Liberia: Has REDD+ Dashed Hopes Of Rural Dwellers?
Kpalan, Grand Cape Mount County – Residents of this remote village near the Lake Piso Multiple Use Reserve in the Commonwealth District of Cape Mount County, were hopeful when a forest regulatory body promised them sustainable livelihood if they would protect the natural forest and water life. Villagers say the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, through a local partner, assured them that if they stopped hunting and fishing in the protected area, they would be provided with a legal, alternate means of making a living. But nine months after those promises were made, they say REDD+ disappeared, dashing their hopes.
Report by Mae Azango [email protected], New Narratives Senior Correspondent
“We were happy for the project because it was going to provide job opportunities for 52 of us who were supposed to be working on this project. But right now, we are feeling disappointed because our hopes that were so high, that we even stopped killing wild animals, but yet we have not seen them,” says Emmanuel Sherman, one of the villagers.
In a global push to mitigate the effects of climate change, Liberia and Norway signed a US $150 million REDD+ agreement in 2014. The goal of the partnership was to help contribute to the effectiveness of local forest monitoring systems and increase ownership and sustainability. For decades, the country had low deforestation rates. According to REDD+, economic recovery increased deforestation, which was caused by subsistence farming, the oil palm industry, mining, logging and other drivers. The REDD+ programs ends next year.
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) aimed to make forest-dependent communities like this one integrated land uses that will create sustainable economies and reduce emissions. Kpalan was one place to implement the project. Villagers here lived on fishing in the Lake Piso for generations. They cut mangroves and used it to smolder fish that, they say, produced a unique aroma. They hunted in the mangrove swamp, experts say, is hideout to endangered species. In fact, the Lake Piso basin hosts migratory birds…and resident bird species, according to the Fauna and Floral International. The conservation group also says its home to several important mammals, including forest buffalo, black duiker, West African Chimpanzees, Olive colobus, and the lesser spot-nosed monkey. Lake Piso is also recognized under the Ramsar Convention for International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat.
It’s illegal to enter, fish, farm and hunt in a protected area in Liberia. The Wildlife and Protected Area Law in 2017 with jail term and fines for violators but the FDA’s department of wildlife conservation says there are implementation challenges. No violator has been booked so far.
Sherman and Town Chief David Davis were appointed by Community Development Initiative (CDI), a local partner of REDD+ to act as community representatives in Kpalan.
Davis says REDD+ also did not only promise the cassava mill. “REDD+ promised to give our women microloan and give us livestock to raise and sell but we are not feeling good because since last September REDD+ promised us but we cannot hear anything from them,” says Davis, who was appointed chairman of the community committee on the cassava mill.
It’s a major to incentive to have local communities participate in sustainable forest management and conservation efforts, experts say.
Claims and counter Claims
Saah A. David, Jr., the National Coordinator of the REDD+ Implementation Unit at the FDA, denies that the program made such program to Kpalan. “I cannot remember our office ever going to Cape Mount last year, but there are different NGOs in Liberia that are trying to work on REDD+ projects, but from the FDA side, we have not gone to that community,” Mr. David said.
Davis and Sherman were definite that two of CDI representatives—Patricia Sambola and Dodo Gray—made the promise, but David Jr. from the REDD+ program dismisses the claim.
“We know Dodo Gray, who works with CDI, and they have been doing some of REDD+ activities in the past and we have complemented their work by giving posters and reading materials to carry out awareness,” David Jr. explains. “Maybe one of the other organizations promised them cattle, but not REDD+. If fact, we are not even involved in giving out livestock to communities.”
Instead, David adds the REDD+ program has focused on the distribution of seeds to rural communities through the Ministry of Agriculture. According to him, REDD+ does not stop people from fishing or farming as a way of livelihood, but suggests to communities to fish sustainably.
Lawrance A. Bondo, Director of CDI, confirms both Gray and Sambola worked with him as field agents. He explains that CDI was awarded a contract by the World Bank and chose to work in Kpalan, but denies that there was a promise about a cassava mill, microloan and livestock program.
“We did not promise them anything but just told them to preserve nature and maybe someday an NGO would see their efforts and help them,” he said. “We do not have anything to give because we are only engaged in creating awareness in benefit sharing in other communities,” Bondo says.
Gray of CDI like Bondo, confirms they visited the Kpalan community and implemented the climate change awareness project for REDD+ but denies of promising the community any alternative livelihood.
However, Sambola has a different recollection of the project in Kpalan between 2017 ad 2018. She says when the awareness component fizzled out, they expected to carry out empowerment and capacity building for the community, but were “abruptly” withdrawn from the community.
“Yes we dashed the hopes of the people in Kpalan when we stopped working with them,” she says. “We were already making recommendations in Kpalan community when we were asked to stop abruptly and sent to two other communities in Commonwealth District by our director who was implementing directly with REDD+,” she says. “It did not go down well with us, but we are just field agents. Again, it was administrative issue between REDD and CDI, so we were only following instruction from our boss.”
“Following instruction” is not the least thing villagers in Kpalan want to hear. Sherman says they planted cassava on 47.2 acres of land, and planned to have harvested in April but could not because they have yet to receive the machine. Sherman says with the cassava machine, they were going to produce 706 bags of farina that could have brought them more than LD1.7 million. Now, they await only a miracle to prevent the crops from rotting as the rains have already starting in the village.
“We just need someone to come to our aid, because the rain is almost here,” he says. “If the raining season meets the cassava not harvested we will not even (be able to make) half of the 706 bags of farina, because the water will make the cassava watery and it will be of no use.”
Richard Sambolah, who runs a conservation community-based organization Farmers Associated to Conserve the Environment in the Lake Piso area, says the REDD+ is losing a huge opportunity in Kpalan. He says the village is one of six that have the biggest portion of mangrove swamp and is very crucial for the sustainable management of the reserve.
“There is a possibility of the community going back to do what they were doing to get money because they would use the REDD + as an excuse to cut the mangroves as way of livelihood,” Sambolah says.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Land Rights and Climate Change Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The Funder had no say in the story’s content.