Mary speaks with a long-time family friend outside of her aunt’s home. Her friend explains his plan to cut down a tall tree near his workshop. He admits that it provides cool shade during hot dry season months, but fears the roots will destroy the foundation of a nearby house. While this may be true, Mary sees another motive behind his plan—the carpenter probably wants to use the tree as lumber for his business. She advises him to contact her office in the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) for permission first. The man smiles and agrees to comply before proceeding with any work.
MAFFS sends its workers to different parts of Sierra Leone, for example I came from Freetown to work in Moyamba District. My colleagues and I help protect endangered forests with police assistance if necessary. We patrol the forests to look for anybody cutting trees without permission. If we catch them in a government protected area, we seize their power saws and tools. Some people try to run away from us. Others comply immediately. And still some try to challenge us.
Last month I came across a man who already knew of me. He immediately handed over his tools before I even asked. Most people already know that their actions are illegal and wrong. In a different incident last September, a colleague needed police assistance. He found some loggers deep inside the forest who refused to stop cutting trees. They first threatened him with the power saw, then they actually cut him on his hand. The wound wasn’t too bad. He called me right away and we decided to give a statement at the police station. Unfortunately the loggers left by the time we returned with officers.
Most of the time we go far into the bush to catch loggers in search of the biggest trees. The place becomes scary even during the daytime since we could easily get lost and confused. We listen for heavy machinery and try to follow the sound. If the machine switches off we won’t be able to find the loggers. Power saws project their sounds for a few miles, but sometimes the direction we take is not the correct one. You really need a sensitive ear for the work. My job is tough but I love it.
Covering the entire district presents a challenge. Many inaccessible areas can only be reached by taking risky okadas (motorcycle taxis). I still love the work because I feel that I’m helping my country. I like my team, but get annoyed with the people we catch. They don’t understand that they’re damaging the environment. They only cut down trees for the money.
We have two major forests in our district— Kassewe Forest in Moyamba Junction and another forest in the Moyamba Hills. Kassewe has many caves, some of which stretch for many miles. I went inside one but stayed near the entrance because I felt too scared to continue since there are many bats inside. Researchers from Njala University go inside often for their projects, some exploring the wetlands and swamps beyond.
I studied agriculture for my first university degree. I’m now working on my master’s degree with a specialization in forestry at Njala University. The master’s degree gets tedious because I spend many hours researching for my courses and thesis. I look into the connection between people’s livelihood and forest conservation. I want to research another topic, but I’m not sure what to choose next.
It’s good for girls to learn because that gives them the power to do anything a man can do. Then we can truly achieve 50/50 gender equality. Girls should also learn about planting and nursing tree seedlings. Then they can begin to appreciate forest conservation. Schools should engage students with practical agricultural activities, not just theory, so students can develop a passion for nature. When they have the passion, they will see the value in their environment.