Amb. Belgrove poses with participants and organizers of the the Green-Liberia Cocoa National Workshop
The Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) with funding from the British Government have begun a three-day workshop to draft a strategic plan that will help to conserve the 40 percent forest belt the country has in the Guinea tropical rain-forest zone.
The two organizations are currently holding a strategic workshop with cocoa farmers from across the country, with a view to bringing farmers together to devise a strategy that will enhance high yield of cocoa and prevent farmers encroaching on conserved forests.
The project, through which the Green-Liberia Cocoa National Workshop is conducted, is the Partnership for Forest Project P4F, financed by the British Government under the umbrella of the International Development Agency (IDA).
Dr. Shashi Kumaran, Senior International Conservation Officer working with the RSPB, in an exclusive interview during the opening of the workshop, said the intent is to protect Liberia's remaining forest and empower those living there as well as sensitize the residents about the need to protect the forest.
"These farmers," Dr. Kumaran said, "are living on the forest and planting cocoa and to improve their lives in their occupational area, it is better to come out with the technology that will help to improve the yield of their cocoa farms."
As such, Kumaran said farmers will no longer worry about planting randomly in the forest, which consequently damage plant life and the habitats of birds and other wildlife.
"This project is finding the way that the farmers can improve their livelihood, because the idea is that if the farmers can be empowered to have the needed yield from their farm product, there will be less need to cut down the forest. The project is also meant to help farmers see the importance of biodiversity and why it must be protected," Dr. Kumaran said.
She said conservationists are now looking at intensification rather than extension; meaning that technology can help to produce high yield on a hectare than making large farms in a quest for more yield covering a large portion of the forest.
Michael F. Garbo, SCNL Executive Director, also added that the intent of the workshop is to draft a plan that will fall in line with cocoa production scale which will be deforestation free.
SCNL is primarily interested in conserving biodiversity, but Mr. Garbo said they are worried about deforestation taking place around the world and gradually creeping into Liberia.
According to him, if some of the agricultural work done in the forest are managed well and technically maintained to empower farmers, they will be conservation friendly.
He said instead of cutting down the forest in mass, it is good that cocoa farmers cultivate the middle part and plant their cocoa; which, accordingly, will help the cocoa to grow well along with other species of trees that uphold the forest.
SCNL's Science and Conservation Coordinator Jerry C. Garteh said the significance of forest to the survival of human cannot be underestimated.
Garteh is also the Coordinator for the P4P Project operating in Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and Lofa counties. He said that plants in the forest are the same that absorb the bad air (carbon dioxide) released by humans, and in turn process and release it as fresh air (oxygen) for human and animals to take in.
When the forest is depleted to the extent that there are no trees to absorb the carbon dioxide and release oxygen, Mr. Garteh said, it will be hazardous, for mankind and future generations will encounter a serious problem.
British Ambassador David Belgrove said the British Government is committed to supporting forest protection initiative.
He said agriculture work, though good and a livelihood venture, should adhere to policy along with forest conservation.
Officials from the ministries of Agriculture and Commerce, and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Forestry Development Agency (FDA) attended the opening ceremony of the workshop.
The workshop brought together over 50 farmers from western, central, north-eastern and south-eastern Liberia.
Concern about protecting and conserving forest and wildlife has grown in recent days. In this same week, the Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI) launched a report that indicts the oil palm company Golden Veroleum for damaging Liberia's forest in the South-east, and recommended to government and other stakeholders that GVL's activities be halted to renegotiate its contract.
Joaquin M. Sendolo