Liberian Forests: the Blessings Remain

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Liberia is one very blessed country! Why we are not among the most highly developed in our sub-Region is hard to answer.
One manifestation of these blessing is our forests. After all these years of logging, Liberia is, according to Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Managing Director Harrison Karnwea, still the only country in the sub-Region with 43 percent of its forests intact.

Intensive logging in Liberia began during the Tubman administration. Some Liberians remember filmmaker Bill Alexander’s famous documentary on Liberian forests, “Wealth in Wood.” It was produced in collaboration with the then Department of Information and Cultural Affairs (DICA), headed by Secretary E. Reginald Townsend. He commissioned many other documentaries on Liberia and, along with cultural icon Bai T. Moore, created the National Cultural Center at Kindejah and the National Cultural Troupe, which won worldwide acclaim.

Townsend was also part of the decision making that created the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel, West Africa’s first five-star hotel. The Ducor was supposed to have spearheaded the launching of tourism in Liberia and West Africa—but.

He also initiated the creation of the Liberian Broadcasting System, the training of scores of Liberian media and artistic personnel and the production of numerous books on Liberia.

But both of these men were mistreated by the Liberian government. Bai T. was summarily removed from his job as Deputy Secretary for Culture, without even a pension. But Mr. Townsend got the worst of it—he was executed by firing squad following the 1980 coup d’état!

Sometimes these diversions are necessary for historical purposes. Now back to Liberia’s forests.

Last week President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Armah Jallah, expressed concern that Liberian logging activities had “ceased,” leading to interruption in related development activities such as jobs and the construction and maintenance of roads. The Senator made his comments when he received a visiting Montana State Legislator, Dave Hagstrom, who offered to introduce hydro-electric power in Gbarpolu County. Mr. Hagstrom said in his native State of Montana, people purchase electricity at only 9 cents, compared to 53 cents per kilowatt in Liberia.

It was not clear why Senator Jallah, during that conversation, jumped from cheap electricity to logging. Was Mr. Hagstrom interested in logging?

Mr. hagstrom’s push for mini hydros is one of this newspaper’s constant themes. In Monday’s editorial we wondered why Liberia was not using its many rivers to produce cheap electricity. So far there is only one up-country town producing hydro-electricity— in Yandehun, Kolahun District, and Lofa County. President Sirleaf dedicated it early last year. Our Correspondent Alaskai Johnson, who covered
Vice President Boakai’s Lofa visit last week, also visited Yandehum where Alaskai observed that the town was enjoying electricity “24-7.”

We hope Mr. Hagstrom will fulfill his Gbarpolu plan. This will encourage government to exploit our rivers and extend cheap power throughout the country.
FDA’s Managing Director was quick to react to Pro Temp Jallah’s concern of alleged cessation of logging in Liberia. Far from it, said Mr. Karnwea, logging is ongoing. In interviews with this newspaper, he named several logging companies engaged in Liberia.

The Daily Observer then asked what was the status of GOL’s agreement with Norway. It is due to take effect this year, with Liberia standing to gain US$150 million for preserving its forestry reserves and promoting the campaign against carbon omissions. That agreement is on course and comes into effect this year.

Mr. Karnwea then gave some details on the country’s forestry reserves. The largest is the SAPO National Reserve; then the East Nimba, between Nimba and Gedeh Counties; Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount; and the Gola Forest between Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu.

Mr. Karnwea further stated that the FDA is working on legislation for other forest reserves—the Wani Gizi in Lofa, the Grebo Forest in Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties, the Kpelleh Forest between Gbarpolu and Bong Counties and the Sanquin in Grand Kru and Sinoe Counties, etc.

It is a fact that Liberia is rich in forest reserves, which are thankfully in place. Several of them still have elephants and other wildlife, enhancing Liberia’s vast tourism potential.

Hopefully soon, the President will find someone who can successfully organize tourism and Liberia would finally be on its way to reap its long delayed tourism bonanza.

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