to resist FDA’s alleged January 2020 planned extension and boundary of the Park until national government look into the citizens’ fifteen (15) counts demand.
“We felt cheated and taken advantage of by the FDA in their dealing with this very poor Community that lacks basic Social Economic Development such as Schools, Hospital, Safe Drinking Water and Electricity,” a communication addressed to Sinoe County District #3 lawmaker, Rep. Matthew Zarzar is quoted.
According to a cross section of inhabitants under the banner Movement for Citizens Action, since their last major conference with FDA after an ‘unprovoked attacked’ by rangers resulting into two Community members been killed in July of 2017 in Chabior Town, the FDA has woefully failed to implement their portion of the agreement as enshrined into the Greenville resolution.
“The Community without compensation, voluntarily risks the lives of young men and women to go into the forest to dislodge the illegal occupants that have been exploiting the resources from the park as mandated by the Greenville resolution. This was one of the first issues indicated into the resolution.”
As part of the Greenville Resolution, the FDA was to provide tangible livelihood programs that will benefit the Community. Accordingly, the resolution also mandated FDA to provide 60% employments opportunities to communities’ dwellers.
Up to date, the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) independent investigation is yet to establish a much concrete implementation by FDA, those clauses within the Greenville Resolution. The citizens said all they have seen are “assessments upon assessments and workshops.”
“It is worth mentioning here that FDA in 2017/18 awarded and implemented two major livelihood projects in the tune of US$2.5 Million each to Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties still ongoing.” Movement for Citizens Action (MCA) letter lamented.
According to the group, FDA has since awarded a major project to a European International Governmental Agency called Spark under the Liberia Forest Sector project ID P154114 and grant lD TF2427 in January of 2018.
“We have seen FDA increasing their enforcement capabilities and subjecting the Community with their millions of Dos and Don’ts” It is in light of this, that we the Sarpo Community including Wedjah, Juarzon, Carbadae and Seekon unanimously agreed that we will not honor the 2003 illegal extension nor acknowledge any further engagement with the FDA until they take us seriously and satisfy the pre-condition for any further talk.”
Towns and villages around the Sarpo National Park are demanding, among other things that the FDA establish a Forestry Training Institute at the Sarpo National Park headquarter; construction of modern housing units for Community dwellers around the Sarpo Park; that FDA provide tangible livelihood program that will benefit the Communities; that FDA provides 70% employment opportunity to Sinoe Citizens to include; the position of Chief Park Warden; compensation for the land presently occupied by FDA in Jallay Town and other areas outside the Park.
At the same time, the residents want FDA to provide scholarship opportunities for both University and High School Students from the Community.
“The Community demands an apology from FDA for their unprovoked attacked and used of excessive force resulting into the deaths and looting of properties in 2011 and,2017 respectively; that families of those that lost their lives be compensated by FDA including that of Gban Gbowee who was killed by a falling tree while on volunteer duty for FDA; that FDA compensates and treats a young lady named: Emma Chellah hit by a FDA vehicle leaving her completely incapacitated and abandoned after the accident in early 2019; that FDA compensates those who crops were damaged by elephants and others animals from the Park; the construction of clinics and maintenance of road leading to the park headquarter and other Communities; the construction of latrines and hand pumps; that the Park entrance fees should be pay to the Citizens; Provide Electricity to those residing in and around the Sarpo National Park headquarter; that FDA eliminates their volunteering program that is being used to exploit the Community members as there is no such program in our government programs.”
At the same time, another group, Sarpo Community Youth Development Association of Liberia have added its voice to the Movement for Citizen Action’s letter threatening to vehemently resist anything on the contrary, if the government, through FDA fails to take serious the citizens’ demands.
In a conversation with LFMW, the group president Christopher N. Gbah urged FDA to make wise use of previous lands allotted for the park operation and develop the area instead of eviting anyone in their own inheritance.
According to Gbah, not much has been done by the government to ever better the area noting the local residents are still living in abject poverty as depend of hunting, farming as sources of livelihood.
The District Representative, Matthew Zarzar is also in support of the citizens’ position. He told this medium that his office would not accept any form of disrespect as exhibited by FDA, without informing him about those issues.
Located in the south-east of Liberia, Sapo National Park (SNP) is the oldest and largest Protected Area in the country and is globally recognized as critical for biodiversity conservation.
The park was created in 1983, with a total area of 107,300 hectares, but was extended in 2003 to its current size of 180,365 hectares.
According to the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) the park and the surrounding forested landscape is part of the keystone of one the largest block of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot, which extends from southern Guinea into eastern Sierra Leone, through Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, southern Ghana, and across southwestern Togo. The Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem is one of the most critically fragmented forested regions on earth, with only 15 to 20 percent of its original forest cover remaining intact, with Liberia containing the largest portion at 42%.
The major challenges facing the park, like other protected areas across the country, are human settlement, hunting, and other, according to sources speaking with the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW).