LIBERIA: Stakeholders validate Good Neighbor Policy for Sapo Park ….endorse Liberia’s Conservation Strategy

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A Good Neighbor Policy that seeks to increase further stakeholders’ participation in the effective management and protection of the Sapo Landscape, which remains one of Liberia’s biodiversity hubs, was validated in Zwedru City, Grand Gedeh County, on September 18, 2023.

Representatives from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and partners working in the landscape, Fauna & Flora International (Fauna & Flora), Partner In Development ( PADEV), traditional chiefs, members of the elders council, local authorities from Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, among others, were in attendance to give final approval to the framework document at the regional level, which is the penultimate step before it becomes an official working tool going forward.

The validation workshop was a sequel to the earlier stakeholders’ co-design meeting held in March this year, which led to the development of the draft policy.The policy sets out the commitment to biodiversity conservation by the government, communities, International, local and non-governmental organisations, and private sector actors in the landscape. It also aims to improve the long-term security of biodiversity by reducing the pressure of illegal mining, hunting and other activities that contravene the Act that created Sapo National Park (SNP).

Additionally, the policy intends to facilitate the natural regeneration of the Park’s ecosystem and reverse damage from illegal activities. It’s also meant to increase the resilience of the Park and its capacity to respond to strain and stress associated with global climate change.

The policy is embodied by six key strategies: promoting socio-economic development and equitable benefit-sharing, implementing a holistic capacity-building program, enhancing engagement and communication among stakeholders, strengthening the rule of law, and demarcating large-scale land holdings.Meanwhile, the workshop participants, through the Chair of the southeastern traditional council, Chief Emmanuel Wisseh, have reaffirmed tighter collaboration to provide maximum care and protection for the Sapo Landscape as enshrined in the policy document.

While pledging to live up to the dictates of the policy, they called on the FDA and partners to remain engaged in providing sustainable livelihoods to induce the communities to also remain engaged in providing the desired care and protection for the Park accordingly.FDA Deputy Managing Director for Operations Joseph J. Tally commended the participants for their wisdom and collaboration, which eventually gave birth to the policy document while hoping that it will be effectively applied to see its practical reality in the interest of current and future generations.

Mr Tally described the policy as a vital tool which he believed would go a long way in giving the Sapo landscape, among other protected areas, the protection it deserves. He told the people that the wheel of the future was in our hands, and as such, we must exert ourselves patriotically to provide a better platform for future generations. He called for a changed mindset that will see us as a nation and people moving away from our current dormant position.

Mr. Jerry Yonmah, the Technical Manager for Conservation at the FDA, also admonished the participants to continue demonstrating the spirit of love for the country so that together, we can adequately manage, preserve and conserve those golden treasures God has blessed us with.For her part, Fauna & Flora’s Southeastern Landscape Manager, Dr Malavika Narayana, reemphasised the importance of the meeting and registered Fauna & Flora’s interest in bringing together the fringe communities as a cohesive force to protect the Park in a much more effective manner. She underscored the need for capacity building and sustainable livelihood projects in the communities and restated Fauna & Flora’s willingness to live by the terms of the policy.

On behalf of the Fauna & Flora family, she thanked the FDA, the government and the attendees of the meeting for their usual cooperation, patience and participation, which was critical for a successful interaction. In the same vein, on the 19th of September, the workshop participants approved Liberia’s draft National Conservation Strategy, which provides a clear five-year plan that outlines goals and objectives as well as direction for the government and stakeholders in area-based conservation in Liberia.

The strategy identified and prioritises actions needed to conserve large tracts of high conservation value landscapes in Liberia, including those outside protected areas. The strategy takes into account evolving best practices in conservation, which puts those living close to biodiversity-rich areas (e.g., forests) as the main actors in driving interventions to improve management practices. The strategy acknowledges Liberia’s international conservation commitment, including calls to set aside 30% of forest areas. At the end of the workshop, the participants lamented about the massive influx of the Burkinabes into most parts of the southeast who are heavily engaged in cutting down the forest to make cocoa farms.

They called on the government to effectively apply the law and avert the massive depletion of the forest, saying that lack of enforcement of the law renders the forest vulnerable to illegal activities. They also decried unregulated hunting and dredge mining, which has and continues to threaten the health of the forest.

They want the government to discourage bush meat trade and recommended distributing the wildlife law amongst judicial officials and the communities to promote understanding of the law.Shadrach Kerwillain of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the University of Munich and the United States Forest Service Country Director Dr. Benedictus Freeman were facilitators at the workshop.

This work was supported by USAID through its Conservation Works (CW) activity, a 5-year program that supports conservation efforts in Liberia. The program is being implemented by EcoHealth Alliance in partnership with Fauna & Flora International, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP), Partners in Development (PADEV), and Solimar International.

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