…Land Technology Solution Project
Although a USAID Land Technology Solutions (LTS) pilot project in Blei Community Forest in Nimba County intended to test and provide a framework for a more holistic approach to managing community forest and wider landscape resources ended recently, chiefs and elders of communities near the Blei Mountain are calling on USAID to allow Green Advocates International (GAI) continue with the project until their Community Forest Management Plan is completed in collaboration with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
The LTS project was implemented by Resonance in partnership GAI with funding from USAID.
Resonance has just completed USAID’s Land Technology Solutions (LTS) project, where we our most recent success has come from Liberia, Chief of Party Jeffrey Euwema said.
Resonance worked with Green Advocates International 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.
Resonance worked with Green Advocates and USAID Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) to promote a new and integrated landscape approach to community forestry.
Euwema said community-level trainings 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 captures 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 that explained that 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 disclosed that the conservation of the forest is intended to halt unsustainable and illegal harvesting of protected animals and plants species by residents and concessionaires.
Mr. Konkah explained that 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 whom 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 mid-August 2019, 50 year old grandmother, Martha Sonkarley also said that prior the decision to reserve the forest, hunters and farmers on numerous 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 said, “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.”
She lauded USAID for providing funding for the execution of the Land Technology Solutions 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.
Madam Sonkarley pleaded with USAID to allow GAI implement other phrases of the Land Technology Solutions 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 her, during the duration of the USAID Land Technology Solutions Project, GAI taught residents about the sustainably management of their forest and how they can carryout farming and other activities on 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.
For his part, 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.
This information was not independently verified by this paper, but Chief Tuo pleaded with USAID to allow GAI continue with the project.
Another reason which elders and chiefs of the seven primary communities want GAI to continue with the project is a letter they (citizens) wrote to the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) asking it to provide deeds for their customary lands, which was mapped by Green Advocates International through the use of mobile technology.
Clan Chief Mark Geh of Yolowee Town disclosed that following the mapping there were issues with overlapping, claim and counter-claim over boundaries, which requires LLA intervention.
Chief Mark said they didn’t hear from LLA until the project expired and indicated that bringing in a new NGO to take over the project would thwart the initiative which was started by GAI.
When GAI office was contacted for comment, Aaron Abban, a staff who worked on the project said USAID provided funding to Land Technology Solutions, which sub- contracted GAI to implement the pilot project.
He emphasized: “LTS-MAST was a pilot project. The time has elapsed, but I think we still have a work there to do.”
Aaron said that, “GAI has continue to work in the communities since 2013 beginning with Gbapa and done training in Gbobayee on Grievance Mechanism for the communities as such, we are still working with the communities on several issues and we are not leaving those communities”.
For his part, John Brownell of GAI corroborated Chief Tuo’s assertion and said “it hurts that you start something and they asked someone else to complete it. They need to allow us complete what we have stated.”
John said that “GAI would work with the Blei communities in getting their deeds from the LLA because they have already made the request in keeping with the law it is the responsibility of the Land Authority to provide the deeds to land after completing all the requirements of the LLA.”
Mr. Brownell informed reporters that the remaining activities of the LTS-MAST pilot project such as convening of a meeting of all the 40 communities around Blei to inform them of the CFMP and to complete the draft CFMP in collaboration with the FDA and the Blei primary communities and the Joint Community Forest Management Body have been turned over to USAID-FIFES (Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability) that is already working in some of the communities in Blei to complete.
He told our reporter that “The communities should not to hesitate to contact GAI whenever their rights are abuse by any group or individual because we group advocate and represent the legal interest of poor people across Liberia.”
USAID-FIFES Chief of Party Glenn Lines and his deputy, Borwen Sayon turned down every opportunity extended them to speak on the matter.
Lines and Sayon in an email exchange referred reporters to the organization’s public relations officer, who was reluctant in providing answers to a series of questions sent via email and texts.