The Gola Forest Programme (GFP) has invited landowners surrounding the Gola forest chiefdoms to a meeting to discuss and endorse the Gola forest landowners register at the eastern polytechnic canteen in Kenema.
Protected Area Manager GFP John P. Moriba says, royalty should be paid to landowners and the chiefdoms and the Gola forest programme should take cognizance of the forestry Act, which he said they have built in funds for development for every chiefdoms the sum of ten thousand dollars, and a scholarship scheme to the seven chiefdoms worth seven thousand five hundred dollars every year, and additional 28 thousand dollars to land owners surrounding the Gola forest.
Protected area manager added that, with the help of the office of the provincial secretaries of the south and east and the divisional forestry officers of the three districts Kenema, Kailahun and Pujehun were asked to compile a comprehensive list.
Project leader GFP David Zeller disclosed that the programme has budgeted funds for the legitimate landowners of the Gola Forest. Adding that these funds have not been disbursed because the identity of these landowners was not known and there is no record of rightful landownership in the government administration archives.
He added that the seven Gola forest chiefdoms should form an official register of the rightful landowners to avoid future problem.
He says the Gola forest has investigated and found out that people are interested in mining iron ore in the Bangla hill part of the Gola forest, and are doing illegal logging within the Gola forest. He says they are not against development, but mining issues should be discussed and agreed upon by the Director of Forestry division Ministry of Agriculture, which the Gola forest guards have been asked to stop any activities without the permission of the people concerned, except the local communities that will like to collect non timber forest product.
He added that, the GFP is protecting the last remaining tropical rain forest in the country, which is a hot spot for biodiversity. He appealed to the MPs, chiefs and councilors from the seven chiefdoms Tunkia, Nomo, Koya, Malema, Guara, Makpele among others to work hand in glove for the success of the certification of the landowners, the review of section ten of the benefit sharing agreement and state how the benefit should be shared equally among the seven Gola forest chiefdoms.
Mr. Gilbert Koker of GFP in his closing courtesy called on the beneficiaries to be grateful to the European Union, Bird Life in France, Bird Life Secretariat, Global Conservation Fund at Conservation International, Government of Sierra Leone among others.
By Saffa Moriba in Kenema