Liberia: Sinoe Community Conserving Its Forest but Gets No Support

Vincent Swen, co-Chairman of the Nitrian Community Forest Management Body shows demarcation mark in the Nitrian Forest

Nitrian, Sinoe County – When Nitrian obtained a community forest status in 2011—one of the first to do following a new law seeking to give communities their shares of forest benefits—it fend off logging companies and any interest from Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) oil palm plantation just five kilometers away. It wanted to conserve the forest for the next generation.

Report by James Harding Giahyue, Contributor

“We went together for meeting and we decided and said ‘Look, let’s come together that nobody should go and do logging, trapping and farming,’” recalls Dennis Broh, president of Nitrian Community Assembly, the highest decision making body, according to the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. 

Nitrian was not only one of the first beneficiaries of the new law. It also characterized one of the three pillars of the forestry reform in Liberia: conservation (the other being community and commercial). With international efforts to support Liberia’s conservation of its portion of the Upper Guinea Forest—one of the world’s largest biodiversity hotspots— and global mitigation efforts of climate change, the Nitrian project arrived at the right time. However, eight years after, the leadership of the community says it has not received any external support to sustain its conservation efforts. It faces a lot of challenges, including poaching and illegal harvesting of non-timber products such as chewing stick, rattan and thatch. Alternative livelihood for the community is also lacking. 

“When you look around us, many of the communities around us are doing commercial [forestry],” Bro says. “People are trying to play fun out of us. ‘You’re still conserving your forest. What will you get?’ For us, we are really trying to do conservation,” he says.  

No Support to Conservation 

A logging truck commuting logs in Sinoe County

Located in the Kpanyan District of Sinoe, the Nitrian Community Forest is an ideal place for conservation. The 947-hectare forest has some low lands and mangrove swamps. It is home to some endangered species such as hippopotamus, giant pangolin, African Elephant and chimpanzee, according to the Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA) it signed with the FDA. The community forest even has an ancient cave, according to Broh. And due to its closeness to the Sapo National Park, it holds patches of forests in the corridor of animals to and fro the park, some studies say. 

Broh says the community does not have what it takes to prevent poachers and illegal harvesters of chewing sticks, rattan and thatches across the Planzon River that separates Nitrian from Nyenpoh in the Dugbeh District. 

“In managing the forest there are many challenges that are worrying us here now,” he says. “We don’t have forest guards.  [Sometimes] when we go in the forest, we see strange marks.”  He says they see gun shells on the forest floor. 

When Nitrian completed a rigorous nine-step process to obtain community forest right mandated by the Community Rights Law, it benefited from support by the Liberia Forest Sector Project of the World Bank. Civil society groups such as the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) and Sustainable Development Agency (SDI) aided the community to do GPS mapping, demarcation of the forest and set up its governance structure in line with the law. 

But Nitrian has not benefited from any project on conservation, Broh says.  He says demarcation lines and markings have been even difficult to maintain. 

“Conservation needs money that is why most communities don’t want to engage themselves with conservation,” says Alex Wloh, a community member. “We don’t have the hand.”  

Nitrian has not received support for conservation. The Land Rights and Community Forestry Program (LRCFP) helped the community obtain its community forest status but does not exist anymore. There is another project called the Liberia Forest Sector Project (LFSP) of the World Bank that has been running since 2016, which is meant to assist communities conserve their forests or carry on sustainable logging, among other things. It is part of the US$150 million agreement signed between Liberia and Norway in 2014 for Liberia to end deforestation and forest degradation in order to mitigate climate change. The project encourages community-based conservation, but that project ends next year.   

However, Gertrude Nyaley, technical manager of the FDA’s Community Forest Department, says Nitrian’s struggle mirrors the reality of conservation in Liberia. 

“Admittedly, support to conservation has been a challenge,” Nyaley says. 

Saye Thompson, president of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB), agrees with Nyaley. 

“What Nitrian people are doing is very fine, but we have less information on conservation in Liberia,” Thompson says. “If you look at the kinds of natural resources and habitat we have in Liberia, we don’t have the first example of ecotourism…You will have pockets of little history …but it has to be developed as other people have done in other countries.” 

Ecotourism for Nitrian?

The FDA identifies ecotourism to help solve Nitrian’s problem, but finds road network a challenge. The route from Monrovia to Sinoe is one of the most challenging in Liberia. Even if one takes a flight to Greenville, the provincial capital, they would have to take a 45-minute ride (roughly eight kilometers) to reach Nitrian, a route impassable, mainly during the rainy season.  

A motorcyclist and his passenger make a stop at a GVL plantation in Nitrian, Sinoe

Despite the road network challenge, Nyaley reveals that the FDA has targeted Nitrian as one of 30 communities for a beekeeping project for alternative livelihood.  The 24-month project, which she says will begin in January, will empower Nitrian and the other communities to carry on conservation and sustainable logging. 

“Conserving the forest is one thing, but maintaining the forest and improving the livelihood of the people who’re conserving the forest is also a concern,” Nyaley says. 

The GVL Part 

James Otto of SDI welcomes an alternative livelihood project for Nitrian. 

Otto says alternative livelihood was a huge issue in Nitrian, where GVL cleared forestlands that once served as source of livelihood for the community and its neighbors. “This situation poses serious threat to the protection of the community conservation approach,” says Otto. “As GVL cannot provide and sustain the livelihoods of these community dwellers, there remain no other options but to continue to seek survival through land use which could possibly undermine the very condition under which the community forest areas was established,” he says. 

GVL denies any wrongdoing. Spokesman Randall Kilby says people hunted in the Nitrian forest long before the company came to Liberia 

Admist everything, Nitrian is firm on its decision to conserve its forest. 

Broh reveals that the community has been under “serious pressure” by logging companies to turn to logging. “We don’t want to give our forest to just a company, so that tomorrow we will be facing problem,” he says. The logging has money but through the logging some of the species can go away when they hear the machine sound. We don’t want those things to leave from our forest. 

“This thing started from our forefathers’ days,” Broh says. 

Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) funded this story but had no say in its contents.