–NGOs Consortium conduct livelihood needs assessments
It appears quite conclusive that the long-awaited physical boundary demarcation exercise which would clearly set apart the Sapo National Park, especially the 1986 extension from areas owned by the communities will soon come to pass as the process is about to begin next month, January.
The surrounding communities have affirmed their preparedness to participate in the process so as to set the record straight according to the reading of the map during a two-week exhaustive meeting with the community dwellers from December 8-23, 2019.
The exercise follows a three-week awareness held in March of this year by a team from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). It is being supported by the World Bank under the Liberia Forest Sector Project (LFSP) which largely focuses on supporting Liberia’s conservation dream.
Traditionally, one of FDA’s key considerations is to ensure a sustainable management of the Liberian forest under the ‘3Cs’ formula — conservation, community and commercial forestry.
Formally established by an Act of the National Legislature on May 19, 1983, the government of Liberia deemed it prudent to extend the park, judging from its biodiversity content and its ecosystem potential that could benefit current and future generations.
Hence, on October 10, 2003 the extension was something which has and continues to be greeted unkindly by most, if not all of the surrounding communities.
For instance, most inhabitants there harbor the feeling that they are being dispossessed of the park which they consider as their heirs. Hence, there has been an uneasy calm as the FDA is often considered as an intruder. It can be recalled that a ranger of the FDA lost his life in time past when he was mobbed to death by angry citizens while he was performing his duty.
Most inhabitants fear that when the park eventually falls under government’s control and supervision, they will be losing grip on their traditional inheritance. They said since the creation of the park, the government has done little or nothing to enhance development in the areas. But as one of government’s heart beats, given what it naturally hosts as far as biodiversity is concerned, a rescue measure and policy have and continue to be pursued by the government through FDA to ensure that Sapo, like all other parks, remains protected from the clutches of illegal miners and poachers. At one point the government was compelled to forcefully evict all those who were dwelling in the park while illegally siphoning gold, diamond as well as destroying the generation of wildlife species therein.
Against this backdrop, the government has persistently maintained that the policy of conservation which remains an internationally endorsed practice is the best way to go. Accordingly, FDA and partners continue to educate the citizens to accept such policy in the best interest of current and future generations. Now that the donor has provided funding for implementation of the exercise, a highly placed conservation team from the Forestry Development Authority has concluded series of consultative meetings with communities around the park in separate strategic locations in Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties, where it announced that the process would begin in January 2020.
The Protected Areas Manager, Mrs. Evangeline Swope Nyantee, provided background information about the process and reiterated the overall importance of the need to keep the park in a protective custody as far as the global demand for conservation is concerned. The Manager for Awareness and Ecotourism Mrs. Comfort Tweh Sakui, provided the process and steps involved in the exercise. Both conservationists used these occasions to educate the citizens on the long time benefits to follow after the process shall have been completed.
In separate remarks at these meetings the county officials from Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Sinoe Counties respectively embraced the demarcation exercise and pledged their cooperation with the FDA and partners as they carry on such crucial task. Superintendent Kai Farley of Grand Gedeh emphasized the relevance of the protection of the park and called on his citizens to cooperate with government while making reference to his recent trip to Namibia where he had gone to observe how conservation is being conducted by the people.
He told his citizens that now is time to change the mindset from the old ways of doing things and get aligned with the modern trend.
River Gee County Acting Superintendent Paul Brooks promised his county’s cooperation with the process which he termed as ‘nationally relevant.’ For his part, the Acting Superintendent of Sinoe County Augustine Swen admonished the citizens, especially those around the park to respect the mandate set forth by government. He hoped the government and partners will consider all other alternatives as far as the provision of livelihood means to the communities is concerned.
Meanwhile, a conglomeration of leading NGOs has concluded a three-day livelihood assessment workshop aimed at finding out the needs of the communities. AHT, Society for the Conservation of Nature (SCNL), and Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCFaim) to develop criteria for livelihood project and sustainability, define expectations of local community dwellers, among other things.
As a pilot project, 21 communities out of the 70 communities are expected to be arranged under the scene as soon as the study is completed. Others are expected to follow suit once the pilot aspect has successfully gone through.