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EU, Liberia Mark 50th Year with Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Pledges


Top: Boats prepare for a competition in Robertsport to mark the 50th anniversary of Liberia’s relationship with the European Union. The DayLight/Esau Farr

By Esau J. Farr

The European Union (EU) has said it would continue to invest in Liberia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors both the bloc and the country celebrate 50 years of relations.

“We continue to stand ready to support Liberia’s priorities for sustainable and inclusive development, peace and security and a world where there is peace and security,” said Nona Deprez, the head of the EU Delegation in Liberia at an anniversary event in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County recently.

“The European Union is looking forward to working with the government of Liberia in all efforts to resolve its full implementation to increase trade between our regions, ECOWAS and the EU, particularly in agriculture, fisheries and forestry products,” Deprez told the anniversary audience.  

The EU’s relations with Liberia go as far back as 1973. During this period, the EU has invested millions in Liberia’s agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.

The sectors are crucial to Liberia’s economy but have been poorly managed over the years.

“You need to develop the economy so, you need to make sure that when you develop economically, you don’t have to deplete your resources. If you deplete your resources, that means development will not be sustainable,” Deprez added.

Martus Bangalu, the deputy national authorizing officer of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, said the support of the EU to the fisheries sector of the country must be laudable by all. She urged the leadership and members of the fishing communities in Grand Cape Mount to hold together for progress and development.

“The Fisheries sector has huge potential that we must all top into. Despite of the numerous projects the EU has in Liberia, [it] chose to celebrate with the fisheries sector today; that shows how important this sector is,” Madam Bangalu told members of the fishing communities there.

Lake Piso in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, was chosen as the venue for the anniversary celebrations of the EU-Liberia partnership in collaboration with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the fishing communities. Started in 2019, EJF is rolling out the implementation of a four-year fisheries project in Grand Cape Mount, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Grand Kru, sponsored by the EU.

The head of the European Union Delegation to Liberia Nona Deprez, third from the front, and her entourage at the event. The DayLight/Esau Farr.

“We are working with the government of Liberia to ensure that its developmental agenda is achieved,” said Cephas Asare, EJF’s West Africa regional manager in an interview with The DayLight.

“The collaborative management association is meant to bring the participation of resource users and the community to engage and to support the fishery management that the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) is supposed to do,” Asare added.

The celebrations ended with a boat race amongst the three regions of the fishing communities in the western Liberian county. Robertsport’s Kru-Town won the race.  

EPA Misled the Public Over Bea Mountain Chemicals Spill, Report Shows


Top: The pollution-prone Bea Mountain Mining Corporation’s chemical waste plant. The DayLight/Varney Kamara

By Mark Newa and James Harding Giahyue 

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) misled the public last year when it said a second investigation found chemicals that spilled into waterways from a Bea Mountain Mining Corporation facility were below approved levels.
  •  EPA’s Executive Director Wilson Tarpeh further deceived the public, saying that rainwater had washed the leaked cyanide, arsenic and copper away
  • The EPA has not been transparent in handling the Bea Mountain pollution saga in Grand Cape Mount County. It buried the report last month on its website almost a year after the spillage
  • There is no public record Bea Mountain paid a fine for last year’s spill, which undermines the ‘polluter pay’ principle of the environmental law of Liberia
  • EPA’s arguments against misleading the public, hiding pollution reports and not punishing Bea Mountain are inconsistent with the law and not based on facts

MONROVIA – In June last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia announced that Bea Mountain Mining Corporation, a Turkish-owned mining company, polluted water sources in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County.

“The analysis results showed higher than [the] permissible level of free cyanide (with source from the BMMC tailing storage facility),” a statement from the agency said on August 8 last year.

“The presence of excess cyanide led to the contamination of the water sources and that the situation has severely disrupted and injured the livelihood of the communities that depend on those water resources…,” it added. The statement followed weeks of a public frenzy after dead fish and a dog’s body made rounds on Facebook.

But in a miraculous reversal of the report, the EPA cleared the company some two months later. To the ire of residents and the outcry of the public, it said in a statement, “All facilities tested were appreciably below the permissible level set up by the EPA.”

Addressing a news conference in early August that year, The Executive Director of the agency Professor Wilson Tarpeh explained the shocking reversal. Tarpeh said the agency had only set a 30-day period for waterfronts in the area to be safe for use.  

“The limit, even though it was above, but that limit was not by itself sufficient to cause distress to the aquatic species,” Tarpeh told a news conference a day after the statement. “The cyanide level—the level of pollution—has been cured by natural occurrence: rain. Rainwater washed all of that away the fishes are about to come back.” 

But the actual report on the spillage the statement and Tarpeh referenced shows the EPA deceived the public. EPA investigators had found the chemicals that leaked from the Bea Mountain facility were well above the approved limits over a month after the incident, according to the report. Chemicals in several samples collected from different locations exceeded the approved limits set by the World Health Organization and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). (The IFC, the World Bank’s private lending entity,  invested £5.3 million into Bea Mountain’s Cape Mount project.)

The Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency Wilson Tarpeh lied that a second investigation into the spillage of chemicals that leaked into water sources in Grand Cape Mount County from a waste plant operated by Bea Mountain Mining Corporation was not above approved levels. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Water samples from the area of the spillage show cyanide, iron, arsenic, and copper had seeped into the Marvoe Creek and the Mafa River. The chemicals, used to mine gold, can make people sick and are capable of killing them.

Tests also prove that dissolved oxygen (DO), which supports aquatic life, was below the permissible level, according to the report. Mining waste can cause low concentrations of DO and kill fish, which take in the substance directly through their gills into their bloodstreams.

One sample shows mercury—used to recover gold nuggets can cause a horde of health problems and death—above the required level. Investigators attributed it to likely artisanal-mining activities, the report points out.  In total, three out of five laboratory tests show illegal levels of chemicals.  

The report says the water quality had made an “appreciable improvement” by July. However, the EPA focused on that development and left out the report’s actual findings.

Former Minister of Justice Benedict Sannoh, the villagers’ lawyer, made a similar point, despite the EPA’s dishonesty over the July 2022 report. “The EPA report does not suggest and cannot be construed to mean that contamination of the Marvoe did not take place,” Sannoh said in a statement. “Cyanide is not a naturally occurring element of waters and creeks.”

In an interview with The DayLight last Wednesday, EPA Executive Director Tarpeh continued with the same deceptive narrative, focusing on the dilution of the chemicals rather than the pollution.

“In May, that’s the rainy season. There is a chemical spill here each year. it rained plenty, you expect the chemicals to be there? Tarpeh asked rhetorically.

“The water washed the chemicals away. What happened in May, had it happened in the dry season, it would have had more impact.”

Lack of Transparency

The EPA has not been transparent over the spillage, which paralyzed the livelihood of some 350 people in affected communities. It did not inform the public about the full scale of the pollution. The July remains buried on the agency’s website. You have to conduct an advanced search on the website to find the report, though earlier documents are in plain sight.

It was unclear when EPA actually published the reports. For the last two or three years or so, EPA’s website does not show dates of publications. The agency’s webmasters make that determination. That empowers webmasters to manipulate publications’ dates, according to an information technology expert who does not want to be named. The DayLight’s analysis of the website shows that both the May and July reports were published on April 5, 2023, nearly a year after the incident.  

Ngumbu, who investigated the spill, blamed technical issues for the website’s dateless publications. He said the website was being constructed.  

Tarpeh added that the EPA delayed publishing the report because it had to complete its reporting process before publication.

“Our report room is very huge, it is a new phenomenon that we’ve introduced for reporting,” Tarpeh said. Here, we have to be exhaustive. “If I came to your company and I found that something is wrong, I am the regulator and you say no I do not agree, we base on the principle of due process.”

The excuse does not hold. EPA was very open with the May report on the spill. It issued several statements last year—the first just days after news of the spill—and called a press conference. Even appeared before the Legislature on the matter.

The agency’s actions to keep the July report quiet were almost palpable.  Tarpeh had dedicated nearly all of the time to a press conference a day after the misleading statement that cleared the company to wetlands. He spent around two and a half minutes on the spillage, though it was the most trending environmental issue then. An attempt by The DayLight to pose a question on the spill was denied.

Noteworthy, investigators had recommended a press conference particularly on the matter in the presence of company representatives, according to the July 2022 report. A report on another spillage this year, published at the same time as the May and July 2022 reports, suggests the EPA did not share last year’s findings with affected communities.  

The EPA has continued its concealment trend this year after chemicals leaked again from the same facility in February. Meanwhile, 100 people have left the Jikando, the epicenter of the pollution, that report says. The current spill remained unreported until late last month when The DayLight broke the news. EPA had likely published it at the same time as the reports on last year’s spillage, over a month after the incident had occurred.

More on Bea Mountain Spills

The EPA refuted The DayLight’s story on this year’s spill and its disguise of the new development as a “diabolical lie.” It has, however, remained quiet on the new incident.

“We are [a] scientific and [a] regulatory agency. What we do has legal implications. We can sue and can be sued,” said Dobayou, who imposed an illegally huge fine against Bea Mountain in 2018.

We had to search the EPA website to find the dates on which the Bea Mountain spill reports were published, as the website does not reflect the dates on which items were published

Concealing information violates the public participation portion of the Environmental Protection and Management Law. The particular provision mandates the EPA to “ensure maximum participation by the Liberian people in the management and decision-making processes of the environment and natural resources.”

No Punishment for Bea Mountain

There is no evidence the EPA imposed a fine against Bea Mountain for last year’s spillage, one of at least five in the last decade.

The report of this year’s spillage called on EPA to impose a fine against the company for violating the law and the terms of its waste plant permit. It found that Bea Mountain did not implement all the recommendations of the May 2022 report but did not specify. Like this year’s report, the two reports from last year had urged the EPA to fine the company.

A 2020 EPA investigation of Bea Mountain’s controversial waste plant found the company operated an open wastewater facility, rather than the approved closed one. It said the company conducted construction at the plant without authorization. It further said Bea Mountain denied EPA investigators access to its laboratory and company documents. Investigators found the water from a 25-centimeter metal pipe, which emptied into a wetland in the area, contained an excess of the deadly cyanide, copper, and iron. The report also called for fines at the time.   Two years earlier in 2018, the EPA fined Bea Mountain US$99,999 for the same offense. EPA ordered the company to pay to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) “within 72 hours as of the receipt of the notice of fine.”

The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA), 3rd Street, Sinkor. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

Asked why EPA did not fine Bea Mountain, Tarpeh did not confirm or deny.  “We don’t collect the money,” he said, dodging the question. Normally,  if a company pays a fine to the LRA, it must present a receipt to the institution that imposed the fine. Tarpeh ignored that fact.

“Go to the LRA,” he added.  

LRA records show that Bea Mountain has never paid an EPA-imposed fine in its 14 years of operations in Liberia. All but one of the company’s fines have been customs-related, imposed by the LRA itself. The other fine is also a solitary US$100 just the same time as last year’s spill the LRA calls “other legal fines and penalties.”   

Such impunity undermines the “polluter pay” principle of the environmental law the EPA was established to implement. Based on the law, Bea Mountain should have paid up to a 10-year prison term or a fine not more than US$25,000, or both fine and imprisonment.  

Bea Mountain, which denied any wrongdoing regarding the spillage last year, did not reply to queries for this story.  The Turkish-owned company signed a 25-year agreement with the Liberian government on July 29, 2009. It is owned by Turkish billionaire Mehmet Nazif Günal, also the owner of MNG Gold, which also has a 25-year agreement with Liberia.

Bea Mountain’s history of polluting water sources in the Gola Konneh District dates back to 2015, according to media reports. Then the next year, an accident released chemical waste into nearby waterfronts. 

After those spills, villagers filed a complaint with two European banks that finance Bea Mountain’s goldmine. Bea Mountain said the spill in 2016 was the result of “an extremely rare and unusual weather event that led to the overflowing” of its waste facility, according to a report by the banks.

Funding for the story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.

EPA Lies On The DayLight Over Chemicals Spill Story


Top: The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

By Mark B. Newa

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lied by suggesting The DayLight did not contact it for the online newspaper’s story over a spillage of chemicals from a Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC) in a river in Grand Cape Mount County more than two months ago
  • The DayLight had actually contacted the EPA four days before its publication on April 19, accusing the EPA of concealing the pollution, Bea Mountain’s second in two years
  • An analysis of EPA’s website shows EPA published the report on the spillage on April 5, 2023, more than a month after the incident. There was no press statement as done in the past. The general public remained unaware of the pollution until The DayLight’s report
  • But publishing the report only on its website apparently breaks the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, which requires the EPA to publish the spillage in a newspaper and broadcast it on a radio station
  • The DayLight has frowned on the other news outlets from publishing a press release from the EPA on the publication-concealment issue without contacting The DayLight or adding its side of the story provided in a well-circulated email

MONROVIA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lied when it suggested The DayLight failed to contact the agency for a story on chemicals that spilled from a Bea Mountain Mining Corporation plant into a river in Grand Cape Mount County in  February this year.

Over a week ago, The DayLight reported that the EPA had concealed the report on the findings of the spillage. The report found that the waste plant at the New Liberty Goldmine leaked cyanide and copper sulphate into the Marvoe Creek and further into water sources in Jikondo in the Gola Konneh District. The chemicals, used to mine gold, are dangerous to people’s health and can lead to death. The spillage is the second in the last two years and the fifth in the last decade.

After the report, the EPA issued a press release, calling The DayLight story as a “diabolical lie.” It suggested that The DayLight did not check the site or contact its communication team before publishing its story.

“The Agency encourages media houses and individuals seeking information on the workings of the EPA to check its website and or contact its media and corporate communications office for information about the agency,” The EPA said in the release.

Screenshots of an email exchange between The DayLight’s Mark B. Newa and Danise Dennis-Dodoo, the head of the EPA corporate communications office show The DayLight contacted the agency over the publication of the report on Bea Mountain’s chemicals spills.

“The EPA is stunned that an online publication that [prides itself] as a credible outlet will depart from truth-telling as a core standard of journalism to telling lies to satisfy its funders’ criteria,” it added.  

But the release contradicts the facts. The DayLight had contacted Danise Dennis-Dodoo, the head of EPA’s corporate communication office, four days before the story was published. In fact, one of seven questions Mark B. Newa, the reporter who did the story had raised, concerning the publication of the report. “The agency will answer your questions and revert to your soonest,” Dennis-Dodoo said in a reply to the email at the time. Those answers have yet to come more than two weeks after this reporter’s email.

The DayLight has expressed concern over EPA’s failure to acknowledge the environmental newspaper contacted the agency. “The fact that the press release here does not mention that is defamation in itself,” said  Director/Managing Editor James Harding Giahyue.

Report Concealed

The date EPA published the February 19, 2023 report—and other documents on the website—is not reflected. However, The DayLight analysis of the document shows it was published on April 5, 2023.   That was more than a month after the pollution.  

Following last year’s spillage, the EPA issued three different statements. One booked Bea Mountain for that spillage, one reaffirmed its findings, and another dramatically cleared the company of any wrongdoing. All those statements were posted on Facebook, a preferred medium of communication for Liberians at home and abroad.

Unlike last year, the EPA made no public statement on the current spillage, which apparently indicates the agency tried to keep the spillage out of the public glare. The pollution was grave and residents of affected towns and villages had been prevented from drinking from creeks in the area for at least 45 days, according to the report. It was unclear whether they are allowed to use the waterfronts now.

The EPA probably violated the law by not widely circulating the report on the current spillage. The law says the EPA may choose to publish and broadcast the spillage—pollution control, inspection and investigation, to name some—in at least a newspaper and on a radio station. The environmental law mandates the EPA to “ensure maximum participation by the Liberian people in the management and decision-making processes of the environment and natural resources.” It guarantees “environmental information and promotes disclosure for the ultimate benefit of the environment.”

But apart from that, the technical language in the report does not make it ideal for public consumption.  That seemingly explains why there has been a public discourse on the spillage more than two months on.

Amid all of this, there is no public record that the EPA fined Bea Mountain for the spills this or last year. Public access to information is a right under the Environmental Protection and Management Law, while public participation is one of its guiding principles.  The law also ascribes to the global “polluter pays” principle.

The report said Bea Mountain did not implement some of the recommendations from last year’s spillage but did not specify. It had called on the EPA to punish the company for violating the law and the terms of its waste permit. Bea Mountain has not commented on the spillage.

One-sided Reports

News outlets, including The News, that lifted EPA’s press release against The DayLight’s initial article failed to include the environmental paper’s side of the story. Giahyue had replied to the EPA email when it issued the press release that Tuesday. The email thread copied a  horde of journalists and media institutions, including The News.

“Individuals and institutions accused in any story or a press release deserve a right of reply,” Giahyue said. “Publishing the EPA’s press release without trying to get our side is an affront to journalism.”

[CORRECTION: This version of the story corrects the previous to add the spill of 2018, making it five spills in the last decade]

Funding for this story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Bea Mountain Polluted River in Cape Mount Again, Report Finds


Top: Investigators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at Bea Mountain Mining Corporation’s waste plant in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County. Picture credit: Facebook/EPA Liberia

By Mark B. Newa

MONROVIA – Chemicals from a waste facility operated by Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC) leaked into a river in Grand Cape Mount County in February,  a report concealed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), obtained by The DayLight, found.

It marks the second year in a row for the pollution to happen and the fifth time within the last decade, according to official records and The DayLight’s review of news articles.    

The report, conducted the same month of the spillage but has not been published, found cyanide and copper from the plant at the New Liberty Goldmine seeped into water sources in Jikando, Gola Konneh District. It said EPA investigators saw Bea Mountain release copper sulphate from the facility into the environment. Cyanide and copper sulphate are used to mine gold and are dangerous to people’s health, and can lead to death.   

“The death of aquatic species may have resulted from elevated free cyanide and dissolved copper levels due to exposure to higher than permissible limits of free cyanide,” the report said.  It called on Bea Mountain to “regularly repair and upgrade” the plant according to its waste management permit. It also mandated the firm to supply villagers with food and water for 45 days after February 20, and that the period could be extended.  

“No sign of life was observed in the Marvoe Creek,” according to the report. Marvoe Creek is one of the largest tributaries that connect to Mafa River, which meanders along several villages and empties into Lake Piso in Robertsport, the western county’s capital. 

By polluting the environment in the area, Bea Mountain violated the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia. Violators of the law face up to a US$50,000 fine upon conviction in court.

The report added that Bea Mountain collected its own sample, instead of an independent firm as the law requires. It said the lawyer of the community also extracted a sample of dead fish from the scene of the pollution.

The report said Bea Mountain did not implement all of the recommendations from the report on last year’s spillage but failed to mention specific recommendations.  It called on Bea Mountain to resettle villagers living next to the waste facility amid persistent pollution.

A diagrammed drone photo of the New Liberty Mine. Picture credit: Bea Mountain Mining Corporation

“The community vowed to protest if the issue of the pollution is not adequately addressed by the government,” it said.  People are migrating to other places since last year’s incident, leaving the Jikando with 250 people, according to the report. Other residents also want out, it added.

It was unclear whether the EPA notified the company of the penalties associated with the spillage, one of the things the report recommended.  EPA did not immediately respond to The DayLight’s queries on why it kept the report on this year’s spillage secret. Unlike last year’s incident, there was no statement or press conference this term. The public is yet to get any information on the penalties the agencies imposed on the company at any time.

Concealing information violates the public-participation principle of the environmental law of Liberia. The principle mandates the EPA to “ensure maximum participation by the Liberian people in the management and decision-making processes of the environment and natural resources.”

Previous Spills

This year’s spillage happened 10 months after the one last year. That May, an EPA report found spillage of chemicals from the same waste facility. Pictures of a dead dog and fish due to the spillage flooded social media pages.

The EPA said in a statement at the time the company “Severely disrupted and injured the livelihood of the communities that depend on these water sources.”  

Bea Mountain denied any wrongdoing, saying the report was “inconclusive and filled with analytical gaps. We are confident and particularly reaffirm our position of being in no breach of any required scientific standards,” it said in a statement at the time. The EPA then issued another statement, restating its position that a chemical compound had leaked from the company’s waste plant.

But in a dramatic turnaround, the EPA cleared the company of wrongdoing on August 8, just over two months after it found the leak. The agency said it was “pleased to inform you that all facilities tested were appreciably below the permissible level set up by the EPA.”

That was not the first spillage. There were three previous spills in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Villages said they caught rashes after using water from nearby creeks following the accident. Bea Mountain denied people sick.

In 2021, over 10,000 villagers filed a complaint with German and French banks DEG and Proparco, respectively, over 2015 the 2016 pollutions. The banks invested in the goldmine.

Efforts to contact Bea Mountain for this story did not immediately materialize. We will update the story once we get comments from the company or the EPA.

Bea Mountain Mining Corporation signed a 25-year agreement with the Liberian government on July 29, 2009. The Turkish-owned industrial goldmine is Liberia’s first goldmine. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, invested some £5.3 million in the project.  

[CORRECTION: This version of the story corrects a previous, which left out a 2018 spill to make it five in a decade]

Funding for this story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

People Flee As Elephants Destroy Homes and Farms Searching For Food


Top: Elephants have roamed towns and villages in Grand Cape Mount County in the last five years. The DayLight/Harry Browne

By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the human-elephant conflict in Liberia.

GBANJALA, Grand Cape Mount County – Daniel Sando and his family live in a roadside house on the route to Lofa Bridge. The other people who lived here moved to other communities after elephants overran their farms for several years.  

“People have been migrating that is why you see the town poor like this. If I can assume, more than 50 people have left the town,” says Sando, a resident of Gbanjala in the Gola Konneh District. He used to be a farmer but years of loss of his crops turned him into a charcoal maker.

“[The people who have left] have been advising us to leave but we don’t want for government to see that people [are] migrating,” Sando tells The DayLight at his charcoal worksite.

Evidence of the elephants rampaging lay bare in Gbanjala. There are trampled potato gardens, uprooted orange and mango trees with stripped barks, and even the ruins of a  mud-brick hut.

The same thing is playing out in Norman Village, a few miles away. Families have pulled out of the community, including one earlier this year, according to residents.

Varney Gopee, an elder of Manna Clan in the Gola Konneh District, whom people call “town owner,” arrives. Gopee takes my motorcycle-taxi driver and me to his farms—actually, the ruins of his farms.

Drone shot of Gbanjala in Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County, a frontier of the human-elephant conflict in Liberia. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In no time, we get to damaged farms that are divided by an old road leading to Bo Waterside. Gopee guides us on a tour of the one on our right, the one with more “devastation.” Loads of elephant dung decorate foliage of uprooted plantain and banana bushes and pineapple plants.  The towering mammals had raided Gopee’s farms just days earlier.  

“The people who fled the village did so because of the same devastation,” Gopee says. He holds up an elephant dung he picked up minutes earlier beneath a few remaining plantain trees.  He says the family had relocated to a place called Morgan Farm.  

“They said they cannot live here without farming because that is their livelihood,” Gopee adds.

Varney Gropee, an elder of Manna Clan in Grand Cape Mount’s Gola Konneh District, holds up an elephant dung in the remnants of his farm in Norman Village. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Gbanjala and Norman villages might be two of the most recent settings elephant ravaging of villages. However, Grand Cape Mount County has been a frontline for years of what conservationists call the human-elephant conflict. Media reports suggest the earliest incident of the crisis may have occurred in 2005, and the situation intensified in the last five years.

There are no official casualty figures so far. However, several persons and elephants have been killed, a great number of crops eaten or crushed, and homes damaged. Varguay and Gbanjala are on the front. Benduma, Mafala, Managodua, Kpelle village and Bassa village feature high on the list. Conservationists say there are between 350 and 450 elephants in the region.

‘They came too soon’

Varguay, also in Gola Konneh, is likely the hardest-hit community. The herd of elephants has eaten mango trees and munched on the barks of other trees. The farms around the town and backyard gardens feature regularly on their menu. The annual destruction of their crops has compelled farmers to become miners. Some of its residents now work as casual laborers elsewhere. Others have sworn to never return, according to Manna Jallah, the town chief of Varguay. He says a family had seen a herd of the tusked, unwelcomed visitors a few days ago in their garden. 

A villager displays a cassava shrub elephant uprooted in November 2019 in Varguay, Grand Cape Mount County, probably the hardest-hit community in Liberia’s human-elephant conflict. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


More on Elephants:


“Some people are going to the other town called Gohn,” Jallah says. “They [left] the whole Varguay and they’re living there. About 20 people have moved.”

It turns out, Mafala and Benduma are rivaling Varguay for the unfortunate profile of the battlefields this year. Though elephants have visited these communities before, residents have seen them regularly this year.

“When they came they passed through the river and entered the farm,” says Aaron Quaye, a 40-year-old farmer in Benduma in the Porkpa District.  The   Mafa River separates his plantain farm from Mafala. The elephants have visited Quaye’s farms three times a year, crushing pepper and garden eggs in pursuit of plantain and banana trees. The herd leveled the crops to the ground on its third visit there.

“I am worrying this year,” he adds.

Mary Johnson, 59, Quaye’s neighbor, suffered the same fate. A herd of elephants ravaged her farm in Mafala three days ago, and a friend spotted them again this morning. “And they get a certain system in them when they eat your food…, they will dig some and park it for you just like a human being,” Johnson says.

But Johnson’s farm is not the worst hit in Mafala. It is Oretha Garhanah’s. When Garhanah saw a pile of cassava two days ago, she feared someone had stolen her crops. She cried out loud, calling the attention of adjacent farmers. It was after another farmer spotted an elephant dung that she realized it was the giant-sized mammals. They had paved a road through the farm, trampling her crops.

“This year [they came soon],” Garhanah tells me at her farm next to Johnson’s. “In previous years, it came during harvesting time or rainy season time.”

Garhanah is just one of many farmers in that area whose farms the herd damaged. Elephant dungs decorate the remnants of the farms. There are more crushed crops than standing ones on the farm belonging to a woman named Adama Kromah. The same goes for Junior Brownell, Momo Smallwood and Arthur Sackie. The elephants left behind their footprints in a swamp nearby Sackie’s farm.

Aaron Quaye, a farmer in Benduma, Grand Cape Mount, stands on his farm a week before a herd of elephants cleared it in search of food. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Farms’ ruins and locals’ accounts match the behavior of elephants, which eat up to 375 pounds of food daily. An adult elephant can drink up to 55 gallons of water in less than five minutes, according to Sea World Parks, a U.S.-based park company established in 1959. Elephants are also fond of mud, which they use for protection against the raging sunlight and parasites such as bugs and ticks.

Dung, Despair and  Death

Years of elephant disturbances have led to anger among villagers. In a meeting in early 2022, a preacher put elephant dung on the table for government officials to smell. Rev. Francis Pratt was angry that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) had allegedly failed to protect them from the elephants.

Oretha Garhanah points to elephant dung on her farm in Mafala in Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The feces were right on the ground I took it and I said, ‘See—this the odor—how stink it is?’” Pratt recalls. “‘You can see we’re bearing this and then every day you say you’re coming.’”

There is currently no official policy to address compensation for villagers who have lost properties in the conflict. Abednego Gbarway, the head of the FDA’s wildlife department, did not respond to emailed questions. Saah David, the national coordinator of REDD+, says the FDA is working with actors in the sector to mitigate the human-elephant conflict in the country. REDD+ means reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation among other things.

The Pratts’ misfortunes typify the casualties of Varguay in this crisis. After leaving farming in 2018, Rev. Pratt started backyard gardens but the elephant pursued them. His mother, Yassa Zaza now lives in Monrovia, conceding to years of loss of her crops. His daughter, Famatta Pratt, and her husband, James Mulbah, also experience regular raids on their gardens. Like her father, Famatta Pratt has been outraged.

“I will kill the elephant so that they can put me in jail, and feed my children,” an angry Famatta Pratt told me in 2020. “That is the only way they will come to our rescue.”

That feeling resonates with many farmers here, among them George Fayiah, a 28-year-old farmer in Mafala. He lost a large farm with rice, pumpkin, corn and cassava overnight. “If no way for [the FDA] to help us, then we will find means to get rid of [the elephants],” Fayiah says.

Such threats could be more than rants, as people have been killing elephants in Liberia for decades. In 2018, an elephant killed a man named Simeon Henry near Varguay. The clinic next to the Pratts’ residence announced him dead upon arrival. The following year, an elephant reportedly wounded by a poacher killed an elderly man in Gbarma, Gbarpolu County. In October 2021, two men allegedly killed a pair of tuskers in Lofa, according to the Liberia News Agency (LINA). LINA also reported two years earlier that police arrested a hunter for “killing” four around the Sapo National Park in Sinoe. Liberia has banned the killing of elephants in a move to protect the animals. Offenders face up to US$10,000 or a maximum four-year prison term.

Hunting elephants alongside logging, mining and agricultural activities that encroach on elephants’ territory are root causes of the conflict, according to conservationists. They have contributed to the reduction of the elephant population in Liberia, other parts of Africa, and Asia. As the result, African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are now critically endangered.

“There are too many human activities in the forest,” says Dr. Tina Vogt of the Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO). The German NGO based in Liberia works in the region,  which hosts a bevy of mining licenses and logging contracts and a horde of artisanal loggers. It has trained 296 farmers

“We need to give the animals a rest and the space,” Vogt adds.

Goat, Horn and Honeybees

Locals say they have tried several methods to drive the elephants away but have not succeeded. Farmers have burned old tires and peppers, clanged pots, beaten drums, blown horns and bleated like goats.

People here believe bleating like a goat can scare away the elephants. Local legend has it that a goat defeated an elephant in an eating tournament way back, with the latter fearing the former ever since. The elephant, the story goes, finished up a huge pile of food in no time. The goat, on the other hand, kept chewing effortlessly up to the next morning and was declared the winner. However, as interesting as the story is, it appears, the elephants of Grand Cape Mount place their survival above any folklore. 

Elephant raids are taking a toll on livelihood in towns and villages, farmers say. The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of Liberians depend on agriculture. Amid climate change, the elephants’ raids make it much harder for rural communities to survive.  

“Elephants have spoiled all these things,” says Mammy Liberty of Bassa Village, who lost an eight-acre rice farm earlier this year. “I have three children; they dropped from school because I have no support.”   

An old artisanal mine along the Mafa River in Porkpa District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Vogt says farmers may need to understand the problem better. In 2021, ELRECO started a program in northern and western Liberia and has now trained nearly 300 farmers in human-elephant-conflict mitigation methods. She says the methods have proven to work, and if they do not work, it is mostly because the methods are not applied correctly and persistently. She added farmers need to apply the elephant-repelling methods better, adapt to living with the animals as they do with other animals, and change their way of farming.

“They need to apply these methods seriously,” Vogt, whose NGO works with farmers in Gbanjala, tells me in a WhatsApp interview. “The animals are precious, it’s a problem both for humans and the animals.”

A piece of good news for the farmers, ELRECO has found the sound of honeybees repels elephants. A YouTube video shows an eating elephant leaving a location in Gbanjala after hearing a buzz from a device. Elephants may be giants but they are afraid of insects, Vogt says.

“We hope to come out with some very affordable sets of this audio device then we can release out on bigger scale to the farmers that they can deploy them on their farms,” she says. “It’s a very small tool and it’s easy to use also.”

Funding for this story was provided by Wild Philanthropy with the support of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Test Shows Device with Honeybees Sound Drives Away Elephants


Top: Men install BuzzBoxes at a farm. Picture credit: Elephant Research and Conservation

By Mark B. Newa

MONROVIA – For years, villagers mainly in northwestern and southeastern Liberia have lost their crops to invading elephant herds. This makes it difficult for farmers to feed their families and meet other needs.  

Now, conservationists working in Liberia have found that a device armed with the sound of honeybees can repel elephants. The scientists from the Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO) tested the audio device in Gbanjala, a town in Gola-Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County.

Video footage posted on YouTube shows an elephant stopping to eat when it hears the buzz of insects placed in the mounted device. In a few seconds, the animal folded its trunk, hurriedly took a few steps backward and raced away.   

“It is the first time we test this device now in West Africa, seeing that it really works to have this evidence that it really works,” Dr. Tina Vogt, ELRECO’s technical director, told The DayLight in an interview.

“At the moment we [are] extending the testing phase so we work together with some Liberian entrepreneurs to improve a bit on the censor, the mechanism, the release mechanism,” Vogt added.

ELRECO, a German nonprofit based in Liberia, is currently testing the device in Liberia. It is collaborating with Save the Elephants (STE) to deploy the BuzzBox. It costs around $100, the New York Times reported.  STE is a UK-registered charity based in Nairobi, Kenya.  

Liberian Loggers Leave Logs in Cape Mount


Top: Rotten logs in the Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Varney Kamara

ZIMMIDANDAI – A Liberian-owned company has left an unspecified number of logs in a logging concession area in Grand Cape Mount County, community leaders have said.

In 2009, Bulgar & Vincent Timber Company cut trees in a logging concession in the Porkpa District—known in the logging industry as  Timber Sale Contract Area 10 (TSC A-10). However, in 2015, it pulled out of the area, leaving the woods to rot, according to Dao Sheriff, a member of the community’s leadership of the forest in an interview in a town called Zimmidandai.  

“Most of the logs B&V harvested here were left in the bush,” said  Sheriff.  “After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the company returned and cut several logs in 2015, and left this place in the same 2015.”

Sheriff did not say the exact quantity of woods B&V harvested. The company also had some logs in its log yard in the Po River area, according to a July 2017 handwritten letter to the FDA, seen by The DayLight. We could not independently verify the information, as the road to the forest was inaccessible due to years of abandonment and perennial rainfall.

B&V blames the government for the abandonment of the logs.

“We left logs there because the government failed to fix the road. We did not take them out because of this condition,” said Emmanuel Vincent, the CEO of the company, in a phone interview.” “It is the government that failed to do what it is supposed to do.”

That claim is incorrect. It was actually the company’s responsibility to “recondition and maintain roads adjacent [to] the contract area,” according to the agreement.

In June, the FDA announced the auctioning of abandoned logs across the country, including those in TSC A10. “The exercise will continue in the northern region and then go down south and western part,” said  Mike Doryan, FDA’s Managing Director.   

While that exercise has yet to be carried out, it does not apply here legally. Having been harvested in 2015, the FDA cannot obtain a court order to auction the woods under the current Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. The regulation in place when the harvesting was done narrowed the definition of abandonment as only trees cut outside concession and lack tracking number. The current regulation was formulated in 2017 after the previous one proved ineffective in curbing the waste of forest resources.

Legal issues aside, there is no evidence that the FDA has done anything about deserted logs nationwide. The DayLight has investigated several incidents of abandoned logs in this region, the Gola Konneh District next door, and elsewhere in Grand Bassa, Lofa and Nimba. Doryen’s claim to auction the woods in June was unlawful as it takes months of legal formalities to do so.

‘They…damaged our forest’

The agreement between B&V mandates the company to pay US$1 per cubic meter of logs it harvested and US$1.25 for land rental fees. It was required to build schools, clinics, handpumps, and latrines for villagers but it did not deliver them. Its only project, a USD$4,018  guesthouse in Zimmidandai, has not been completed, according to a report released on Wednesday by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB), which secures communities’ benefits and oversees their expenditure.

Vincent admits being indebted to the community but blames the Ebola epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic. “We lost heavily in that area,” Vincent said. “We left most of our heavy machines in there. Besides, the government restrained our operation because of the outbreaks. How could we have sold logs to pay benefits? We were practically closed down.” The FDA did not return queries for comment on Vincent’s claim but health authorities imposed some restrictions to contain both outbreaks.

It was unclear how much the company owes because the government has not remitted all the money logging companies have paid them for communities. TSC A10 received US$460 last year as part of the overdue payment and could receive twice that sum from the US$401,000 the government paid to communities recently.  

Zimmidandai in Porkpa District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding

By the way, that has not changed the gloom aura logging arouses in Zimmidandai.  After years of failure, the government of Liberia finally canceled all 11 TSCs across the country, leaving thousands of United States dollars owed them unpaid and projects unconducted.

The FDA promised to work with the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC) to address fees owed TSCs. Doryen reechoed that in our interview in June.  However, the two entities have not done any work since the meeting, according to Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the group.    

“They came and damaged our forest and left us with no development,” Sheriff said. “Now, the government has canceled TSCs, and they are gone. All I can say to you is that we are inside it.”