Yale-sponsored Liberian students earn master’s degrees in Uganda

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Blamah Gall and Simulu Kamara, who work for the Liberian Forest Development Authority, earned their master's degrees with the support of the Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.

It wasn’t only Yale students who celebrated receiving their master’s degrees in forestry this year.  In part through the efforts of Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, two employees of the Liberian Forest Development Authority (FDA), the Liberian national forest service, joined the graduates of the 63rd Graduation Ceremony of Makerere University in Uganda, to receive their Master’s degrees from the School of Forestry, Environmental and Geographical Sciences, one of the oldest and most highly respected forestry schools in Africa. 

The two graduates are Blamah Goll and Simulu Kamara, Their achievement was a result of an infrequent opportunity in a country where less than 3% of the population is estimated to acquire any higher education at all, funded in part and administered by the Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Special Unit on South-South Cooperation. The South-South Special Unit works to nurture sharing of knowledge, experience, technical prowess, appropriate technologies, financial, and in-kind contributions between developing countries, with developed countries serving to facilitate and foster these South-South linkages via triangular partnerships.

Forests are increasingly recognized as vital ecosystems that support rural livelihoods in every region, sequester carbon, support biodiversity and produce timber. Liberia’s forests had suffered from years of unsustainable and irresponsible logging due to civil war and corrupt government. With an end to the civil war, and under a new government, Liberia is faced with an enormous challenge to put in place the necessary capacity to sustainably manage their remaining forests. However, the core infrastructure of forests, people, and a forest management organization is in place to rebuild a sustainable forestry sector.  Liberia can take advantage of this basis and build an infrastructure of knowledgeable, skilled people in the government and private sectors to understand how to manage their forests on many scales, from national policies to community livelihoods.

Dr. John Kakonge of the UNDP Special Unit on South-South Cooperation visited Liberia in 2008, and met with Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf concerning the training needs of the Liberian FDA. Dr. Chad Oliver, director of the Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, then visited Liberia, where he met with officials from the Liberia FDA, and toured representative forests and facilities within Liberia. As a result of these meetings, a program was established to assess the capacity of institutions in Africa and elsewhere in the tropics to provide training/education to Liberian forestry sector personnel. As part of the project, the two Liberian employees of the FDA were selected to study forestry in the master’s degree program at Makerere University in Uganda. 

Originally established in 1922 as a technical college, Makerere University expanded over the years to into an institution of higher education, first as an affiliate of the University College of London, becoming an independent Ugandan national university in 1970. The students selected for the program, Goll and Kamara, both hold Bachelor of Science degrees in forestry from the University of Liberia. For their master’s degrees, the two men spent two years in residence in Uganda, and were required to carry out independent research and write a final thesis. Associate professor Gorettie N. Nabanoga, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Makerere, assisted Goll and Kamara with their adaptation to life in Uganda and provided academic assistance and a link from Uganda to the office in the U.S.

Goll and Kamara carried out their thesis research during the summer break in Liberia.  Both students chose topics relevant to the problem of sustaining forest reserves in Liberia through engagement with the local population. Goll’s topic is the “Benefits and Challenges of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects on Local Communities Adjacent to Sapo National Park, Liberia.” Sapo National Park is Liberia’s largest protected area of rainforest and its only national park, including one of — if not the most — intact forest ecosystem in Liberia. The Integrated Conservation and Development Projects initiative (ICDPs) is an approach to simultaneously address issues of poverty, access rights, and environmental degradation in rural communities based on the assumption that protecting wildlife, biodiversity, and forest ecosystems can be enhanced by providing benefits to rural frontline communities through sustainable livelihoods.

Goll used questionnaires and interviews among households in towns closest to the protected area where ICDPs operate to examine the benefits to the local population of the ICDPs and the benefits to the park in the terms of reduced poaching and land encroachment, as well as strategies and challenges for implementing ICDPs around Sapo National Park.

Kamara chose to work in the East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR) in the north of Liberia to examine the topic “Community Forestry and Its Impacts on Rural Livelihood of People Living Adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, Liberia.” Established in 2003, the area is high in biodiversity, but threatened due to the high density of iron ore in the area, resulting in high levels of extraction, accompanied by serious environmental destruction including in the past mountaintop removal, road construction, and forest clearing. Ongoing resource extraction both commercial and subsistence continues, particularly the poaching of bushmeat, and there is thought to be selective over-hunting of high value species in the area, including the West African Chimpanzee. 

The concept of community forestry had been introduced into forestry management in Liberia in 2005 following the change in national government. Prior to that time, the management of forest resources had been entirely the government’s responsibility.  Community forestry involves the local people who depend directly on forest resources to be part of decision making in some or all aspects of forest management, from managing resources to formulating and implementing institutional framework. Integrating rural communities in the management of the forestry resources, it was hoped, would curb the rate of depletion of the forest resources as well as improve the livelihood of the local communities through equitable sharing of the forest resource revenues. However, despite its introduction, forest resource degradation in Liberia has continued to be high and the livelihoods of the people have not improved. Kamara’s research examined the linkages between community forest management and the livelihoods of the people in Liberia and natural resource degradation. Specifically, he looked to identify various livelihood options of the people living adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, assessed the involvement of local people in the management of East Nimba Nature Reserve, examined the effect of community forest management on the livelihood of the people living adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, and documented the challenges of community involvement in East Nimba Nature reserve, as well as determined the contribution of community forestry to the livelihoods of local communities.

For both men, the advanced training they received will make them more useful in their roles with the Liberian FDA, while the results of their studies will provide a contribution to forest management in their area. Some of the challenges they had to face included a faculty strike that interrupted the semester and sent them back to Liberia for several months, leading to a delay in finishing their coursework, and problems with mail that resulted in not receiving needed books and publications. In the end, however, their willingness to be part of the Yale program allowed them to join the 2013 graduating class in Uganda to celebrate their achievement.

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