Liberia: Concerns Heighten Over ‘Inhumane Treatment’ of Farmers of Reserved Forest In Lofa County

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Lofa County – Some farmers in Lofa County have called for an alternative livelihood since restriction has been placed on deforestation of land they used for agricultural activities.

These farmers, who heavily rely on farming activities within the proposed Wonigizi Reserved Forest, are said to be roaming the various communities in search of alternative livelihood, due to “delay” by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and partners to provide alternative livelihood for them.

The Environmental Protection Policy has placed a restriction on the cutting down of trees by farmers thus educating them on the importance of sustainable farming. This is because when trees are cut down, carbon gases go into the air and mixed with greenhouses gases, causing global warming.

Under its Reducing of Emission of Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) plan, occupants of reserved forest areas are to be provided means of alternative livelihood including substantial farming.

But a concerned resident of the community, Julius Howard, said the plan is not exactly what was being expected and promised farmers of Zorzor, Lofa County.

According to Howard, since restriction was placed on farmers from using the reserved forest, nothing has been done by the FDA to support residents to do sustainable farming.

In a communication to the Social Safeguard Coordinator of FDA assigned in Lofa County, Mr. James Kpadehyea, a copy in the possession of FrontPageAfrica, Howard wrote: “I write to express my disappointment in the FDA over the inhumane treatment persistently carried out against the average citizenry of the proposed Wonigizi Reserved Area.

“My disappointment in the FDA, being the umbrella organization of Liberia, responsible for all forest and forest related issues, is deeply centered on the violation and abuse of the rights of the 17 affected communities’ dwellers.”

Howard, who is a trained conservation reporting journalist and a son of Ziggida – one of the 17 affected communities of the proposed Wonigizi Reserved Forest, claims that FDA and partners have had series of dialogue, meetings, workshops and other gatherings with the affected community members, most of which ended with the FDA and partners promising to provide alternative means of livelihood for residents of the affected communities, but to no avail.

These promises, according to him, were the reasons why residents chose to leave the proposed reserved forest.

Howard asserted in a mobile phone interview with FPA: “With nothing provided to alternate the livelihood of the (Direct) victims of this conversation, I am constrained to inform you that seven (7) poor farmers and three (3) hunters have been arrested by the FDA Forest Guards and taken to Zorzor Magisterial court where some of them were forced to pay ten thousand Liberia Dollars (10,000 LD) and some twenty thousands (20,000 LD) Liberian Dollars as a penalty for bridging conservation LAW of the PROPOSED PROTECTED AREA that has not even been ENACTED INTO Law.”

He furthered that since September 11, 2019 when the three hunters were arrested and their hunting guns seized, and early June 2020 when the seven farmers were arrested, there is no source of livelihood for their families, thereby making them to become liabilities to the community.

“The 10 victims with their wives and children amounting to 100 and plus hungry community members have now become threats to the entire environment and could do anything only to live,” Mr. Howard stressed.

“Some might end up stealing; some might end up crediting and might not have the means of paying back the debt which will possibly end up to court thereby increasing conflict amongst community members. Those of them, who might want to maintain their integrity, might die of starvation all in the name of conservation. On the side of the FDA and partners, is this their definition of conservation.”

Since the incident, Mr. Howard said he has written several communications to FDA and partners, but all have fallen on deaf ears.

In one of the communications, he stated: “To showcase their path for perpetual deception, FDA through the SADS has introduced what they call ‘Farmer Field School’. This project accordingly is intended to train the affected community dwellers on how to carry out sustainable farming as a way of discouraging deforestation. In the process, one of the trainers in a conversation said to me that he has already trained one thousand (1000) farmers. From my survey none of the one thousand trained farmers has his or her own farm to supply even one household. The worse of all is that the community members are even getting discouraged about the so-called Farmer Field School.”

Howard continued: “This is evident by the harvest of the two groundnut farms made in Ziggida as advised by the SADS contracted trainers. Of the two farms, our poor farmers who were misled to plant 30 plus, kilos, got a harvest out three onion bags while untrained farmers planted 10 kilos and harvested two 50 kg bags full of peanuts.

“In a common sense and from what is being dramatized, our women are who would have done something else to sustain their homes, have been misled by unskilled individuals who came to find their living at the detriment of our poor farmers. A trained farm technician will always test the soil and the climate before venturing into the process to enable him to place the right crops on the right soil for a satisfied harvest. In the case of the FDA and partners, they don’t care to know what the community benefits but what they benefit from the project.”

He argued that it would be impossible for these community dwellers to carry out “sustainable farming” when they have been evicted from the area, they once use for farming.

“Where are they going to farm after the training?  Are they going to farm in the opened air? Knowing fully that the community has deliberately refused to provide them farmland which is still a serious situation in some of the affected communities including Ziggida,” he noted, stressing that he and other rights activists will have no alternative but to ensure that measures be taken by FDA and partners to provide the necessary means of alternative survival.

When FPA contacted the Social Safeguard Coordinator of FDA, James T. Kpadehyea he said: “Many thanks for the concern. My Boss will make an appearance soon to come.”

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