In 2018 the communities of the Ziadue/Teekpeh Authorized Community Forest were hopeful that better days were ahead when their Community Forest Management Body signed a five-year Social Agreement with the Liberian logging company EJ&J and it’s Malaysian subcontractor Brilliant Maju. EJ&J is owned by Liberian businesswomen Eliza D.J. Kroyahn.
In the agreement EJ&J committed to constructing an elementary school, 16 hand pumps and to protecting all water collection points in the area. It also agreed to pay US$10,500 as scholarship funds annually for children in the affected communities.
But four years on, despite repeated local efforts to force the company to act including with the help of the Forestry Development Authority, EJ&J has done none of what it promised. All the while the company has continued to take valuable trees from the forest for export.
At the end of a 20-minute motorcycle ride from a town called Korlay, lie dozens of logs on a rocky, bushy road into the forest.
“That’s just small you see here. There are more in the bush,” one man tells my colleague Gabriel Dixon, our two motorcycle-taxi riders, and me, as he cleared grass from a pile of logs. We cannot name him and other villagers we interviewed over fear of retribution.
We are in the Sehzueplay Community Forest in the Tappita District of Nimba County, where Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) operates. The company signed an agreement with villages here in 2020 to share logging resources for 12 years. In June, an investigation by The DayLight found that the Minister of Posts and Telecommunication Cooper Kruah is one of the owners of the company, rendering the agreement illegal.
What appears to be an illegal large-scale chainsaw timber extraction is threatening the proposed Foya Protected Area in Western Lofa, environmentalists have alarmed. Also threatened by the company’s activities is the Yandohun mini-hydro power plant, which has been providing 24-hour electricity to Yandohun town and other adjacent communities. The timber harvest is reportedly being conducted by the Desire Construction Company, a local construction contractor with headquarters in Johnsonville, Montserrado County.
In 2019, Gola Konneh Community Forest signed a logging agreement with Akewa Group of Companies. The parties agreed that the company would log in the community forest for 15 years and pay the community fees for the use of the land and timbers. The company promised to build schools, clinics and roads. But nearly three years after, the deal has not worked as the community had expected. None of the projects have been conducted despite it felling over 4,615 cubic meters of logs in the 49,179-hectare forest, according to a leak we obtained. Akewa owes the villagers US$86,081 in land rental and log-harvesting fees.
Moses R. Quollin, the National Coordinator of the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) is calling stakeholders in the forest sector to find a way to alleviate some of the menaces that are hampering the growth and development of the sector. Giving LFMW’s progress report at the 2nd Meeting with editors and senior reporters the National Coordinator of the group outlined the many challenges faced by the forest sector.
A new report shows a case of illegal harvest of timber in Liberia has gone unpunished for more than two years. A 2019 audit had found that 14,000 m3 (494,000 ft3) of timber ostensibly from the TSC-A2 concession in Grand Bassa county was effectively untraceable, yet permits for the sale and export of much of the timber were still approved.