LIBERIA: Forest, Wildlife Under Threat In Vahun

By: Liberia Forest Media Watch,

Liberian and Sierra Leonean Mediation Team

Forest and wildlife are said to be under threat in Vahun District, near the Liberian-Sierra Leone borders. Report of increased in illegal pitsawing, hunting and mining activities are responsible. What makes it even more troubling is that Vahun is currently cut off from vehicular movements due to bad road. Residents of the district are presently trading in Sierra Leonean currency due to bad road. Access to the district remains a major challenge lest talk about monitoring the situation of illegal pitsawing and mining.

Hundreds of citizens at the mediation ground

Wildlife habitats are at risk with power sword operators everywhere in the forest. Hunting of bush meat as major income is on the increase, and animals such as elephants are wandering in search of better homes having been driven away by the sounds of power sword. Major forest areas are being affected, with valuable forest products being shaped to neighboring countries of Sierra and Guinea. Conflict over mining areas presents challenges to both Liberian and Sierra Leonean authorities.

A concerned citizen, Baimba K. Lalugbh explained to LFMW that hunters in the district have commercialized hunting. Mr. Lalugbh narrated that hunting has caused wild life animals to flee from the forest, causing havoc for nearby local farmers. Saffa Lukay is a victim. He laments the wave of destruction of his farm products by nomadic elephants in search of better habitats due to the sound of power swords and guns. Lukay says this has been going on for the last for four years. In an attempt to scare away the elephants, the lamenting farmer has erected portable solar light on his farm using wooding pole. He wants government and partners to initiate livelihood programs for the people of Vahun District in an effort to protect wildlife and forest and save their farms from destruction by roaming elephants.  “We cannot kill them because government says we shouldn’t kill elephants. But the animals keep destroying our properties meant to sustain us and our families. We want government to bring program to help we the farmers. Saffa Lukay explained.

Vahun Paramount Chief (Mohammed K. Nyallay)-left flanked by Sierra Leonean officials during conflict mediation

Paramount Chief, Mohammed K. Nyallay disclosed that hunters have established special camp in the forest, where they reside and dry the meat before transporting it to the local markets of their choice. Chief Nyallay asked for government to provide alternative livelihoods for the people of Vahun and those involved in hunting in order to save the forests and endanger species.

Officials of the Community Land Development Management Committee (CLDMC) have also decried illegal pitsawing in Vahun District; terming it as alarming and unprecedented. The Chairpersons of the CLDMC in Central and Upper Guma Clans, Mr John Vandi and Daniel Koroma have both lamented the insufficiency of benefits from pitsawing. “The “sawers” pay 240 Liberian dollars for one piece of red wood, and 200 Liberian Dollars for one piece of “white” wood”, the CLDMC officials said.

LFMW observed that most of the pitsawers in Vahun forest are Sierra Leonean nationals.  A fact finding mission to Sierra Leone did establish that, indeed, Sierra Leoneans are crossing into Vahun and conducting pitsawing activities without much benefits for the people. The Sierra Leoneans could be taking advantage of the inaccessibility of Vahun District from the Liberian side and making away with valuable forest products for commercial purpose in their country as citizens of Vahun languish in abject poverty.

The price for a piece of red wood in Sierra Leone is put at 3000 Liberian Dollars. While the price for a piece of “white’ wood is put at 2,700 Liberian Dollars, ten times more than the price in Liberia. The truck with registration # 141 and plate # RC 2232 from Mobai Town in Sierra Leone was heading from Vahun when our reporter captured it on camera.

Also authorities of Vahun District are said to be overwhelmed with mining activities taken place in Vahun. On Monday, July 19, 2021, the Town Chief of Vahun, Foday Konneh disclosed that mining activities in Vahun district is affecting the forest. Town Chief Konneh accused Sierra Leonean nationals of conducting the mining activities without paying dues to the community. The CLDMC Chairman, John Vandy also confirmed that mining activities are carried out by Sierra Leoneans in a particular place called “China Forest”.

Gold miners of various nationals are trooping into Vahun for exploration.  Recently, mining activities came to a standstill when some Liberians and others believe to be Ghanaians arrived in Vahun. Some residents told LFMW that the miners came with document from the Ministry of Land Mine and Energy to carry out mining activities. But Paramount Chief and others stakeholders disclosed that the miners came with a class “C” license they claimed to have obtained from the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy. But surprisingly, the Chiefs said they saw the miners bringing in dredging equipment.

During operation at one of the mining sites near the water side, serious confusion ensued between the Sierra Leonean and Liberian nationals over who owns the Magoi River. Liberians argued that the River runs through their towns in Yalahun and Vahun. But Sierra Leoneans came to the water side and seized some personal items from them on grounds that the river belongs to Sierra Leone. Personal effects arrested include: five mobile phones, 300 United States Dollars, 25 gram of gold and others items.

See above items written on white sheet:

Following the incident, authorities of Vahun immediately informed Sierra Leonean authorities about the conduct of their citizens. Two Members of the Sierra Leonean Parliament, Mohammed Kanneh, Satie Gbanya headed by Gbassay Toukey, Chairman of the Sierra Leone People’s Party-Kailahu District Branch, convened a meeting of stakeholders from both sides to ascertain what had happened. The meeting took place on September 7, 2021 in Bandoma town, Sierra Leone. During the meeting, a resolution committee comprising of five members from each party was set up. After hours of inquiries, both parties through the Sierra Leonean authorities blamed the Town Chief of Bandoma in Sierra Leone for the incident.

Mark William Adu reports from Vahun.  

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