Disagreeing With Some of the Points Dr. Somah Made in his Paper on Agriculture/Environment

(Letter From Ben Turtur Donnie)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 19, 2005


Dear Editor,

I want to use this time to thank Dr. Somah (he visited my office recently in Monrovia) for his very interesting speeches and articles on matters of national interest. I have read two of his recent papers, but I am concerned about the most recent one delivered at the so-called All Liberia National Conference in Maryland, USA.

As professional forester, a biodiversity specialist and instructor of forest management (University of Liberia), I feel obliged to provide some information intended to correct some of the wrongs of Dr. Somah's paper on Agriculture/Environment. In my brief encounter with the learned professor, I found him to have immense interest in the Liberian environment, and someone willing to contribute. Both of us agreed to exchange information regularly regarding environmental sustainability.

1. We must be very careful about the introduction of new innovations in a society. New innovations, especially totally foreign, can be very expensive and resistant by our people. This is in reference to Dr. Somah's recommendation for water sport on Lake Piso. Regarding protection of the Lake, please be informed that Lake Wetlands is one of the proposed protected areas of Liberia, awaiting approval from the Government of Liberia. Once gazzetted, the area will be fully protected in the context of environmental management. In the meantime, an international NGO (Fauna and Flora International) is working with the Forestry Development Authority to conduct socio-economic and biological surveys of the area, to ascertain that it possesses all prerequisite characteristics for being a protected area.

2. The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism has a tourism department and the Forestry Development Authority has a National Parks Department. Is Dr. Somah recommending a marriage of the two? In other words, the two bodies exist (separately), and therefore no need to recommend the establishment.

3. Deforestation is not a cause of biodiversity loss, but rather, the causes of deforestation result to biodiversity loss. The FDA/IDA/FAO natural resources survey of 1985 concluded that shifting agriculture is responsible for 95% of the deforestation in Liberia. There has been no study to state otherwise. Therefore, we need to study the farming system and find a way out from shifting cultivation to mechanized farming. I gave Dr. Somah a copy of Liberia's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which I coordinated. That study identified several threats to Liberia's biodiversity. Go to www.biodiv.org, click on NBSAP, and find Liberia.

4. Liberia does not have 900 species of elephants as alleged by Dr. Somah. There is only one species of elephants in Liberia, and that is the forest elephant, Loxodanta Africana. Perhaps the reference is made to elephant population. The last survey concluded in 1990 and published in 1991 in the African Elephant Database put Liberia at possessing about 1800 elephants, 9% of the elephant population in West Africa. No other study has been conducted extensively, but we believe this number is reduced significantly due to several factors caused mainly by the war. There are no lions in Liberia, and we do not have Nile Hippopotamus. We have the Pigmy Hippopotamus, which is our flagship species, because most of its population is found in Liberia.

5. Dr. Somah is calling for Integrated National Environmental Management Policy. We have already have in place the National Environmental Policy of Liberia, the preparation of which I coordinated in 2000 to 2001. The document, along with the Environment Protection and Management Law and the Environmental Protection Agency Act, were enacted by the National Legislature, thus paving the way for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003.

6. I agree with the need for landfills for waste disposal, but the Fiamah Site does not need any more study. It is an absolute disaster (in residential area), and must be abandoned.

7. Regarding fresh water fishing, I am a bit worried about what we hope to achieve. Liberia's rivers are not navigable, and may not be suitable for industrial fishing. See the NBSAP again on rivers of Liberia.

Liberia will join other nations of the world to celebrate World Environment Day, which falls on June 5, but will be celebrated on June 6, since June 5 is on Sunday. The Theme for 2005 is GREEN CITIES - PLAN FOR THE PLANET. As chairman of the Environment Theme Group of Liberia, I invite Dr. Somah to attend a workshop in Monrovia to be held ahead of June 5, with date to be communicated.
Ben Turtur Donnie
Programme Coordinator
C/O UNDP Liberia
Simpson Building, Sekou Toure Avenue, Mamba Point
Monrovia, Liberia
E-Mail: benturturdonnie@yahoo.com, ben.donnie@undp.org