Two environmental journalists, a forester, a researcher in biodiversity and an anti deforestation campaigner together with some villagers wandered through a realm of green twilight, among the buttressed columns of trees that soar up to five storeys overhead.
Above is a vast tangle of life, twittering birds and squeaking monkeys, dense and rich ecosphere. Some of the trees are festooned with mushrooms and are wreathed with plants that anchor themselves all over the trunks and branches. The holes in some of the trees had been the pleasant home of thousands of honey bees. Lush tropical blossoms scent the still hothouse air.
This is the Gongokama forest which borders three villages- Gangama Tatima and Messima- in the Nogoba Bullom Chiefdom, Bonthe District.
But it is more than a beauty spot, more than vaulted corridors of misty forest shot through with shafts of light. It is a new harvest ground were unknown people were going to harvest the most predominant and valuable asset of that forest-the ‘kpende’ tree. The biological name of the tree had not been confirmed but the tree gets very hard in the middle of it trunks which is reddish and it has been confirmed that that particular wood is being used to make the board base of AK47 rifles.
The five-man team that went to the forest was led by the director of Green Scenery, Joseph Rahall-the anti deforestation campaigner.
Mr Rahall said he discovered the forest last December but at that point could not ascertain the density, size, its ecology, and other studies to determine whether it was indeed a forest and worthy of attention.
He pointed out that the three communities, complained to him that a particular tree in the forest had been constantly cut down by people who came to their villages and even paid some of them as little as Le15, 000 for a large trunk of the ‘kpende’ tree.
‘I encouraged the community people to stop the cutting down of that tree for the moment and promised that I would come with experts to look at the forest for possible preservation”, said the Green Scenery director.
Mr Patrick Jomboi, the forester for Bonthe District representing the director of Forestry in the ministry of Agriculture after touring the forest with the team of other experts, confirmed that the forest met the standards for conservation and continued to appeal to the communities to preserve it.
They also confirmed the claims from the villagers that no farming activities had been done in the forest and that the forest was more than a century old.
The three villages: Gangama, Tatima, and Messima with a population of 385 were called to a meeting by Mr Rahall in which they appointed three men, one representing each village to serve as a forest guard.
Mr Samuel T Jengeh, the chiefdom speaker promised to see that the forest was preserved after the complex explanation of deforestation and climate change and its effect had been described to them in simple terms by the 5 man delegation.
Mr Foday Bockarie displaying his hands which were rough and hard with bumps on it, said, “we had relied on the little money we got to cut down and sell the tree but this is the price for cutting down the ‘kpende’ tree, it is really not worth it.”
The tree is very hard to chop especially with local cutlasses; the three communities were quick to see the repercussion of cutting down the trees and agreed in unison that the forest would be preserved.
Mr Rahall said they would continue to do further studies about the forest and simultaneously look into developmental issues which would benefit the three communities in the coming months.
He said he would be looking forward to partner with other developmental organizations to help the people who were far away from civilization that only saw a motor vehicle for the first time in their lives when Green Scenery went into their community.
They are living in villages where there is no school, no health centre for at least 15 miles away from their communities and dangerous water and sanitation problems.
A community that also tasted the bitterness of the rebel war when the whole village was burnt down.
However, the villages are hopeful that saving the Gongokama forest will bring blessing to their communities. By Mohamed Fofanah