LIBERIA: FDA Leads Efforts To Remove Illegal Miners From Sapo National Park

By Ezekiel Geeplay / ezekielgeeplay.105.5@gmail.com

GREENVILLE – Concerted effort to remove illegal miners from the Sapo National Park has begun following years of encroachment. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is leading these efforts through consultations with local authorities and forest dependents within the surrounding communities of River Gee, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties.

The countywide consultation is intended to raise awareness among the local people ahead of the removal exercise. Over 5,000 illegal miners, including farmers and aliens are said to be residing in the Park, authorities of the FDA have disclosed.

In an interview with the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW), FDA Technical Manager for Conservation, Jerry Yonmah said, recommendations/suggestions from these consultations will be forwarded to the relevant governmental agencies for national decision making purpose.

Mr. Yonmah noted that the ongoing plan to remove illegal miners is to protect the integrity of the Sapo National Park, adding, initial efforts to raid the park of illegal miners were hampered by the outbreak of COVID-19, which rendered the FDA’s Rangers inactive at the time.  He described the Park as a blessing that the country can boast of in the sub region in terms of tourism and research.

The FDA’s Technical Manager told the gathering of the local population in Maryland County that some Liberian citizens were the ones leading the influx of foreign nationals into the Park, noting, “Having people who are anti to government’s policy doesn’t speak good for the country and that such anti behavior needs to be prohibited”.

“When you are a citizen of a country, you must protect what you have and obey the laws of the country, but our citizens are the ones leading illegal miners in the Park for little or nothing” the FDA’s official said.

He warned of severe consequences for those illegally extracting the country’s natural resources under the canopy of Liberian citizens, terming the act as an abuse and gross violation of government’s policy.

The illegal influx of aliens from neighboring countries into Liberia for business purposes, especially the extraction of natural resources is on the increase. The foreign nationals are aided and abetted by their Liberian counterparts. The FDA Technical Manager believes that until Liberian citizens around the country’s rich natural reserves can join forces with the government, illegal operations in protected areas will continue to undermine revenue generation and render the Sapo Park vulnerable to degradation.

While the government contemplates on several options to remove illegal miners from the Park, a civil approach through broader community consultations will be the first approach, says Jerry Yonmah. “But in the case a civil approach fails, the government will use force to remove the illegal miners from the Park, and as well as confiscate their equipment/tools.

Established in 1983 as a protected area, the Sapo National Park is globally known for its containment of important plants, animals and other valuable resources. The Park remains susceptible to degradation due to the uncontrollable influx of illegal miners aided by residents around the Park despite global attention. The FDA that is charged with the responsibility to manage the Park has proven less capable of doing so. The Authority has, however, attributed its incapacitation to lack of adequate financial and logistical support to monitor the forest sector.

Additionally, the inadequacy of sustainable livelihood programs as reported by residents around the Park is said to be another major contributing factor responsible for the influx of illegal miners. Although efforts can be seen by Wild Japanzee Foundation, IDH and Conversation International to ensure sustainable livelihood programs for residents around the Park, living conditions there seem worrisome.

Residents of adjacent communities in Sinoe, River Gee and Grand Gedeh counties have lamented over poor living conditions since being told not to conduct farming activities in the Park. But In an apparent response to calls for provision of safe drinking water, the FDA and its partners constructed two hand pumps at the headquarter of the Park in 2022.

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