Liberia: Locals Speak On GAI/USAID's Land Project in Nimba

The successful pilot program on community forest management has directly engaged communities in order to achieve multi-functional objectives of protecting biodiversity and stimulating social and economic development in the Blei Community Forest and wider landscape.

Although a USAID Land Technology Solutions (LTS) pilot project in Blei Community Forest, Nimba County, intended to test and provide a framework for a more holistic approach to managing community forests and wider landscape resources ended recently, chiefs and elders of communities near the Blei Mountain have called on United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to allow Green Advocates International (GAI) continue with the project until their Community Forest Management Plan (CFMP) in collaboration with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), is completed.

The LTS project was implemented by Resonance in partnership GAI, with funding from USAID.

"Resonance has completed USAID's LTS project where we see our most recent success has come from Liberia," said Jeffrey Euwema, USAID's Chief of Party working with Land Technology Solutions Project.

Resonance worked with GAI and adapted USAID's Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST) to document and builds an understanding of land and forest resources among stakeholders and beneficiaries in Blei Community Forest in Nimba County.

It is working with GAI and USAID Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) to promote a new integrated landscape approach to community forestry.

Euwema said community-level training and outreach activities built knowledge and understanding at the local level of pertinent forest and land laws, while the use of USAID MAST help consolidate and capture land information to inform beneficiaries of both the opportunities and constraints related to the use of their customary lands and forest resources.

The success of the Resonance's efforts has promoted a re-think of community forestry programming in Liberia. This successful pilot program has directly engaged communities in order to achieve multi-functional objectives of protecting biodiversity and stimulating social and economic development in the Blei Community Forest and wider landscape.

Dada S. Konkah, secretary of the Joint Community Forest Management Body (JCFMB), said the USAID Land Technology Solutions has helped residents of the seven primary communities (Suakarzue, Gbobayee, Zortapa, Yolowee, Bassa Village, Zolowee and Gbapa), which are in close proximity to the forest to understand the importance of their forest biodiversity, resources and the wider landscape.

He said that the conservation of the forest is intended to halt unsustainable and illegal harvesting of protected animals and plants species by residents and concessionaires.

Konkah said that the processes leading to the establishment of the Blei Community forest started in 2008, and in 2010, the 614-hectare Blei Community Forest was established. The Blei Community Forest is a habitat for important biodiversity, most of which are unique to Liberia.

Prior to its establishment, some people were encroaching on their forest and depleting its rich biodiversity.

In an interview with journalists in Suakarzue, Nimba County on 10 August 2019, Martha Sonkarley, 50, also said that prior to the decision to preserve the forest, hunters and farmers on numerous occasions set the forest ablaze, and destroyed protected species in the area.

Madam Sonkarley, who is also a member of the Community Assembly representing Suakarzue, the group that manages the forest added, "The place is now a no-go zone because people abused the 'pass system' we introduced to allow residents and others entered the forest to cultivate medicinal plants and building materials."

According to her, "the idea behind the conversation of the forest is for our unborn children to see and know the different biodiversity in the forest."

Madam Sonkarley also lauded USAID for providing funding for the execution of the LTSs project, which among many other things provided education on the Land Rights Acts, Community Rights Law; Livelihood Development and on how to use mobile phones to demarcate their lands.

She pleaded with USAID to allow GAI implement other phrases of the LTSs project, because, according to her, the NGO provided education that is now helping residents appreciate the decision they took to reserve their forest.

"They taught us about the four different kinds of lands and helped us to demarcate our community lands through the use of mobile phones," Betty K. Gono, a resident of Gbapa Town said.

According to Ms. Gono, during the duration of the USAID LTSs Project, GAI taught residents about the sustainable management of their forest, and how they can carryout farming and other activities on the remaining lands in their communities.

"They taught us about the wider land space and carried out self-identification that help us understand where our lands stop and where they start from," Samuel Johnson, a resident of Bassa Village added.

According to him, it was through GAI that he got to know about the new Land Rights Act and said: "Our feet are not yet strong; we might fall if they leave. We still need some help necessary to avoid the destruction of our forest reserve.

Zortapa Town Chief, Nicodemus Marie Tuo, alleged that they have received information that a new group, Forest Income for Environment Sustainability (FIFES), has been earmarked by USAID to take over the project, but Chief Tuo pleaded with USAID to allow GAI continue with the project.

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