Banner Image: A forest in Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
BY Wiliam Q. Harmon
PAYNESVILLE – For five years Tonglay and Normon craved to obtain the right to manage swathes of forest in the Kongbor District of Gbarpolu County.
Earlier this month, they achieved that dream.
Their signing of separate community forest agreements (CFMA) means they can now control what goes on in the combined 29,000 hectares of muggy, dense woodland.
“We are happy that the government has agreed to allow us to take care of our own forest and we will make sure that we do our best so that our people can enjoy the resources that are in their forests,” said Karimu Fofanah, the head of the body charged to conduct forest business for Tonglay, known in the forestry sector as of the community forestry management body (CFMB). “Our people have suffered a lot and with this initiative, we will ensure we bring development to our people.”
Boakai Kanneh, Fofana’s counterpart in Normon could not be reached.
Both communities had to complete a nine-step process in order to gain authorized forest community status. It includes a nonrefundable registration of US$250, harmonize boundaries with neighbors and prepare a forest management plan. The European Union (EU) and Rainforest Trust provided funding for the process.
Michael Garbo, the executive director of Society for Conservation of Nature Liberia (SCNL)—the nongovernmental organization that helped the community complete the process—termed the signing of the agreement a “dream come true.
“It is a great day today and it’s a great honor as well for donors who have been supporting us throughout the stages of this process,” Garbo told the signing ceremony at the FDA headquarters in Whein Town, Paynesville.
FDA’s managing director Mike Doryen admonished the communities to hold together and avoid confusion—urging them to also remain law-abiding and stop shielding people, especially elites, who want to use their community forests for self-aggrandizement.
Doryen warned anyone violating the forestry land will be prosecuted.
No contract yet
As authorized forest communities, Tonglay and Normon will now manage their forests for the next 15 years, with the FDA to review the agreement fifth and tenth year. They must give their consent to any person or company wanting to enter the forest under the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. The law was a crucial part of the forest reform in postwar Liberia, giving locals their share of forest resources.
Fofana noted that no agreement has been reached with any company but the community was doing all it could to attract investors to the area. Tonglay and Norman are underdeveloped communities without roads up to date clinics and schools.
“We want to do first thing first and don’t want to jump the gun before we encounter problems ahead. We want to finish with all the required necessary steps before we start to invite investors,” Fofana said. “When we sign third party… we intend to prioritize infrastructural development, especially bridges, clinics and schools.”