Industrial or commercial logging poses the gravest threat to the Liberian rainforest; the largest remaining forest blocks in the Upper Guinea Forest region. Although other factors contribute to the problem of deforestation in Liberia, logging companies remain the single most destructive force and are responsible for the larger percentage of deforestation.
In the last decade, logging companies led intensified their operations so much so that they now represent the strongest threat to the Liberian forest. Logging operations have reached unprecedented levels while forest crimes are being committed on a scale probably never seen in Liberia’s history.
Some forest areas set aside by previous governments for conservation or scientific studies have been granted as logging concessions. For example, 284,000 acres of forest in Sinoe County set aside by the Liberian government in the 1980’s for scientific research and forestry studies for the University of Liberia was taken over logging concessions.
The Oriental Timber Company (OTC) in Liberia is symbolic of what is wrong with the Liberian logging industry. From Grand Bassa through Rivercess to Sinoe County, the company spearheads the destruction of the forest. The company has cleared approximately a thousand acres of forest to establish several dozen logging camps and log ponds since its arrival. Several dozen logging roads, of absolutely no value to local people when the company moves out, have already severely fragmented the forest.
Liberian officials focus more on revenue than environmental issues, and after all, the revenues end up disappearing through public theft and corruption
One easily gets lost on the road to Greenville city from Buchanan, as roads virtually litter the forest. Roads averaging fifteen to twenty meters in width crisscross each other approximately every 10 – 15 km. This fragmentation of the forest has significantly contributed to the massive displacement of wildlife while rendering them vulnerable to hunting. Contrary to what the logging companies explain is development, roads constructed by them are primarily to facilitate harvesting and delivery of logs.
Abandoned logs bear evidence of the wanton harvesting of logs by logging companies. In three of several dozen areas international research reported visited, abandoned logs stood as a bitter reminder for locals. In Sand Beach, approximately 140 km south east of Buchanan, the OTC abandoned over 2,500 pieces of round logs. In Zammie town Rivercess County (near OTC Camp 02), OTC also abandoned more than 1000 pieces of logs at one of four sites reported by locals. This number excludes the number of logs buried before the departure of the OTC. The investigating team also encountered about 4000 pieces of logs buried in about a mile of swamp in Sinoe County after OTC Camp F.
In Buchanan, FORUM Africa (Liberia), another logging company abandoned more than 750 pieces of logs just a few meters from the port. Locals in Grand Gedeh and Maryland Counties reported the same practices to the investigating team. This is a blatant violation of the New National Forestry Law.
THE IMPACTS OF LOGGING OPERATIONS ON RURAL PEOPLE
The livelihood of rural people, the overwhelming percentage of Liberians, is inextricably linked to the forest. They depend on the land and the forest for food, clean water, medicine and other forest products for survival. Their relationship with the forest is the cornerstone for their cultural and spiritual practices. For instance, in the Poro and Sande societies, traditional bush schools can only be conducted in very isolated highly-forested areas, where hunting and survival skills are taught.
Traditional legal institutions, especially those involving elders and Zoes (elders who make up the supreme decision making body in rural communities) usually sit in the deep forest to hear cases of grave significance to the people. Because the forest is so central to their lives, the destruction of the forest will ultimately have severe consequences for future generations; a situation not lost on rural people themselves.
The most noticeable social impact on local communities where logging companies have set up bush-camps is the introduction of prostitution, drugs and gangsterism. Brothels, referred to as Zoe Bush (out of bounds for non-members) have sprung up nearby most of the OTC bush-camps. As more and more hardcore prostitutes arrived in the Zoe Bush and began mixing with local girls in nearby villages, they gradually began encouraging girls from the nearby villages to move to the Zoe Bushes.
Some of the local girls have abandoned school, leaving the security and warmth of their homes and families to live with these older girls from the cities, who eventually trade them off to OTC expatriates, including Malaysians and other nationals, as well as Liberian workers. The Malaysians especially prefer teenage girls between the ages of 12 to 15 years old who they actively exploit as prostitutes. Alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse also flourish in the Zoe Bush, making it an unhealthy influence on youths in the communities.
Most of these teenage girls only return to their homes when they realize that they are pregnant. Two health workers operating clinics in Nizwein and Zammie towns expressed serious concerns about the increase in the cases of sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea and syphilis. The fact that sexually transmitted diseases are being reported is a cause for alarm as the introduction of HIV/AIDS would obviously spread rapidly in these areas.
As the once remote forest regions used by local people to host their traditional bush schools (Sande and Poro) disappear, the schools themselves have begun to die away. In some areas, especially in Grand Bassa County, those wishing to hang onto the practice have been forced to move to areas not conducive for its purpose and intent. Additionally, as teenage girls leave home for the Zoe Bush, they are usually unable to attend their Bush School when they convene. This is taking a serious toll on the authority of traditional institutions and the social fibers of the rural communities.
This is an excerpt from the SANFU Foundation’s findings on Liberia
“Plunder The Silent Destruction of Liberia’s Rainforest”