Survey: Mountain and Middle Cavally Region

Classified forests and national parks in danger

A walk in classified forests allowed us to discover a sad reality. With the 2002 war and the departure of the water and forestry services and SODEFOR (forestry management companies), the forest heritage of the mountainous west of Côte d’Ivoire has been ravaged. More than twenty classified forests estimated at more than 250,000 hectares have been devastated by the population. And likely to be wiped off the national map.

Individuals have invested in them to create plantations. At first, according to testimonies collected on site, loggers, individuals and even industrialists have entered to exploit the logs. Then the peasants invested there to carry out vast plantations. Others made it their property and sold it to foreigners and non-natives at a low price. They create cocoa, coffee or rubber plantations.

The forest plots are sold at a lower cost

For example, the classified forest of Mount Dent (136 ha) exists only in name. It is invaded by producers of corn, manioc or rice. The same goes for the classified forest of Mount Glas (3100 ha). There, even the top of the mountain chain has not been spared. The plot is occupied by rice fields. The teak and acacia trees of SODEFOR are simply destroyed. The classified forests of Mount Tia (24,900 ha) where the Aniégré (a species of noble wood) was protected, Flansobly (15450 ha), Yalo (26800 ha), to name but one, are reduced to plantations. The classified forest of Sangouiné (24610 ha) is being held hostage by individuals who have made it their private property and are reselling plots to non-natives. This is also the case for the classified forest of Mount Peko, which is in the hands of a heavily armed band that reigns supreme, according to water and forestry agents working in the region.

Villagers we contacted indicated on condition of anonymity that elements of the Forces Nouvelles were involved in the sale of the forest with the complicity of certain community leaders. In Sangouiné, the plot of land was sold for 70,000 CFA francs per hectare. The former sub-prefect of this locality, Okyé Koffi Roche, who has made the fight against illegal occupation of classified forests his hobbyhorse, has asked the Sangouiné sector commander, Chief Sergeant Kassero, to take a census of all illegal occupants of these forests. “Generally, it is the Lobi, Mossi, Malinké, and some Yacouba who are there. They have occupied these plots with the permission of some natives who have made them their property. The representative of the executive specified. He even summoned the village and community chiefs living in his constituency to tell them that no one has the right to occupy the classified forests that belong to the state. He did not fail to issue a warning. “As soon as the water and forestry agents are redeployed, all these illegal farmers will be chased away.

In Zonlé II, in the sub-prefecture of Sangouiné, a portion of the classified forest of Mount Glôh (10,250 ha) was allocated to the village cooperative. This GVC (cooperative vocation group), which obtained 300 ha (authorization No. 1185-81/MIN/OR/DDCF signed by the Minister of Water and Forestry at the time, Christian Zagoté), was unable to develop its portion. The authorization, which does not serve as a land title, indicates that if the parcel is not put to agricultural use within five years, the state reserves the right to recover it. Even if it is developed, it must be managed as a classified forest. But unfortunately, some members of the GVC have sold plots of land from this parcel to foreigners. This is now a source of conflict. They have even gone beyond the space that was granted to them.

The Mount Sangbé National Park in the department of Biankouma has not escaped the fury of loggers, poachers, and farmers who operate there in complete peace. The animals that were protected there have simply disappeared due to regular attacks by poachers and other traditional hunters.

Another sad situation that is to be deplored is the fact of killings between illegal occupants of these forests.

Classified forests are sources of deadly conflicts

Captain Adonis Konin, socio-economic and communications manager at the forest management company (SODEFOR) in Man, relocated to Duékoué because of the crisis, revealed alarming figures in the classified forest of the Sio River. According to him, former combatants have taken refuge in this forest, which they have occupied in a clandestine and anarchic manner. These individuals, who have kept their weapons with them, are killing each other. The water and forestry officer indicated that on August 6, 2009, an unidentified body was discovered. The man had been shot. Local residents who requested anonymity reported that the body was found after a firefight between illegal occupants. These clashes between rival groups resulted in 13 deaths on February 7, 2006, three deaths on March 27 of the same year, and two deaths and five injuries on April 21, 2007. In February 2010, clashes between Dan natives and illegal settlers left 12 people injured. It took an urgent mission to Danané by Burkina Faso’s ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, His Excellency Emile Ilboudo, to put out the fire.

On March 16, 2008, a secret operation by SODEFOR led to the arrest of sawyer Ousmane Sanoudé, a Burkinabe national, who was caught clearing a plot of land in the Sio classified forest with a 12-gauge sawed-off weapon on him. The man was referred to the court in Daloa. In the first quarter of 2010, approximately 11 people died in clashes between illegal immigrants in the classified forest of Mount Peko. 8 people were burned alive.

In the department of Man, only the classified forest of Mount Tonkpi (6,150 ha) has escaped uncontrolled exploitation because of its very uneven terrain. But unfortunately, it is currently prey to clandestine exploitation. Sawyers cut down trees to make boards. And this with impunity.

Endangered species

The Ivorian forest heritage in the west is rich in several hundred species. Today, noble species such as Aniegre, Amazakoue, Akatio, Bété and Niangon used in the automobile, naval and airport industries are threatened with extinction. They have become very rare. This is also the case for species such as Makore, Tiama, Iroko, Aboudikro, Bahia, Sipo, Cos sipo etc., used in cabinet making and construction. Mahogany, which is used in both cabinet making and gun making, is also in danger of disappearing soon. Species such as Lotofa, Difou, Lingué, Movingui and Yatanza are also in danger of disappearing. Today, loggers are focusing on Samba, Fraqué, Dabema, Bahia, and Iroko (even of small diameter). A real national disaster.

Reaction of the authorities.

The Regional Director of Water and Forests, Lieutenant-Colonel Kouamé Bi, emphasizes that his department is relocated to Duékoué and has no control over what is happening in the central northwestern zone (CNO). Nevertheless, he intends to work towards the restoration of the forest heritage once he returns to Man. He is therefore counting on the probable end of the post-electoral crisis so that the redeployment of water and forestry agents can be effective as soon as possible. For his part, Captain Adonis Konin believes that if there is a real political will, we can restore and save the vegetation cover under state protection. According to him, a government decision in 1988 allowed the removal of all planters who had occupied the classified forests illegally. The same operation was carried out in 1997 by SODEFOR. But unfortunately, some planters organized themselves to meet with the then Head of State, who authorized their reinstatement on condition that they did not extend the plots already cultivated. “Only the support of the authorities at the top of the state can save the forest heritage that belongs to everyone. The services of SODEFOR and the Water and Forestry Department alone will not succeed in this mission,” said Captain Konin Adonis. As for the Prefect of the region, Prefect of the Department of Man, he hopes that traditional chiefs, executives and elected officials of the region will be involved in raising awareness among the population about the illegal and clandestine occupation of classified forests.

For their part, the Forces Nouvelles initiated a reforestation program in the Sangouiné area in 2004. The implementation of this program was entrusted to the Société des travaux de reboisement compensatoire (STRC). This program ran into financial difficulties. Since 2007 it has been interrupted. Today, we can safely say that the forest heritage of western Côte d’Ivoire has been damaged. And only a special program of reconstitution of the plant cover can restore the flora in this region which begins to feel the effects of climate change.

K.O.  à Man

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