Communities in Lofa County have a symbiotic relationship with the forest and forest resources. From bush meat for a source of protein, to medicinal remedies for ailments families depend on the forests for their livelihoods. In conducting an environmental awareness assessment in partnership with two SADS staff in Lofa County, we discovered that most people have a vague understanding of the importance of conservation of the forest, but many are unaware of the challenges posed by deforestation, overhunting and timber harvesting.
As families reestablish their fields and rebuild their homes, there is, as of yet, little ability to raise livestock. Therefore, most families rely on hunting of various animals in the forest as a source of protein. While almost all people interviewed recognized the animals as a valuable food source, few acknowledged the decrease in presence of many species.
The forests hold a valuable traditional use as a source of medicines to cure a wide variety of ailments. In the same vain, the male and female secret societies that permeate the rural culture depend on the forest for their meeting place. These meeting places are hidden amongst towering trees and winding vines.
Nearly all of those interviewed, whether children or elders, iterated the importance the forest provides as a source of timber, both for building homes and for selling to market. Related to logging, some families have begun to harvest non-timber forest products, but for the most part, this harvesting has been conducted in unsustainable means, involving cutting down of the entire tree instead of selectively harvesting to allow the tree to produce more fruit over the coming months.
Another key component of our assessment was to determine the awareness of the communities to the proposed protected area as delineated by the Forest Development Authority of the Liberian government. Some were aware of the proposed boundaries while a few knew that they were not to harvest or hunt within these boundaries. Many women and young people were completely unaware of the proposed boundaries all together.
It was apparent from our assessment that basic environmental and conservation concepts are needed in Lofa County, especially near the proposed protected area.
In our meetings, I did find one individual, Mulbah G. Mulbah, who was well aware of the challenges faced by global warming, declining animal species and the need for education related to conservation and the environment.
SADS hopes that with a concentration on education and skills training, more people in Lofa County will become aware of the need to conserve forest resources. Simultaneously, SADS aims to provide people with new skills so that they can begin to make a living without having to rely exclusively on forest resources.
Posted By Adam Welti
Posted Jul 7th, 2009