The Country Director of Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) Liberia Office has called on Liberians especially policy makers and those at the community level to ensure that the country’s forest is protected so as to enhance economy growth and development.
Dr. Annika Hillers, who spoke to the West Africa Network in an exclusive in Monrovia, indicated that her organization, WCF, is committed to working with the Government of Liberia through the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in protecting the sector for the benefit of the community and its people in particular and the country at large.
According to Dr. Hillers, the Wild Chimpanzee Organization is implementing several projects in the country with support from her partners, aimed at protecting wildlife and conservation in the country. She said the WCF is mainly active in Southeast Region of the country particularly in and around the Grebo-Krahn National Park (GKNP), in the corridor area linking GKNP and Sapo National Park (SNP), in and around SNP and in the Krahn-Bassa Proposed Protected Area (KBPPA).
In addition, Dr. Hillers further disclosed, WCF Liberia is leading transboundary initiatives with Côte d’Ivoire and several national initiatives, in collaboration with its national and international conservation and development partners, such as the Liberian Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forestry Training Institute (FTI), the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), Conservation International (CI), Royal Society for the Conservation of Birds (RSPB), Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP), Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary (LiWiSa), Multi-Agrisystems Promoters (MAP), Environment and Development Associates (EDA) and Center for Environment, Forest Conservation and Research (CENFOR).
The WCF Country Director disclosed that some major activities that are being implemented in Liberia include the Community Ecoguard Program at Grebo-Krahn National Park (GKNP). Under this program, she said seven Community Ecoguard Teams (4 teams in Grand Gedeh County in the northern part of GKNP and 3 teams in River Gee County in the southern part of GKNP) regularly patrol the forest on a rotating basis.
The 7 teams, she pointed out, consist of 28 community members (10 women and 18 men) who are led by 7 FDA team leaders. Some of the challenges the project is faced with are that, in the absence of ranger patrols from FDA, illegal activities inside GKNP are still ongoing with increased observations of mining and hunting. “There is an increased in the influx of cocoa farmers from neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, which poses serious threat to wildlife in these areas,” she intoned.
The WCF has a supervisor permanently based at Sapo National Park to ensure better supervision and support for the community watch teams. In May 2019, WCF also opened an office at the headquarters of Sapo National Park in Jallay’s Town in Sinoe County for the first time, which support the activities with the community watch teams. The supervisor also helps with other activities, such as the training of FDA staff, for the use of the SMART conservation software, as well as the planning of and reporting on forest patrols and awareness raising activities. The community watch team members at Sapo National Park continued to support the FDA rangers for forest patrols, and to a lower extent the control of access points to Sapo National Park and environmental education activities. She said Livelihood support for communities around GKNP and SNP is a direct payment of monthly stipends to fish farming, beekeeping, agricultural activities and infrastructure support. Under the Direct financial support, Community members serving as community Ecoguards (28), community watch team members (100) or bio monitors (16) are receiving regular stipends, either for each mission or on a monthly basis.
Dr. Hillers further pointed that WCF also has an Aquaculture project which supports and trains fish farmers in fishponds in four communities (Sayuo and Peah in Konobo Statutory District and two in Zwedru). The fish farming activities focused on Tilapia breeding and harvesting, using only local fish feed, and pond maintenance, including the maintenance of compost cribs and chicken houses in order to use manure to enrich the nutrition level of the water. In Sayuo, 2 additional community members joined the fish farming groups and have started to construct their own ponds, with technical support from the WCF through one of its local partner Multi-Agrisystems Promoters (MAP) team and from other local fish farmers. The team has also been supported by internship students as well as WCF’s new Community Engagement Officer.
WCF works with Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF) to train and support bee-keeping activities around GKNP. In 2018, 120 beekeepers were trained and supervised from 14 communities. Due to the big interest of additional community members and communities to join the beekeeping activities, 103 additional community members were trained in April and May 2019. Currently, 23 communities in Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties located around GKNP represented by a total of 223 trained beekeepers, are benefiting from the beekeeping program.
Extension officers from UOF visits the trained beekeepers on a monthly basis to monitor their progress and give further support and training. In April 2019, the first beekeepers also started their harvest. She However revealed that there are no detailed figures available so far for the harvest. The UOF extension officers have been trained in digital data collection and Monitoring & Evaluation principles by WCF and focus group discussions with the beekeepers which will improve the reporting on the beekeeping activities
The major concern for communities around GKNP she disclosed is the lack of infrastructure which include the lack of water wells for safe drinking water, medical facilities, schools, broken bridges and bad roads. Currently, no development organization is active in the communities around GKNP. This led to the constant appeal from these communities to WCF to intervene in their situation. According to her, due to increased mining activities, water from surrounding streams is no longer suitable for drinking. In June 2019, WCF started to support the construction of 2 hand pumps water wells in Youbor and Salah communities in River Gee County, as well as the rehabilitation of 3 hand-pump water wells in Yeoh Town and the rehabilitation of a school building that had been without roof for the past 4 years in Clotetee. Both communities are in Grand Gedeh County. As part of the community involvement, the community members provided local materials and labor and keenly supported the long awaited infrastructure projects.
The WCF Country Director called on the people at the community level in which these projects are being implemented to take ownership of the project and ensure that the forest is properly use for the benefit of their communities and people. She said WCF is proud to collaborate with the FDA in the implementation of the Government of Liberia National Forest sector programs.