Alusine Bah (Young P): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 May 2021:
Once upon a time Koinadugu and Falaba were among districts known as the breadbasket of Sierra Leone. Because of their propensity to attract people from different parts of the country, they were also known as “the land of powerful mixtures” and “the land of milk and honey” respectively.
Suffice it to say that those qualities that gave the two districts such names, have over the years slowly been erased as human activities evolved in the region. The two districts have started losing their value in agricultural production, cultural heritage, and change of the beautiful weather conditions.
Koinadugu and Falaba have been two of the biggest contributors to the total volume of honey produced in the country each year. Musaia town, a chiefdom town closer to Kabala is renowned for honey production. People have been coming from all over the country as well as USA, and other parts of the world to get this honey for all sorts of purposes.
But honey production here has significantly declined thereby resulting in scarcity of honey and low income for those who had relied on honey as a source of their bread and butter.
Speaking to people from these twin districts, it goes without saying that there is a direct correlation between logging of the gbeni tree, reduced honey production and low income because the gbeni tree is the breeding ground of the bees.
Other visible effects of timber logging in the twin districts of Kabala and Falaba are visibly evident in the slow production of crops, the slow killing of our beautiful vegetation, challenges in the contemporary farming system, bad weather conditions, road accidents, and drug abuse that have stolen many lives in Koinadugu and Falaba today.
Kabala was once known as the Europe of Sierra Leone, especially around the months of December and January of the year, when temperatures would fall to zero centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
This cool beautiful weather was due to the untouched trees and vegetation, landscape, and mountains. The rampant logging of trees has seen the exposure of vegetation to an extent that the beautiful cold weather that was once enjoyed in the region is slowly disappearing, year after year.
Koinadugans and Falabaians are proud of the beautiful nature they were gifted with. Examples include, Lake Sonfon, Mount Bintumani and the Wara Wara hills. All these places used to be very attractive tourist destination in Sierra Leone. They attracted tourists from USA, Europe and other parts of the world.
This also contributed to the economy of the country and the life of the people in the region. Slowly the destruction of our forests, and natural habitats have gradually seen less and less tourist activities in Kabala and Falaba.
Legend has it that a while ago, leopards, lions, zebras, elephants and other wildlife could be found in Koinadugu District. The constant gradual logging of the natural vegetation has over the years seen these animals endangered and becoming extinct.
The rate at which the famous Gbeni tree is decimated in Koinadugu and Falaba districts is alarming. Something needs to be done. There is something very worrying about the rate at which “gbeni” trees are being transported out of Koinadugu and Falaba.
It is rumoured that a certain Chinese tycoon wants them desperately for expensive furniture in China. Over five to six years now, millions of timbers have been shipped out of Sierra Leone more especially, from Koinadugu and Falaba Districts.
According to checkpoint sources at Gbere Junction and elsewhere, more than 40 trucks/trailers leave Koinadugu daily, loaded with “gbeni” logs for Freetown to be shipped out of the country.
Does anyone in Government care about this broad daylight plunder of the vegetation that makes Koinadugu’s weather unique? Why are our authorities silent on this very important matter?
Are the sons and daughters of Koinadugu not worried about the desertification of our district? Some of us are worried because the future of our beloved districts is at a big risk. This is troubling.
If I may ask, where is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in all of this? Please save our forests in Koinadugu and Falaba, and Sierra Leone as a whole.
Tropical forests are the most important element in the global eco-system. Tropical forests are at the heart of infrastructural developments in Rwanda, Ghana, Senegal to name but a few, offering a wide range of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, moderation of air and water quality, as well as acting as biodiversity hotspots.
The dominant narrative is that Sierra Leone was once almost completely covered in forest but that the deforestation has been rapid and extreme, especially in the last ten years when the Government opened the floodgate to the export of raw, unprocessed timber to China and Europe.
More so, research shows that the greatest loss of forest is that of the Tonkolili Forest which has almost entirely disappeared. Koinadugu and Falaba will soon face this same challenge.
All forests are under threat right now, with the northern region and some parts of the Eastern region forests under severe pressure from uncontrolled logging. This is not good for our nation, generation yet unborn will suffer the consequence. Luckily, in the south-east, the Gola Forest has legal protection, and this is what we want to see in every part of Sierra Leone.
Sadly, the Loma Forest which is located in the northern part of Sierra Leone is to some extent protected by the poor road infrastructure and uninviting terrain making commercial exploitation unviable.
With the country reported to have less than 5% forest cover left, the last national forest inventory was in 1975. A great deal of this could be done with remote sensing.
A new national forest inventory will first need to determine: What decisions are expected to be made using the data (for example, allocation of land for industrial-scale plantation above-ground round biomass for compliance with REDD+, examining policies to improve resilience to rapid climate change, biodiversity condition assessment of protected areas, etc.).
Deforestation which is the permanent destruction of the land or trees should become a priority development issue for the central Government, local council, and paramount chiefs. Typically, deforestation is clearing a lot of trees without the intention of establishing future growth.
In Canada and America, all areas harvested must be reforested either by replanting or through natural regeneration. Regenerating forests should become part of the country’s agricultural development plan; given that forestry includes planting of economic fruit trees, charcoal trees, etc., holds the potential to bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy; as well as provide thousands of new jobs.
Forests are vital to our human survival. Trees purify our air, filter our water, prevent erosion, and act as a buffer against climate change. They offer a home to plant and animal species while also providing natural resources such as medicine, food, timber, and fuel. Millions of rural dwellers live in forests.
In terms of Climate Change, forests are essentially the lungs of our planet. All plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Thus, when a forest is cut down, the humidity levels decrease and cause the remaining plants to dry out, as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Removing trees thins the forest canopy which is meant to block sun rays during the day and holds in the heat at night. This damaging disruption leads to extreme temperature swings that are harmful to plants and animals. Many animals, insects, and plants lose their habitats and become endangered and even go extinct.
In conclusion, the importance of the argument that Government should formulate short, medium and long term comprehensive National Afforestation Plan that will not only protect the remaining forest cover but help to grow new ones in mitigating against climate change, cannot be stressed enough.
My recommendation is to form an organisation that will help sensitise authorities concerned. We need to help save the future of our land in Koinadugu and Falaba and in Sierra Leone as a whole.
About the author
Alusine Bah, is a Third Year Sociology Anthropology Honours Student at the Njala University in Sierra Leone.