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Tag: West Africa Forest Development Incorporated

Locals Want New Company For Forest

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Top: The Tarsue Community Forest covers 9,714 hectares of forest in Tarsue Chiefdom of Sanquin District, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By Emmanuel Sherman 

SANQUIN – The Tarsue Authorized Community Forest in Sinoe County wants a contract with a new logging company.

Tarsue signed an agreement with the West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) in 2019. Locals leased the forest to the Chinese-owned company in exchange for roads, bridges, a school and a clinic. That was in addition to annual land rental and harvesting fees for the 9,714 hectares of forest in the Sanquin District of Sinoe County.

However, the WAFDI abandoned the agreement from the onset, with the community embroiled in an internal wrangle until the contract expired earlier this year.

“We made several efforts for the company to come to find a way forward but nothing was achieved…,” Tarsue said in an April letter to the Forestry Development Authority, seen by The DayLight.

“Now that the period for the contract has ended, we are calling on the FDA to support us in this situation kindly…,” the letter added.

In a reply to Tarsue’s letter, the FDA’s Managing Director Rudolph Merab said the agency would address Tarsue’s in-house dispute before settling the WAFDI issue.  Like the WAFDI agreement, all tenures of the members of the leadership of Tarsue have elapsed.

“This communication is timely and corresponds with [management’s] plan… to send a team to conduct [an] election and to address the expired tenure situation…,” Merab’s letter, seen by DayLight, read.

‘You are… removed’

Tarsue’s problem began as soon as it selected WAFDI to operate its forest in 2019.

The Tarsue-WAFDI agreement was among several logging agreements whose terms were sliced from 15 to five years, breaching the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands.

The community accused the late Dennis Wiah, then leader of the forest,  and Alfred Dolo, another leader, of unilaterally selecting WAFDI. Villagers had earlier agreed to lease the forestland to another company, according to Oliver Pyne, a member of the community’s leadership.

“Instead, they brought WAFDI, they only brought the name, but never brought any representative,” recalled Pyne in an interview in Komannah Town.

“So, when they brought the agreement, it became an argument on the ground.”

Oliver Pyne, a member of the community forest management body of Tarsue Community Forest. The DayLight/James Giahyue

In 2021, Towns and villages that own forests asked Wiah to leave the position. “You are hereby removed and dismissed from your position as chief officer of the Tarsue Community Forest by the decision of the community assembly (CA) in our sitting on September 30, 2021,” the letter said. The community informed the FDA of its decision in October the next year.  Wiah died later.

Following his death, an ad-hoc committee, comprising Pyne’s brother Ericson Pyne and others, assumed the leadership role.

That did not solve the problem. WAFDI remained inactive, failing to pay the community land rental and scholarship fees.  WAFDI also did not conduct any of its mandatory projects in Tarsue, including hand pumps, town halls, roads and bridges. It did not cut down a single tree throughout this time.

With the contract expired and community forest leaders’ tenures elapsed, locals are mounting pressure on the FDA. Under the law, the regulator should supervise the elections of officers on the governance structure of the community forest.

It has been more than two months since Merab said the FDA would visit the community but nothing has happened.

Nora Boweir, FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Community, Conservation and Carbon Harvesting, had not gathered the resources to visit Tarsue.

“Our plan is to go there and deal with the challenges they are facing, and give them the support as soon we are able to raise the required resources, funds,” Boweir said.

Paramount Chief John Koah hopes a new company will bring development to the Tarsue Chiefdom. The DayLight/James Giahyue

John Koah, Paramount Chief of Tarsue Chiefdom has not lost hope. He dreams that one day a new company will come to take over the community forest.

“We are expecting school building, hand pumps, hospital and the old people here to be getting [a] small thing,” Koah said in an interview in Teacher’s Town.

Augustine Johnson, an affiliate of WAFDI, said he was not authorized to speak on the Tarsue matter. He told The Daylight through a mobile phone interview was only responsible for WAFDI’s contract with Gheegbarn One Community Forest in Grand Bassa County.

Efforts to reach out to Wang Chenchen, the owner of WAFDI, proved futile. Someone else answered the phone number on the company’s article of incorporation. Johnson, who said Mr. Wang had traveled to China, declined to share his contact.

This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).