Says District Superintendent Conde Yallah
Kokoyah Statutory District Superintendent Conde Yallah says the uncontrolled extraction of logs from the rainforest is depriving locals of their direct economic benefits.
In an interview with the Daily Observer on Saturday, November 2, 2019 in Botota, Superintendent Yallah said for a long time, logging companies have been granted more than 50 percent of the country’s rain forests by past and current governments, without the locals realizing any direct remuneration.
“Is it good to exhaust our natural resources in the name of realizing economic growth when 85 percent of our population is living in abject poverty? Is Liberia at the verge of depleting its natural resources in the name of economic growth?” Yallah asked, his voice quivering.
In Botota, at the Atlantic Resources log depot, the Daily Observer established that there are hundreds of logs ready to be exported via the Port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
The Atlantic Resources harvested the trees from Lofa County, but uses Bong County as its transit site to the Buchanan Port for shipment to Europe or Asia, with the hope of generating revenue for Liberia.
“What we are noticing about this logging company thing is that the affected communities are not benefiting, and even the government is not getting the required taxes; but the money is going in the pockets of a few people who allegedly connived with the company,” Supt. Yallah said.
Yallah: “Liberia is known for having rich natural resources, including its vast rain forests, but the question is, are the people considering the environmental consequences of these economic ventures? How much of this investment is impacting the lives of the affected communities that are being threatened with desert?”
“Even our forest reserves are under attack by logging companies, because several areas of the reserves are completely devoid of large trees, while on the other hand, the sound of chain-sawing is heard everywhere as the sawyers are operating with impunity,” Yallah said.
He said the road that the Atlantic Resources uses to get its logs to Botota is in an abysmal condition, adding, “No one cares to rehabilitate the road, least to talk about the St. John River Bridge that links Bong with Grand Bassa,” he said.
Yallah said that the Community Rights Law of 2009, with Respect to Forest Lands section 4.1, states: “The Community Assembly shall be the highest or have the biggest power when it comes to making any decision about any forest matter.” However, he said the law is being ignored by both the logging companies and policy-makers.
Atlantic Resources Chief of Operations J. Bannie Harris, who is stationed in Botota, told the Daily Observer via mobile phone that his company will begin rehabilitating the road leading from Gbarnga to Botota before the year ends.
According to him, in 2013, the company reconditioned the same road with concrete culverts over the creeks.
He said due to the bad condition of the bridge over the St John River, the company has reduced the weight of tons of the logs from 40 cubic meters to 20 cubic meters crossing the bridge.
As of the social agreement between the Atlantic Resources and the community, he added, “If we were not living up to our corporate social responsibility, then the residents would have asked us out of those communities that we are operating.”
Earlier, a student of Natural Resource Management at Cuttington University, Abraham Browne, observed that the country’s forests are disappearing rapidly, due primarily to logging for private use, commercial logging for export, and the domestic market.
“Although illegal logging is robbing this country of its forests, at the same time, it provides an important source of income for thousands of impoverished rural families,” student Browne said.
“Some logging companies are signing Private Use Permits (PUPs), which were designed to allow private land-owners to cut trees on their property, to get around regulation,” he said.
“Areas we claimed are granted official protection because they are exposed to illegal logging done at the hands of Liberians as well as foreigners, especially Lebanese nationals; it appears to be the main cause of deforestation in the reserves,” the student said.
In 2011, the government put a moratorium on Private Use Permits (PUPs), although it does not appear to have fully stopped the practice.
The PUPs were primarily designed for non-commercial purposes such as farmers with small areas of land, and not major international logging firms.
Student Browne told this newspaper that chainsaw operators, who supply most of the domestic timber demand, account for two-thirds and the export-oriented timber industry account for one-third of the illegal harvest.
He said most valuable timber species dominate the illegal harvest and they appear to originate mostly from forest reserves which, as a consequence, are seriously threatened by desertification.
“Eliminating illegal logging will require positive economic incentives for rural people to protect and grow timber trees. This, however, calls for fundamental reform of the timber governance system,” the student recommended.