Liberia: Foya fights to prevent yearly forest fire
By James Harding Giahyue
Andrew Saah Kendema expected a big harvest, not the big fire that swept through his farm and thousands of acres of forest land in the Foya Tengia District of Lofa County in March this year. His sugarcane farm would have fetched him about 20 drums of liquor, enough returns on a US$10,000 severance pay he received from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and invested in 2016. Now he has to invest additional money into replanting new sugarcane and wait for August next year for a possible harvest.
“When the wind comes, especially during the peak of the dry season, small wind can cause fire,” explains Moses F. Sonjor, Sr., Foya District’s Assistant Superintendent for Development following a workshop in Monrovia to draft a land use plan for the district. The first measure in the country following the passing into law of the Land Rights Act last year, the Foya land use plan looks at ways to prevent fire outbreaks.
Local authorities are finalizing a fire law to address future forest fire outbreaks. Among the restrictions, the draft law prohibits people from igniting charcoal, lighting matches and smoking cigarettes, and burning farms without the knowledge of other villagers. Fines for violators range from L$1,500 and L$5,000, and punishment is up to five months in prison. “All towns in Foya Statutory District are to select two persons from their towns and [a] fireman to work with their town chief,” the first section of the law reads.
In the past, communities worked together to prevent and contain fire outbreaks with communal laws and practices. In addition to prohibition of smoking, striking matches and burning farm or charcoal without the consent of the entire village, residents depended on fire lines. Farmers would clear a huge portion of bush between farmlands and villages, forests and savanna grasslands to contain the spread of wildfire.